Instinct vs impulse

As I grow older and realize life is growing shorter, I give in to my impulses far more often than I should. Of course, when I was young, I was poor and didn’t have the money or time to buy that pretty pillow or the stack of books on Mayan history. I was forced to stop and consider alternatives, thus saving me from a lot of bad decisions. Those pillows really don’t match the cushion. I knew it at the time, but they were pretty.

But how does one differentiate impulse from instinct? I fell in love with my husband at first sight, and we’ve been together since we were teenagers. That had to be instinct, didn’t it? Knowing I needed to write was definitely instinct, growing out of my need to be heard even though I was ignored by all around me.

Impulses are often defined as bad—they’re an instantaneous urge that distracts, diverts, and wastes time and money. Instincts are defined as coming from experience: emotional, intellectual, even physical knowledge. Very often, we resist instinct because it’s telling us to do something that won’t be fun and will very likely be hard work—like writing a book which will eat up a year of my time.

But when I see something pretty that I really want, I still tell myself it’s instinct, that someday in the future that pillow/book/shirt will be just what I need. And because I’m a goal-driven, creative person, I almost always make that happen and regret it if I don’t follow the impulse. So how in heck do I differentiate?

How about you? Do you give in or resist impulse? (and googling dream houses when you’re supposed to be working is an impulse—I’m here to tell you!)

Experimentation Encouraged

Scilly Travels

Scilly Travels

Because I’m incapable of leaving anything alone, I’ve just moved my writing blog to my website — makes sense to have everything in one place, doesn’t it?

Here’s my first attempt — a shot from the gorgeous botanical garden on the Scilly Isles, which may sound like a Monty Python sketch because yes, Scilly is pronounced silly.

This post comes under the category of “Things We Learn with Travel.” To our utter amazement, we learned while traveling last month that the Scilly Islands, which are just off the southern coast of chilly England–actually have a Mediterranean climate. The garden was chock full of the same plants I grow at my home in Southern California!

I don’t recommend thinking of moving there immediately, though. The islands are isolated and the kids have to board at school during the week and sail home for the weekends. Grocery shopping must be fun! But a tropical island right off England– now my brain is whirling with historical romance ideas!

Have you ever been to Scilly? Or just been silly?

Money Matters, Part I

This one is for my fellow writers, but if readers have any interest in how writers get paid, here’s a place to start:

For creatives like writers, managing money tends to be anathema. In the current economy, in the current state of the industry, we risk becoming court jesters if we continue to ignore business reality—creativity is about as well paid as a lemonade stand these days.

Yes, there are artists, authors, and musicians who bring in the big bucks. I’d venture to guess they’re about 1 in 10,000. For the rest of us—we’re fortunate to earn minimum wage, and the numbers are going down. We write, paint, and play because we can’t not do it, but we’ll be lucky to ever earn a living at what we love.

I don’t know any beginning musicians or artists, but I know dozens of writers who think they’re on the road to success when their first book is accepted. For them, I recommend studying Brenda Hiatt’s Show Me the Money survey. It’s updated annually and can be found at Just glancing through this survey will tell you there may be four publishers left who give an author a chance at a living wage (Harlequin/Silhouette is one publisher, despite Brenda’s breakdown between categories).

A “living wage” is subjective, of course. If we round the minimum wage to $7 an hour and a full time job to 2000 hours a year, then the government is saying we need at least $14,000 a year to live on. The chances of a first mass market fiction book earning at that level is probably equal to the 1 in 10,000 number above. Or worse.

Except—even if a book does miraculously sell for $14,000, that’s not the same as earning minimum wage. Most writers must pay at least 15% of earnings to their agent. And since they’re self-employed, they pay ALL their social security taxes, not just half, as a salaried worker does. That’s an additional 7.5% they won’t see. Full time minimum wage workers are generally protected by health insurance, at a minimum, That alone is worth roughly half of that $14,000! After other expenses such as computers and internet connections, marketing, and so forth, an author would be fortunate to net $3500 for their $14000 advance. If it took them our theoretical 2000 hour year to write, they’re earning $1.50 an hour.

Sadly, most beginning authors these days are receiving no advance at all. They’re hoping for the creative equivalent of a lottery ticket—that their book will sell well enough to earn royalties. That’s the topic for the next few days.

(If anyone has the stats on any of these numbers, like how many new mass market fiction books come out each year, I’d love to hear it, because this is a discussion we need to keep open.)