Monday, June 14, 2010

On Writing As Career

If you write without a burning desire to be published, this article is not for you.

Mind you, there's nothing wrong with the I-write-because-I-love-it-and-getting-published-doesn't-matter mindset. If that describes you, then be true to yourself and write to indulge the deepest passions of your heart. It's all good.

But if you, like me, aspire to be published--not just hope to, but intend to--read on.

By now, you've got the basics down: Keep writing. Edit your work. Send intelligent queries. Repeat. It's possible to do all this while living the rest of your life--whatever it is you do to make money, foster relationships, run a household, save the world. Time management skills are as essential as your determination to Never Give Up.

(I've gotten pretty darn good at the Never Give Up part.)

Something might be missing, though, and I encourage you to think hard about this:

Do you view your writing as a career?

Be careful. I didn't say "future" or "possible" career. I said CAREER. As in, now.

I know. When we think "career" we think "full time" and "salary" and "three weeks' paid vacation" (if we're lucky). And scribbling away at a novel every day doesn't fit the description. Not even remotely.

But here's the challenge: As aspiring authors, we should view our writing as a career BEFORE IT BEGINS TO GENERATE INCOME. Before the world looks at us and says, "Oh! You have a career as a writer!"

And here is why. Aside from the obvious creative outpouring, "being" an author is a business decision. Yes, it is! We must learn the industry, hone our professional skills, communicate effectively, brand ourselves, meet deadlines, produce consistently sale-able products.

(Yes. A novel is a product.)

If we go about our writerly business with the "someday" attitude, it will keep us from the kind of forward motion we need to truly prevail, truly forge ahead toward our goal of publication and ultimate success as an author, whether on a large or modest scale. It will affect our productivity, our drive, our long-range vision.

And it will make it easier for our I-have-no-idea-what-it-means-to-write-novels friends and family members to chuckle up their sleeves at our "little hobby."

Hobby indeed.

I have no idea what your daily life looks like. You may work sixty-hour weeks in the corporate world and have to relegate your writing to a fifteen-minute slot before bed each night. You may be at home raising five children under the age of nine and getting up at four each morning just to write in peace and quiet for a little while. You might travel extensively, you might be running your own business from home, you might be unemployed. I do not presume to know you; I do not pretend to walk in your proverbial moccasins.

It doesn't matter. No matter what the rest of your life looks like, writing is your career. NO MATTER WHAT.

And I firmly believe that making this mind-switch will change everything for the better. Because I've seen it in my own life. Want to know how?
  • I meet deadlines. Yes, they are self-imposed. But they're firm. And everyone knows authors must write to deadlines.
  • My productivity has increased. Writing to deadlines helps, of course. But so does prioritizing my writing time, which I treat like a job. No appointments, no meetings, no errands, NOTHING else during my writing time. I'm "on the clock."
  • Emotional responses to rejections have greatly diminished. Because it's my career. Not my lifeblood.
  • I can talk intelligently about publishing--the process, the industry. There's no Gray Veil of Mystery anymore. (Yes. There used to be. You know this.)
  • I take myself seriously as a writer. I don't "apologize" when I need to write. I don't blush or squirm or sigh wistfully if someone asks me about my writing. This is my career. It's what I wake up ready to do. Ups and downs and all of it.
  • My confidence has increased. Not in an aren't-I-fabulous way (good grief, no). But in a This Is What I Am Good At way. And an I'm Getting Better Every Day way.
  • My writing has improved. Not only because I've worked hard and paid attention to the critique of people I highly esteem, but because I am focused on my writing as a career. Not something I love to do whenever I find time.
So. Whether you have to carve out your writing time during your lunch hour or you enjoy the luxury of one full, eight-hour day of uninterrupted writing each week, make it your CAREER. Don't make excuses. Don't let your day job suck the life out of your writing. Don't procrastinate. Don't keep your current project on the back burner because "life has been too busy."

Have you watched a one-hour TV episode lately? Played a video game? Spent forty minutes picking out just the right ringtone for your iPhone?

Yeah. I thought so.

WRITE. Make it your career today. Now. Even if your current employment demands a lot. Even if you're nursing a five-month-old. Even if you're in the middle of planning a wedding or a graduation or a trip to Guatemala. Careers don't simply happen. We make them.

Writing is my career. Is it yours?


  1. What a great post. And a good reminder for those of us hobbling along as "pre-published" writers, wondering far too frequently whether we're crazy for doing this. (That's purely hypothetical, of course.)

    Thanks for that. This was a much-needed sharp spur in the side.

  2. Your posts are always so well timed!

    I've recently made the switch from "hobby" to career. It was more of a mindset change than anything.

