Many folks, including your humble correspondent, feel that this is by far the best time on earth to be a writer. In the distant past (you know, before 2007) precious few scribes were ever able to eke out a reasonable living from scribbling alone.
That’s all changed.
Every month more writers are added to the roster of those making enough lettuce to consider leaving their day jobs. But even short of that, many more are making a side income that is significant and steadily growing.
I love this! I love it that more writers can now earn a fair, merit–based return on what they write.
Today, let’s forget about the prognostications, vitriol, cries of doom, and hand-wringing over the future of culture in general and publishing in particular. Today I want to talk about being a professional writer.
For two decades now I’ve studied, analyzed, and practiced what works in this arena. I have determined that writers who make it almost always share these seven characteristics:
An inner fire to make it as a writer will get you through years of cold reality. I suspect that the majority of writers who make it to full-time status love what they do. Writing is a part of them, a calling as well as a vocation.
It’s certainly possible to write out of sheer business-mindedness (I think, however, that this is much easier when you write non-fiction). Yet there’s a certain something that gets translated to the page by the writer who loves the work. I believe you can write what you love and, if you do so with the other characteristics listed below, earn a fair return.
“One of the big lessons of sports for dedicated individuals and teams is that it shows us how hard work, and I mean hard work, does pay dividends.” – John Wooden, legendary UCLA basketball coach
Love is not enough. Ask anyone who’s married.
Work puts legs on the dream.
“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.” – Randy Pausch, “The Last Lecture”
The true writer puts this thought in mind: I am going to write and never stop because that’s what I want to do. I will keep learning and growing and producing the words. I’ll keep carving out time to write, even if it means giving some things up. And it will always be too soon to quit.
4. A Sound Mind
By which I mean the ability to overcome emotions and see things objectively. To take some of the hard knocks that are part of the writer’s life and turn them into opportunities to grow. To keep yourself from exploding in a stupid or vainglorious way on social media and thereby harming your reputation.
5. Business Savvy
If you want to earn what you’re worth you have to approach writing and publishing as a business. A successful business makes a profit. To make a profit you need a plan.
Many writers and other artists shudder at this notion. Some even rebel against it. For them writing success is usually an accident.
I don’t want you to be an accident. I want you to think like an entrepreneur. Fortunately, the business principles you need are not that difficult to acquire.
6. A Support System
As author Peter Straub once put it: “Every writer must acknowledge and be able to handle the unalterable fact that he has, in effect, given himself a life sentence in solitary confinement.”
Every writer needs support from other people. Nurture relationships with fellow writers and communities of writers. Hang out with positive folks. Be kind to your family, even Aunt Betty who thinks you’re nuts for trying to be a writer.
This is the least important item.
First of all, it’s a subjective judgment. There is no final arbiter of what constitutes talent. It’s a little like what a Supreme Court justice once said about obscenity: I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it.
You do have to have some ability to string sentences together in a coherent fashion. This is a matter of education and the habit of reading.
Having that, you can now put the other six items on the list into practice. This is how you make it in this game, and why I have just released a book called How to Make a Living as a Writer.
We all know that digital self-publishing has opened up a vast universe of possibilities for the writer. But this book is not about self–publishing alone. It also talks about how to approach traditional publishing. I advocate multiple streams of income, so I also discuss the best practices for writing both fiction and non-fiction. I cover what a publishing business actually looks like, and how any writer can create an enterprise based on quality and production. There are sections on how to become relentless, how to set and meet goals, unlocking your creativity, how to write better and faster, how to choose the right ideas for projects, and a whole lot more.
In short, I am attempting to give writers the skills that will greatly increase their odds of making a good return on what they write.
For the ebook: