Writing: should we ease into it or jump into it?
“The majority of writers want to ease into the business. They want success to find them subtly, and want everything to gradually climb up that ladder to greatness. But sometimes, some of the change in your life needs to happen with purpose.
“At age 46, I’d reached 25 years with my employer, which gave me an option to retire early, albeit with a huge cut in any sort of pension. Nobody I knew ever took advantage of that opportunity, mainly because they never saw it as an opportunity. They had nothing to go to, so they stayed where they were.” – Hope Clark, Funds for Writers
Most novelists and short story writers don’t make enough from their writing to support themselves. They write at night and/or on weekends while holding down a full-time job that pays the bills. Sooner or later, this approach gets frustrating because–especially if one has a family–it’s easy for “free time” to disappear leaving little time for the novel in progress.
We have to look for opportunities and honestly take a look at the quality of the writing we’re doing already. And that’s not all. . .
- Early Retirement: If one has a job with a pension plan and/or can start drawing social security payments, then maybe–like Hope Clark–“retirement” represents the opportunity we’ve been waiting for. Or, perhaps another family member gets a promotion and can put half of his/her income in the bank for a few years until you’re ready to try writing full-time.
- Employability: Giving up a full-time job in order to start writing also depends on how easily you can get back into the job market if you want to or need to a few months or years down the road. If your skills and experience keep you in demand, then leaving full-time work to write is an easier decision.
- Writing Skill Level: In most professions, people don’t hang up a shingle or otherwise start their own company without the skills and financing required to make it a success. However, a lot of people who have written a little here or there often think that they’re ready to earn a major part of their income from it. Logically, this isn’t so. On the other hand, if stories are being accepted by magazines and winning contests or if you’ve had some luck publishing direct to Kindle, then maybe you can decide that your writing has progressed to the point where a full-time approach makes sense.
- Family Participation: The family needs to know how your full-time writing will impact them. Money may be tighter, meaning fewer movies, dinners out and other shopping trips. Perhaps everyone will have to pitch in to help with chores that might have been hired out–like mowing the yard. However, the biggest adjustment for them may be understanding that you have a full-time writing job and are not available to use your work time for running family errands, doing chores around the house, and other tasks that you would do if you were simply on vacation.
- Writing Groups: Formal and informal groups are available to writers. Some focus on critiques of work; others include seminars, speakers, and access to those who have already turned pro. Their advice will help you make a decision about writing full-time as well as how to set up your business.
- Relationships with Others: Understandably, it’s difficult to introduce oneself as a novelist before his or her first novel is published. Once it has been, don’t introduce yourself with a tone of apology in your words simply because your work isn’t well known. People who open stores, call themselves grocers, booksellers, druggists and insurance sales persons from day one; they don’t say, “er, well, I kind of sell a little insurance.”
- Inspiration: Inspiration is great and those of us who write depend on it a lot. When we write as a hobby, we can wait for inspiration; when we write full-time, we don’t have that luxury any more than a newspaper reporter can go to the office and say s/he’s not in the mood to cover political meetings today. Part of writing full-time is acknowledging that professionals don’t wait around for the muse to appear. They have to find ways to work through the writer’s block and the down days. Of course, on days when the writing isn’t at it’s best, maybe you shift gears and do research for your next book, or make the rounds of book review blogs and establish a presence there before you come back later and ask them to review your book, or maybe you spend the day learning how to format a manuscript for Smashwords or Kindle.
- Explore out-of-pocket expenses: In addition to your computer, modem, printer, toner, etc., you will have out of pocket expenses if you plan to self-publish. Even long-term professional writers need copy editors and/or proofreaders. So will you, and it can’t be your aunt Martha or your spouse unless those people are in the business and known manuscript standards. You’ll also need cover art. You may want a book trailer. If you’re nervous about using your home address, especially on a website or in the social media, consider a post office box. How about printed book marks and business cards? Finding who can do this work for you may take some research and some discussions with other writers.
- Keep Reading: That’s a source of information, and it fuels your imagination and shows you how other writers handle description, pacing, plots, dialogue, back story, point of view, location settings and themes.
There’s a lot of writing advice out there from marketing to technique to promotion. I can’t possibly do justice to all the sites and books, but here are several ideas:
- THE SHY WRITER: An Introvert’s Guide to Writing Success, by C. Hope Clark
- Writing the Breakout Novel, by Donald Maass
- Self-publishing Made Simple: A How-to Guide for the Non-tech-savvy Among Us by Melinda Clayton
- Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success (Smashwords Guides 3) by Mark Coker
- On Writing: 10th Anniversary Edition: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
Good luck–and keep your passion and perseverance alive.