How to Make a Living as a Writer—or Advice Your Mother Would Give You
By Rob Parnell
I went to a seminar recently entitled, "Is is possible to make a living as a writer?" It was all fascinating stuff—and I've paraphrased the best advice I picked up in the article below.
The four full time writers who stepped up to the podium agreed on one thing—writing for a living is about making ends meet. They also agreed, in varying degrees, with the seemingly reckless advice given below.
Here's a light hearted look at the nine main attributes a writer must develop if you want to make a go of it full time.
1. Don't do it for the money.
All full time writers agree on this. If you write expecting to make heaps with your next MS, it never seems to work out. It's only the work that is sincere that ever impresses. Do it for the love of writing.
Of course, it's ironic that, when you're full time, you ARE actually doing it for the money—but you just have to develop the attitude that your integrity is more important than your bank balance—at least in the short term!
2. Don't have a backup plan
An artist friend of mine once said, "I decided to ignore my parents' advice and not give myself anything to fall back on - because I knew if I did that, I would." Wise words? Maybe not but exactly how many years have you wasted not doing what you wanted because it was easier to work in a lab or get an office job?
Even in my own case until seven years ago, far too many!
I know it goes against sanity and everything our friends and family say, but it's uncanny how many actors, artists and writers make it because they never believed they could do anything else.
3. Learn to like living poor—at least in the short term
Another cruel fact - even in our modern, technological age, society does not approve of nor reward struggling artists - even though their willingness to 'go without' for the sake of their art should be applauded rather than ridiculed.
The simple truth is, if you chuck in your job and decide to write full time, unless you're very lucky, you're going to run out of cash pretty soon. Good motivation to write? Sure but you might be wise to downshift your lifestyle first, to make that money go further!
4. Learn how to manage the people around you
Struggling authors often complain that, though they themselves can come to terms with the hard times before the windfall, the people around them can't. Friends and family never tire of trying to get you to 'see sense' and get that job at the call center just to tide you over!
They just don't get that in your world, that's not a valid—or sane—option. But don't waste your time arguing with them - just smile sweetly, nod reassuringly and tell them you understand their concerns. Then go back to your writing as soon as you can!
5. Read as much as you can
Read anything and everything. Study other people's writing. Work out what’s good and bad. “Borrow” what works for you and reject what doesn't. Never plagiarize but do try to be aware of how others have achieved the ends—and learn from it.
6. Don't restrict your options
One of my main tenets was confirmed by the author of 26 published novels recently. He said that good writers try all kinds of mediums and styles. Then, when one sticks—that is, makes money—they keep doing it.
Try not to get hung up on just being a novelist or a journalist or a children's writer. Try them all. Hey, it's a great way to improve but also, who knows where it might lead?
7. Get a mentor
I've never met a professional writer who didn't agree with this one. You can learn so much, so quickly, just by hooking up—even for a short time—with someone who's “been there and done that.”
Of course there are all the technical things about writing that you need to know but having a mentor is about more than that - it's about gaining insight into the mind of a professional that teaches you so much about attitude, mindset and self discipline - the unspoken things that define you as a writer.
8. Keep learning
When it comes to writing you can never know too much and you can never hear good advice enough times. Keep buying books and courses about writing, self help and motivation. Keep your mind focused on growth, change and constant self improvement - in your writing and your personal life. It all helps.
And finally, the old chestnut:
9. Never, ever, ever, ever give up.
Perseverance is as much a curse as a gift. Perseverance can wreck your life in the short term while you pursue your dreams against seeming adversity, even hostility sometimes but - it's also sometimes the only way to make people and the industry sit up and realize you're serious!
And know this: I've known many professional writers who make it that aren't even as—how can I put this tactfully—aren't quite as talented as some amateurs but... who get there because they saw it as their absolute RIGHT to be there! And good on them too, is what I say.
But there's really only one piece of advice you need to succeed. And that is to:
Rob Parnell is a prolific writer who’s published novels, short stories, and articles in the U.S., U.K., and Australia, and a teacher who’s conducted writing workshops, critique groups, and seminars.
Please visit Mr. Parnell’s Web site at: