Monday, October 02, 2006

Writing for a living

Here's the thing few wannabes realize: Most novelists do not make a living as writers.

The few who get to stay home and write novels for their dayjob either a) Are really, really famous; b) Got a really, really good contract with a really, really big publisher; c) Are independently weatlthy; d) Have a spouse who actually brings home most of the bacon and has the job that comes with health insurance.

There is no shame for a writer if you have to work at a regular job to pay the bills. It's the responsible thing to do.

A couple of weeks ago, I received this email:
I wondered if you'd mind sharing what problems or pitfalls you ran into when you started out in writing? I have had a few interviews for editorial assistant and media assistant positions but to no great success. I managed to get a stop gap job after graduating last year thinking it would not take long to find what I wanted but its now heading towards a year and a half of hunting.

I actually spent a few days thinking over my answer. I did not want to be flippant. Finally, I wrote back:
I didn't want you to think I was blowing your question off, but what you ask is so complicated. I have given up trying to think of that perfect answer, so I'll just ramble a bit.

If you are starting out -- and that sounds like what you are saying -- I suggest you take pretty much any opportunities to write that you can. In my experience, sharpening your craft in any kind writing -- scripts, newspaper stories, magazine articles, short stories, whatever -- helps you become a better storyteller. Don't be afraid to write for free as you're getting your first clips. You need to develop, you need to build a stack of printed samples of your work, and you need to develop a reputation as a writer who can be trusted to deliver.

Writing is a career that takes a while to build; don't assume you can make a living at it freelance. (At least, not anytime soon.) Most writers who work freelance have a day job.

Of those who have a day job, I am one of the lucky ones: I have been a magazine editor for some 12 years now -- which means I get to write, but also have health insurance and an office. But even that was something I worked into after years of writing freelance for pennies.

Also: Never pay anybody else to print you. (Unless it's Kinko's.)
I got this reply today:
Cheers, Chris. I'll get writing!! What you say all makes sense. I've just been beating myself up abit over it, not getting into a writing job straight away, fed up in my 'stop gap' job etc. Thanks for keeping it real with me.

I emailed back:
Don't let the "stop gap" job get you down! I have been writing since childhood -- but, at various times, I made my livelihood working at K-Mart, at jobs on campus, at Camelot Music, and even as a part-time community college instructor.

:)

Even now, I write the novels during my lunch hours, and on evenings and weekends.
I know several published novelists struggling with some of these same questions. All I can say is:

1) Plant your crop and be faithful.

2) In the short term, be prepared to have a regular job.

3) Don't give up before your crop comes in.

Related links:
Adopting KILLER YEAR
THE CHALLENGES OF NOVEL MARKETING
NOBODY OWES YOU ANYTHING
IN FOR THE LONG HAUL
SOMETHING IS ALWAYS BETTER THAN NOTHING
THE NAMES HAVE BEEN CHANGED TO PROTECT THE MID- TO LOW-SELLING
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Die Laughing: Funny Crime and Mystery Fiction

SHE'S THE SHERIFF!

A woman with a complicated past returns home to become the small town's new sheriff. Best Mann For The Job is by the writer/artist team of Chris and Erica Well. Read it from the beginning at StudioWell.com. Watch the trailer on YouTube.