Station Eleven author Emily St. John Mandel recently tweeted that she’d quit her day job—something she’d been unable to do for years before the success of her highly acclaimed fourth novel, which was nominated for a National Book Award, among other prizes.
In interviews over the years, Mandel has talked about her necessity for at least part-time employment, something she shares with most other writers. And in 2009, she wrote an essay about it for The Millions—in which she likened books to lottery tickets, and predicted that the day she could quit her job might never come:
…For all my longing to write full-time, I have every expectation that I’ll need to hold a day job for the duration of my life. I imagine most of my writer friends with will have to work forever too, except for that one guy with the trust fund.
But at the same time, the paradox is that every book we write is a lottery ticket: the strange alchemy that turns a well-written book into a well-written runaway commercial success…a book with sales numbers on a scale that might possibly allow a writer to quit a day job—is somewhat mysterious. It might happen to anyone. If there were a formula that explained exactly how one book generates buzz while another slips quickly into obscurity, all our books would be blockbusters.
So we all come home tired from our days at the office, sit down in front of the blinking cursors on our screens, and allow ourselves to daydream for a moment about being struck by commercial lightning: a film deal, a surprise bestseller, a call from the organizer of Oprah’s book club. We’re all perfectly aware that it will likely never happen. We all keep writing anyway.