    Yes, I have a job. And that's all it is really, a means to an end. When I walk in here every morning (Hello, Monday) I cannot see myself doing this for the rest of my life.

    But when pen touches paper, it's a whole different feeling.

  3. Oh yeah. you don't have to say it twice. Writing is ABSOLUTELY my career and I treat it as such. Now, it helps that I write a weekly column for a newspaper and have a "writer" deadline, but I create the deadline for my "other" writing as well. I HAVE TO! And at the bottom of my column I made sure it says "writer of young adult fiction" too. I am walking the walk, sister! HIGH FIVE to you!

  4. Great post! I write and edit professionally, but my creative writing is done on the side (late at night!). I've just recently started to think about my personal writing as part of my career as well. In fact, I made up business cards for my blog this weekend. They've already been really useful. Thanks for some great guidelines!

  5. I've been making more time for writing, even when there seem to be a trillion other demands for my time. And I know being busy is just an excuse. I've written rough drafts over five or six weeks when I should have been too swamped to write a word. It's all about motivation and dedication.

    Thanks for the inspirational post!

  6. Okay, you stopped me cold with the word, Career.

    What is a career? Yes, I have a mind and frequently almost use it, so I know the definition of the word, but to use it in the context of my passion for writing?

    I didn’t know if I could say that.
    I had to go to the dictionary after all.

    A job or occupation regarded as long-term or lifelong.

    Oh. Well, ok then.

    I got it. I got it bad. The career.

    I am a writer.

  7. Awesome post! Yes, it's my career! I give myself deadlines too. And once, my daughter was filling out a survey and had to write what job I had, and although I have a part-time job I told her to put down 'Writer' - which caused her to give me a strange look. I said, "I'm still a writer even if I'm not published yet." I saw the light go on in her head at that, lol.

  8. Great post! It's true, if you can't set deadlines for yourself now, what makes you think you can do it just because you got an agent?

    It's definitely a mind-set.

  9. Wonderful post, I only wish I had the same mindset. Unfortunately, my profession is all-consuming, physically and mentally. The Army will likely keep that honor until I retire from the military in five years, maybe even past that. I'll always be a Soldier first. All that said, I set and meet deadlines. I view publishing as a 'when' rather than in 'if.' I even laid a six year plan of climbing the literary ladder with intermediate goals on each rung.

    For me, goals are what's important, as opposed to titles. People who write down their goals are far more likely to achieve them.

    Mine are taped to the side of my writing cave. Where are yours?

  10. Authoress you're my hero for writing up this post!

    I'm going to print off copies of this and hand them to the people in my life who don't get it. The ones who tell me that I 'can write later' or that I 'don't HAVE to get that edited RIGHT now' or 'come on, what's more important, writing or having a good time with your friends' After reading this they might understand why, for me, I DO have to write NOW, not later, I DO have to edit this RIGHT NOW, not later, and while writing might not be as important as my FRIENDS, it's more important than having fun WITH my friends, at least when I have a deadline.

    I also loved reading this because it reaffirms in my own mind, that I AM a writer, because I already do all of these things, I see myself in this article. I loved that last bit about watching the hour long TV show and video game, and iphone. I don't even know what shows are currently running at the moment, I don't have anything but standard ringers on my iphone, and the last video game I played was on an Atari....

  11. Such a great post! It comes at the perfect time too - I was starting to feel guilty for spending too much time writing. But I'm going to stop now. Writing is my CAREER! Thank you for putting it into words :)

  12. What an awesome, awesome post. The light has clicked on in my head. Yes, I may have a day job, but that's my "job". My career is writing.
    Authoress, you're a genius.

  13. What a great post. I recognize myself in the "squirm and blush" reaction, although it's definitely improving. It's easy to approach writing music and nonfiction this way--the two areas in which I've made decent inroads--but in the area of fiction, I still feel like a total newbie. My writing time gets done every day, but I will admit I don't work the day around it; I work writing in around the day. Flexibility is key for me. I'm one of those "three kids under..." people, only in my case it's not under the age of 9, it's under the age of 6. Still, I agree wholeheartedly with you--it does have to be a priority, or it will never graduate beyond "hobby." My hobby is scrapbooking, and I often have to leave it alone for weeks on end. Writing is my job.

  14. An excellent post, Authoress! :D

    I've been thinking (a dangerous pastime, I know...) about this topic and this post came at a great time.

    Thanks, as always. :) You're made of awesome. :D

  15. Writing is my vocation. Learning the writer's craft is my passion. Reading feeds my soul. What more do I need?

  16. I agree with you 100%. Writing is my career. Yes, I'm a full-time mother to a three-year-old who demands my attention almost all day long. But I have scheduled writing time each day, and I don't feel bad ignoring phone calls or the rest of the world during that time. This is my job, and I love my job.

