Want a writing career? There are some things you’ll need to know before you set out down this path. First, some good news. I’ve been doing it full-time for six years, and am by no means a great writer. Translation: you don’t have to be to earn a living. Now the bad news: despite the opportunities available, very few make it in this business. (And sorry, creative types, it is a business if you want any kind of a future in it.)
Yes, a writing career will defy your expectations in both good and bad ways. Here’s why it’s the suckiest, most rewarding profession.
Let’s face it. About 99.9 percent of you who want a writing career would prefer to sit around and make up stories all day. You dream of having your name on a book spine like Dean Koontz, Nicholas Sparks, George R.R. Martin, or Stephen King. Good luck with that. It’s certainly possible — and you don’t need a publisher to do it — but it’s impractical.
If we’re talking about quitting your job in the next six months and making a real income, then most will need to get comfortable with the fact fiction is something you do after you’ve made money writing about other things. Blogging, web writing, magazine articles — that’s where the money is. Not novels, comics, and short stories. Don’t be discouraged by that. Keep doing it, but realize you’re going to need a dose of realism to go along with your aspirations.
If you’re dependable, treat it like a business, work quickly, are a good proofreader, know how to extrapolate on trends before everyone else has had their say, and demonstrate a command of things like basic HTML, photo editing, and WordPress, the sky is the limit. Sites like Craigslist, FreelanceWritingGigs, and the ProBlogger Job Board have kept me fed for a very long time. So have referrals. (Which means, when you get a job, do your best with it and don’t burn any bridges.)
You sit at a computer all day, sometimes for 10 or 14 hours. It becomes tougher and tougher to start exercising. (Hint: make friends with the standup desk.)
Fast food and retail: I still have nightmares that one day I’ll have to go back to them. It motivates me to work harder and to wrap my arms around the writing process.
Research feels fruitless when you’ve been staring at a computer screen all day and your eyes are bugging out of your head. After all, you don’t get paid on research. You get paid on the final piece. Still, it’s a necessary evil if you want to sound like you know what you’re talking about.
Through the years I’ve learned to love any subject that pays me. Something about getting money and a “job well done” from your clients fuels your creativity, even if you’re writing about seat covers and real estate.
People are, by and large, cowards, and they’ll act a lot braver from behind their keyboards than they will to your face. The worst thing you can do is read comments and get caught in combat with an anonymous Internet troll because it doesn’t matter what kind of content you write, someone will eventually chime in to say something disrespectful. The best thing you can do is develop a thick skin and let people say what they’re gonna say.
When someone gets wrapped up in something you’ve written — when they respond to it thoughtfully and intensely — when they’re moved by a piece or engage in lively discussion with others — that’s incredibly rewarding and works wonders for your confidence.
Writers, what do you find to be the worst and best things about your writing career? Share!