I was talking recently to Joe of The Ladders, a comprehensive career resource for professionals that takes pride in helping people in diverse demographics with their career no matter what the field. Joe had an unusual question for me: what would I advise someone looking to turn their passion for writing into a career?
This got me thinking. What kind of writing did Joe have in mind? Writing can take so many forms; from blogging and advertising to poetry and creative writing. As a university lecturer, more than half my time was spent writing, as academics have to publish regularly. As a PhD student, I wrote a 75,000 word thesis.
Needless to say, people interested in making a living out of writing will probably combine these forms. For example, they may work on their book, but pay the bills through freelance journalism, content marketing or offering editing services. So, what kind of advice may one offer that encompasses all these possibilities?
It then occurred to me that, regardless of what kind of writing someone is interested in, they have to make a choice. They can write for themselves, as an art, or sell their words to clients. Mind you, this is not a one or the other kind of choice. For example, right now I am ghost-writing a book, blogging, and writing short stories, a children’s book and a fantasy novel, part of a five-book series. All this while also working a day job as a web designer – which has given me the skills I need to build my author platform online. And I teach from time to time, just for the fun of it.
Most people will not end up lone recluses in an ivory tower, writing their magnus opus and sending their hunchback assistant scurrying for a brain every time there’s a storm. Instead, they might hold a nine-to-five job at an advertising agency doing content marketing. At night and during weekends, they might irritate their hapless spouse by shutting themselves into a study for a few hours, working on their novel.
So, my number one tip would be this: whatever balance you find, don’t fret about it. You’re not doing it wrong. It is a balance we each need to find on our own. Unless you’re an heir to a fortune, you will struggle with time, and writing will be a juggling act. And that’s okay. That’s how everyone else does it, too – regardless of what it looks like to an outsider. Even professional writers with huge deals will struggle to both meet their contract obligations, promote their work, network and write. The challenges don’t disappear; they just change.
One thing I can tell you for sure is that writers must make the distinction between “job” and “business.” When writers tell you that “writing is a job,” they mean that you must treat it with the same seriousness as any nine-to-five job. You may not have a boss – but you must treat each and every one of your readers as one.
And believe me – there is a lot of work involved with writing. Gone are the days when all an author had to do was to write a wonderful novel, and the publishers would take care of the rest – assuming those halcyon days ever existed. Whether you publish traditionally or self-publish, you will still have to deal with marketing, developing an author platform, networking and selling your book. These are things few writers take into account when they start writing, mainly because very few writing courses mention them. Writers learn everything about showing and telling, but nothing about using Twitter to promote their book.
So, my second tip to anyone wishing to pursue a writing career is this: you will have to treat it as a business, if you don’t want to starve. Writers need to let go of the “employee” mindset and think like businesspeople instead. Writing is not a job. It’s a service business. And you are in charge.
If you’re interested in finding out what publishing a novel really entails, you may want to check out my blog post, “I Just Published my Book. Now What?”
If freelance writing is more your cup of tea, then Mridu’s The International Freelancer is a great place to start.
To search for career opportunities in writing, you can go to theLadders’ Career Search Page and explore the platform.
If you’re just in the mood for some reading instead, you can do a lot worse than my award-winning children’s book, Runaway Smile for free!