  17. Great post -- food for thought!

    I view myself as a writer first and foremost and an aspiring novelist working to be published. It's not my career at this time -- I am a policy analyst in government and do it to support my family. But I am serious about writing as a second career and am actively working on that future. :)

    When I first started writing, I did it because I had this vague dream of writing a novel but had no idea the process. I didn't know about agents or editors or publishers or anything about the craft or business. Now, I've been working on finishing and polishing my novel(s) and researching the process so that I am ready and knowledgable when the time comes. I think I'm ready now to start submitting to agents.

    Authoress has been a very necessary place and resource.

  18. I plan on printing this out and reading it as often as needed. Thank you. This was an inspiring post.

  19. You know it's a career when you're willing to drive 6 hrs. total for a 2 hr. crit session with a seasoned writer (SO worth it) and then turn around the next day and spend 3 more hours in another crit group! That's how I spent my weekend--climbing another rung on my writing ladder!

    Kudos to my wonderful hub, who also believes it's a career and watches our flock of kiddos while I learn the business and write.

    Thanks for this, Authroess!

  20. Amen.

    I've always thought that it was counterproductve to think in terms of "someday" or "if I'm so lucky". So I say "when", and I say it with confidence. It may not be right away, but I can keep putting the work in until then (and after, of course).

  21. Reading this post has helped me decide that writing could and should be my career. I think I can write decently enough and edit to be even better. I just added creative writing as a double major to my psych degree, but I wasn't planning to do much beyond graduation. Now I feel like I should. Grad school is always going to be there, but I have no idea when I'll be able to write. I just need to make time for it...

    Great post. Thanks for further convincing me to take my writing to new places.

  22. Great post! Considering the amount of time I spend writing (my novels and blog posts), editing, critting, blogging, social networking, you better believe I view what I do as my career. Fortunately my husband and kids see it the same way, as do my in-laws. Only my parents view it as a hobby. Guess which set of parents I like better. ;)

  23. Brilliant post. I do need this reminder. :)

  24. Wonderful post! I consider myself in the school of writing...You know you go to college, get a degree, go to work, learn how to do your job and then have success. (I've done all of those things in education...) Now I'm on year three in the school of writing. With publication in a magazine under my belt and one in an SCBWI regional letter coming out soon I feel like I'm learning about the career I want.

    My husband and daughter are supportive. I dragged them across the state this weekend so I could interview an artist in a remote town with a gas station and a post office.

    Have a great one!

  25. What a great post, Authoress. I’ve been telling my family that writing is my career for years now, but most of them don’t understand. We often have the whole family over for long weekends and special occasions. This weekend was our wedding anniversary, plus a long weekend, so four generations gathered at our country home for three days and nights.

    Yipes! How was I gonna write? In the middle of the night? That’s what I thought, but no. Two family members had to check their emails and Facebook and wouldn’t get off my computer. Grrr! I paced the floor. That didn’t work. I turned off the heater. Nope – that didn’t work either. I said, “Okaydokey, I have to write now.” Did that work? No! It didn’t!

    I got the response, “Ah, you’re always on the computer, you can write anytime.”

    “Hey!” I said. “That’s my career. I’ve work to do, now go to bed.” Hugh! They totally switched me off.

    I glared at the back of their heads. Then I had a wicked idea. I pulled out a blanket, threw it on my office couch and turned off the computer. Heehee. I told them I needed to sleep and didn’t want to disturb my husband as it was 3am. (At least he understands and lets me write in peace.)

    But by the time I turned my computer back on, I began falling asleep. I decided to get up early instead. I woke at 7am and was happily writing for about fifteen minutes when my two little grandkids toddled into my office. They giggled and said, "Cartoons, Nanna."

    With a big sigh, I switched on the TV and pulled out the toy box. Ah, well, there’s one reason I don’t mind delaying my writing. They’re my inspiration. I sat on the couch and wrote down their dialogue instead. You can’t beat that.

    Sorry, I got a bit carried away there. What was the question again? I blame lack of sleep.

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  27. This is timely for me. In fact, today was my first day 'on the job' (I set my alarm an hour earlier in order to write.)It's a promise I've made to myself recently. I'm not getting a lot of support at home,and sometimes it's downright opposition. I've been made to feel selfish that I want to spend time writing, and editing, and querying, when I could be watching TV with the family (I'm serious). I have to fight just to sit at the computer right now. So, I've decided to write when it's convenient for everyone else. Early in the morning. And I'm taking my laptop to work for lunch hours. A lot can be accomplished in a lunch hour. I won't be taken seriously around here until I actually get something published. Until then, I have to buy out the time. But you know what? Success is always the best revenge.

