What Does It Take?
Have you ever met someone who has a dream of something he or she would like to get paid to do–some art or hobby? I’ve met a ton of folks like that, and think there’s one essential question to ask yourself if you’re starting out as a writer or faltering as one (or maybe as any type of artist):
Is this a hobby or a job/career path to me?
The answer to that question will determine your future. No, I mean it as dramatic as it sounds. I didn’t think much about the different paths of writers and artists at first when I began writing in August of 2010, but once that first novel was accepted, I began to think of my writing as another of my jobs. I already have a couple of those. But writing was even better because it was a dream job, and it still is. That doesn’t mean that it will ever be full time in my case, but it will bring in money and look like a job.
So, how do you know if your writing is a job or that you’re on a career path with it? I think these are a few indicators of the career path writer:
1. You write every day or darn close to it. Yeah, I know. Life happens. It happens to me, too, but I have a set block of time for writing that I strive to reach each day. For me, that’s three hours. I don’t worry about word counts since I write fast anyhow. And I do hit that goal most days. This consistency has resulted in my having over 25 works out in various manifestations with more on the way this year. That’s since March of 2011 when my first novel, Magnolian, was published. To me, this daily habit is the most important part of writing as a career or job path.
2. You invest in your writing. Investment means you learn your craft by reading about writing, talking with others writers and most importantly… writing. It also means you hire editors, cover artists, formatters, and more when you need them, or you swap out skills with other writers and artists. Please understand one thing. I’m not advocating that you spend yourself into the poor house to do these things. There’s no need to. I say that as a writer who made a decent profit (after expenses) my first year of writing. I kept costs low, and part of this was done while having an unemployed husband for half of 2011. So yeah. It can be done. You just might have to give up some other stuff you spend money on. That’s life. You can’t have it all, even though many people will try to tell you you can.
3. You try different things in publishing. This is where I’ll veer off from some indies and small press folks in my opinions. I like doing both types of publishing and having many options open to me. And if a traditional deal ever came my way, I might try that, too. Who knows? This goes back to Dean Wesley Smith’s discussion of slices of pie in your magic bakery of writing. Check his blog out and diversify. It’s well worth your time to scan through the past posts from someone who’s done what you’re trying to do–writing as a career (or as a big part of your income in my case). www.deanwesleysmith.com
4. You have a plan for the future. At any given moment, if someone asked you, you could tell them what’s coming out this year and what’s in the pipeline. You have a long range plan of sorts, too. I’ve recently started using a calendar to schedule my works far into the future. For me, it’s great. I also have a file of writing ideas to last me for a while. There’s always something to work toward. This year, one of my big writing career goals is getting some of my works into print via self publishing. In terms of bettering my craft, I’m going to be working with a new editor, and I’m excited about that. It’s worth the investment since I plan to be writing for a long time.
5. You’re not afraid to practice your art the way you want to in spite of black and white thinkers and haters. You’ll take steps to do so and to do it happily. Your art will look different than mine. You need a pen name? Do it. Want to try horror, but you’re a romance writer? Go for it. Fail big if you must, but you likely won’t if you’ve thought it out.
6. You have a website and are building a social network. As with any job, you are meeting people who are interested in what you do.
7. You don’t just dream and wring your hands. You make real progress. At the end of a month or a year, you should be able to point to what you got done to further your career in writing or art. If you can’t, you’re spinning your wheels, and something needs to change.
8. You sacrifice other things for writing. Want to do something fun but you have a deadline? Butt in chair to reach that deadline. Distracted by a shiny bauble or happy fun time? Oh, it’s sparkly, isn’t it? Butt in chair. Get the writing done first and let the rest follow. I’m lucky here, and I’ll admit it. I tend to be a creature of habit. I love it. And I’m married to a guy who supports my writing and does a lot around the house and with our daughter. He’s a great guy like that.
9. You listen to those who have done, not those who are still stuck. I want to focus this point especially for the indie/small press writers who might read this. Want to put out books, build a readership, and make money from your writing career? Then follow those who have done so. You know the ones I mean–those folks who have tons of short stories, novellas, and novels out there for purchase (like more than their one great novel they won’t shut up about). In other words, their virtual shelves are phat, and they aren’t waiting for magic from the sky (sometimes known as a big six publishing contract. I know. That was direct, but I mean it) to fall down like manna. I know a lot of people in the writing world who talk–a lot. They might have even written books that are languishing somewhere, but they have yet to treat writing as a true business. If someone is talking but he or she doesn’t have anything to back it up–as in real books that are making money now and not ten years from now–why listen? The big six contract is all well and good, but nothing stops an author from building a career way before that happens, and if it never does, that’s fine, too, because the books are already out there–at least most of them– in indie or small press form. Those indie and small press writers who’ve made it in terms of making a decent amount of money from their writing? They have way more than one book out and have done a lot more than talk about writing.
Find other writers or artists who are doing what you want to do, and read what they have to say. Soak it in, and take what works for you and leave the rest. Folks who tend to talk and not do really stick in my craw. I put my ear plugs in, roll my eyes, and move on. For more on this, you might look into these writers and their fabulous blogs: Lindsay Buroker, J.A. Konrath, Dean Wesley Smith, and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. There are many others, but these guys are the ones I read the most these days.
I’m sure I’ll think of more to add later, but I’ll leave you with the original question: is writing a career/job or a hobby to you? It’s really up to you. If it’s just a hobby, great. Expect to have fun and to find it relaxing. Is it a career/job? Then it’s another thing altogether–way bigger than just fun. How you answer this question will make all the difference in what happens next.