Pen for Hire

My studio - about a 60-second walk from my back door.

My studio – about a 60-second walk from my back door.

I participated in a Freelancer’s Roundtable on WordPress’s Daily Post last week, Beyond Blogging: Freelancing, Getting Paid to Write, and Writing for Free. Of course, I was flattered to be asked, even though I do very little freelance writing anymore. Nevertheless, I was surprised by some of my answers, which I’ll elaborate on here.

My Typical Day

I get to my desk by 8:00 am, and I start with NAMS: I narrate the state of my mind onto the page, followed by affirmations. Then I meditate, at which point my mind is clear and still for a Single Task, which these days means working on my novel, Ellen: The Autobiography of Jane Austen by Ellen Wasserman.

I work on my novel till lunch. Ideally, after lunch I walk the dog, then return to my desk to write radio commentaries, editorials, or other paying work. In reality, I often run errands, attend meetings, and do chores. Right now, I’m in that sweet spot where I’m finishing a novel, and I often return to it in the afternoons.

And then there’s the business that supports writing. Today, I spent three hours planning a writing workshop, Mourning Our Mothers: A Daughter’s Day of Remembrance, scheduled for the Saturday before Mother’s Day. I wrote a press release in the afternoon, and met with a web designer in the early evening. I’m writing this post after nine at night.

Honestly, I don’t know if there is a typical day as much as there are ideal days and days that veer out of control. But this much I do know: I’m always writing, even when I’m apparently doing other things, like driving the car or opening the mail.

Paid v. Unpaid?

Writing fiction comes first, even though it doesn’t pay — yet. I do my pen-for-hire work in the afternoon. But this is relatively new. For years,  I had to be more concerned with income than I am now. Then, I was lucky and found freelancing jobs through networking. It helped that I had three salable skills: good writing ability, research skills, and medical knowledge. I did a lot of technical writing for major medical centers that was both interesting and lucrative. Most of this work was without a byline, but the paycheck made up for that. Now, jobs come to me, and I only take those that both interest me and pay well.

Writing for Free

I’m a great believer in “Do what you love and the money will follow.” Since the publication of my first novel in 2010, I call myself a novelist. Into the Wilderness won both critical acclaim and an award. I hope my next novel will earn money. Currently, I earn money by writing nonfiction, leading workshops, public speaking, and taking on private clients for developmental editing. I used to teach, but I’ve decided I’d rather have time to write than money. In a world where income is our default measure of success, this can be difficult.

That said, I blog for free because I’m passionate about writing; because it connects me to a community of writers; and because it ultimately builds an audience for when my next novel comes out. I also write for nonprofits I support, which beats baking brownies for bake sales: fewer calories, larger audience, and best of all — it keeps me at my desk.

Writing for Exposure

 I once met a writer who aimed to receive one hundred rejections in a year. In the process, he received eight acceptances.

Digital and self-publishing have made it so easy to publish that I think a lot of good writing never happens: new writers are impatient to see something in print and what goes out isn’t really finished. I think writing for peers is the first step, and then letters to the editor, guest posts, and newsletters are a good way to move forward. It’s important to distinguish between being published and being read.

dll2013Deborah Lee Luskin earned a PhD in English Literature, managed a medical practice, taught, raised children, kept bees, hiked 2/3 of The Long Trail (so far), and tells stories.

23 thoughts on “Pen for Hire

  1. A sensible post of about writing and life. Great line that “distinguish between published and being read.”
    Dividing the day is a good idea – the brain does shift gears with routines. It’s sometimes irritating when your name doesn’t make it on the final copy of a piece, but pays the bills. Smiled over the 100 rejections. Best approach ever.
    Enjoyed the post

    • I love it too! There’s no phone or internet out there, either. I’m on-line now while the wood stove warms the place up. Then off to my Chapel of the Imagination for the rest of the day!

    • Thanks for your comment. The trick about always writing is learning how to remember my ideas. Meditating has helped calm my mind – and improved this part of my memory. Best, Deborah.

  2. My 14yr old Daughter has written a couple of books by hand and has typed one of those up on the PC. What would you recommend I do as a “next step”? She has a desire to continue writing and would like to be an author. however; I am not sure how to nurture this passion.

    • It’s great she has you for a mom! Support for making art is crucial. Beyond that, she should find some readers among her family and friends. (This is how Jane Austen started, so there’s good precedent.) She should keep writing. Is there a Young Writers Project near you? (There’s one in Vermont, available online.) And she should read, read, read. Maybe even Stone Soup – a literary magazine written by teens. I’m sure her school- and public- librarian can suggest other resources. Finally, perhaps she can find a mentor to help her with craft. Maybe there’s a willing professional writer in your neighborhood? Good luck! Deborah.

  3. Pingback: Do Indie Authors Rush To Publish Their Novels? | M.L. Kilian

    • I’m aiming for publication in January, 2016 – the bicentennial of the publication of EMMA. I’ll keep my readers here informed of my progress. Thanks for your encouragement. Deborah.

  4. Very cool. I’m at the stage of supporting myself with jobs and writing between things (something I’m getting better and better at). I can ‘dream build’ off your all day writing! Best of luck.

    • Writing “between things” is a great start. And we can make our dreams come true – with dedication and persistence. And honestly, I dream of writing all day, too. There are always interruptions! Deborah.

  5. Thank you for sharing your wisdom! As a stay at home mom with little space, I’m drooling over your studio right now. It reminds me of the grandpa’s cabin on the movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang! Thanks!

    • When I had three little ones and two jobs, I had a room of my own that I could barely find time to hoe out. Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own is one model; Ursula LeGuin’s The Fisherman’s Daughter offers another: write where ever you are, when ever you can.
      And the kids do grow up!
      Thanks for your support.

  6. I love your studio too, and your perspective. Encourages me to keep expecting my own version of a “studio” and getting paid to do what I love! Thanks for sharing!

    • Glad you found the post inspiring – and glad you let me know. I love hearing when my writing hits home. And you can make your dream come true – if you stick with it! Deborah.

  7. Thank you for your words of wisdom, it’s always great to hear advice from other writers. I write for a health care company right now doing all their clinical website page s as well add some freelance work on the side. One day I hope to be on my own choosing which jobs I take. Maybe build myself a little studio!

    • If you stick with it, I’m sure you’ll succeed. You’re already a pen-for-hire, making valuable contacts. Thanks for letting me know this post mattered to you – and good luck! Deborah.

  8. Pingback: Writing Rituals | Live to Write – Write to Live

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