  28. Yeah! A backdoor "aren't I great" post.

    This is an utter load of crap.

  29. 'I don't "apologize" when I need to write.'

    I struggle with this. Even with my wife -- the most understanding and supporting person in my real life -- I still feel a bit ashamed asking her to watch the kids while I don't make money.

    This was a great post. Thank you.

  30. Fantastic post. I needed to hear this today as I've been taking a 'break' from my writing that has lasted nearly a month and it was only supposed to last a week. It's an easy 'career' to fall out of because all of it is self-imposed. Good luck!

  31. In fact I really AM planning a trip to Guatemala! But you're right: that's no excuse. I do plan to be published, and not just once. This is a career, and I thank you for the great reminder.

  32. This post was well-timed. I'm a teacher and I'm looking at my summer off which means for two months I can concentrate on my second career, writing. Maybe I'll finally get my novel to the point where its worthy of submitting.

  33. Love this. So timely too.

    Thanks Authoress!

  34. Just wanted to say "hi" real quick and let you know that I found your blog via "Where Sky Meets Ground" (Jon Paul's blog) and am quite glad that he mentioned it.

    (Note: I'm always interested in how people find my blog, so I'm committed to letting fellow bloggers know how I find their repsective corners of the Internet.)

    You've given me a lot to think about with this post and I certainly appreciate it. There is a lot of useful stuff here and you are making a difference in at least one dude's life now. Thank you! :)

  35. Thanks! I do something related to my writing almost every day. Right now I'm editing an MS, so most days it's rereading and nitpicking.

    I agree so much with this. Since I started following a few industry blogs and hanging around on WD community and inkwell.ning, I feel like a completely different creature.

  36. Awesome post. You're absolutely right.
    Writing is definitely my career.

  37. Spot-on, Authoress. I made the transition to a writing career at the end of 2007--after more than a decade of "wanting to be a writer." My debut novel, Minder, comes out this week.

    "TV episodes? They still make those?"

  38. Thanks - I needed that today. :)

  39. Keeping your writing as a serious career is part of understanding that writing is both romantic and gratifying, but that it is also a business.

    It is a vulgar business of keeping the accounts in the black. Both for you and for the publisher, for the agent and the distributor, the bookshop and the prize is the reader.

    Trouble is people seem to have developed the idea that if you actually enjoy what you do then it can't be a career. FUN? FUN EARNING A LIVING?

    But writing can be a career. A very legitimate one and once taken seriously, together with the network you eventually build, the workshops, and the other enterprises that arise from this, such as workshops you might conduct, celebrity visits or guest talks etc...

    I know somebody who is a top international writer. He gets up early, goes to his 'office' and puts in the hours to his job. That's his job. His career.

    But the important thing is that even through writer's block, you must write every day. It doesn't have to be 5,000 words. Sometimes you can sit all day and stare at the wall. But the characters must be allowed to mingle in the shadows of your mind, amongst your moodswings.

    But also those who love you for what and who you are must understand that your space for this pursuit of this goal is as important to them as it is to you.

    Sometimes the more difficulties you have to pursue your career the most seriously you drive yourself to overcome them like an explorer determined to discover/uncover.

    I network once a month and have recently come across a woman who is my age. Mannnnnnn! I look at her with such admiration. AT the moment is is in Africa shooting lion stories. Riding around in a jeep with a cam. She goes out in a tent in Zimbabwe or where-ever it is and I think WOW! I know I'm not like that but at least I can sit at the same table as her and also call me an author.


  40. This was a great post!! I am currently writing a book and I was starting to get burnt out a little and didn't want to write. But after reading this i relized that I do love writing and that it is something that is important to me- and then I went and wrote three chapters. So keep up the great work!!!

  41. Thanks for this post Authoress.

    When you're starting out, it's sometimes hard enough to convince yourself because you are not earning any money from it yet.

    And when people ask you when is it going to be finished - people with 9-5 jobs - and you've written over 100,000, you still tell the truth: 'I don't know' - it's hard to make it all seem significant.

    For instance today - I love my family but because I'm not being paid and stuck in an office - it's me who becomes chauffeur etc doing errands that others can't do because they're 'working' and there goes 6 hours of your day.

    I did have my daily word quota and I did have a routine. And recently I realized that every time you relax on the two - people around you, who you love, thinks it's okay to be relaxed about your schedule too.

    So I'm going back to my routine and my daily word quota as of tomorrow.

    Thanks for reminding me that my career is just as important - paid or not.

    I'm going to eat and get that word quota in before bed.

  42. Hey. Very informative article. I`ve learned a lot from it. Seems like I read something like this on New York Times.