You Want to Make a Living as a Writer? Are You Crazy?

If you have a passion for writing and have non-creatives in your life, you have probably heard some form of this mantra for years:

No one can make a living writing; find something practical to pursue. 

What’s ‘practical’? What makes sense if your passion is for words? Fitting the square peg into a round hole never works, does it?

The comfort of working for yourself

The comfort of working for yourself

It helps to be a little crazy when pursuing something many people can’t relate to. But if you want to make a living as a writer, there are a few skills that can help you succeed.

  • Passion for words – I believe you need to have a yearning to learn about words, to want to play with words, to strive to get sentences just write, to want to share part of yourself through written expression. You want to make an impression on your audience in some manner.
  • Confidence – Believe in yourself and in your passion to write. Take pride in every piece of writing you create; in every story your muse delivers to you. Every new piece of writing is more experience that helps you grow, expand, and refine your skill.
  • Discipline – this is such a big deal! You absolutely have to be able to set a schedule and stick to it! Writing only when you’re in the mood will not help you make a living as a writer at all. Take writing seriously – get your butt in a chair and your hands over the keyboard – and write! Daily!
  • Training/Education – Take some writing classes (online or in person), practice writing and submitting to contests that offer feedback, join a critique group. Practice different types of writing to discover what you enjoy most – also learn about what pays well — you want to make a living as a writer! (this helps build your confidence and discipline too)
  • Marketing – as a solopreneur writer, you have to not only create, but you have to advertise – let people know you have the talent, time, and ability to deliver on their writing needs. Marketing takes time, isn’t easy, but is absolutely required in order to make a living as a writer. If people and businesses don’t know you exist, the money will not come.

To make a living as a writer, you must have business skills. There isn’t any way around it — other than hiring someone to manage the business side of the writing life — but even then, you want to have an understanding of all that is involved.

The writing life isn’t something to jump into – take the time to honestly assess your skills, passion, and interest in words.

If it’s truly what you want – go for it! Being a little scared and unsure is natural – it means you’re pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, and there’s never anything wrong with that. Ever. (in my humble opinion)

Do you have what it takes to make a living as a writer?

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Big Magic

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear.

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear.

Not many books I’ve read about writing and staying inspired have confronted the fear factor, so I was eager to read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. At long last, the library copy became available, and I have the book in my hands.

What I like about what I’ve read so far is that Gilbert expands creativity beyond the page and talks about “creative living . . . a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear.”

One of the things I love about being a writer is license to be curious, because while I may escape to my studio every day to face the same blank page, I’m also tasked with learning new information, meeting new people, asking questions, being curious.

Gilbert acknowledges that courage is necessary for creativity. Some days, sitting at my desk is scary and I wish with all my heart that I’d become a lawyer. Meanwhile, I have friends who are lawyers who ask me, “How do you do it?” meaning get up and go to work without someone else providing the expectations, the office and the paycheck.

Most of the time I reply, “How do you do it?” meaning pull on a suit, commute to an office, and follow instructions.

Sometimes I wish I had an office job. (pixabay)

Sometimes I wish I had an office job. (pixabay)

Sometimes I wish I had an office job just for the camaraderie, coffee breaks and photocopier. I imagine life would be easier if I had someone else telling me what to do and handing me a weekly paycheck. But these are just details, and they’re not mine.

I’ve chosen the blank page, which some days feels like standing in front of a firing squad, and some days feels like floating weightless through outer space. Most days, it’s a mixture of the two. As Gilbert says, “It seems to me that my fear and my creativity are basically conjoined twins – as evidenced by the fact that creativity cannot take a single step forward without fear marching right alongside it.”

Having established that “Bravery, means doing something scary,” Gilbert discusses the magic of inspiration and recounts the remarkable story of abandoning a novel on which she’d been working long enough to develop significant and specific portions of the characterization, plot and setting, only to discover that Ann Pachett was just starting a book with similar characterization, plot and setting.

There's no limit on creativity. (pixabay)

There’s no limit on creativity. (pixabay)

What I like about this story is not so much Gilbert’s explanation of inspiration floating around until someone catches it, but her refutation that 1) creativity demands suffering, and 2) the amount of inspiration and creativity in the universe is limited. Both these ideas are commonplace – and untrue.

Where I write joyfully when I overcome fear. www.deborahleeluskin.com

Where I write joyfully when I overcome fear.
http://www.deborahleeluskin.com

It is entirely possible to be creative and joyful! In fact, being creative brings joy to the maker and the receiver(s) of creation, whether it be the cooking of a good meal or the writing of a good story. We live in an expanding universe – there’s no limit on creativity. Gilbert writes, “The guardians of high culture will try to convince you that the arts belong only to a chosen few, but they are wrong and they are also annoying.”

Reading that sentence was Big Magic for me, so I closed the book and returned gleefully to my desk.

 

Into the Wilderness, is an award-winning love story set in Vermont in 1964.

Into the Wilderness, is Luskin’s award-winning love story set in Vermont in 1964.

Deborah Lee Luskin blogs weekly at Living in Place.

Friday Fun – SO … Where D’You Get Your Story Ideas?

Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.

QUESTION: We recently asked you what questions you’d like answered in our Friday Fun post. Today, we’re answering the following reader question:

FriFunQuestion3a

JME5670V2smCROPJamie Wallace: Ahhh … the always-asked question about where story ideas come from. This is a query with no right answer. The genesis of each story is unique and sometimes completely inexplicable.

I can, however, point you to two of my past blog posts: 4 Steps to Capture the Muse – Documenting Ideas and Your Writer’s Mind.

I’ll also offer up this video featuring the inimitable Neil Gaiman providing one of the most informative and entertaining responses I’ve ever heard to this question:

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson: I think it’s more a question of how do you get the ideas to STOP flowing in? I could spend so much time every day writing down ideas for stories, articles, blog posts, etc., that it’s more of a challenge to know which ideas to grab and make note of than worry about where to look for ideas.

When struggling to find inspiration to write, take a minute to pause and think about what it is you’re truly finding a challenge. Is it really that you have NO inspiration to write? NO idea what to write about? NO motivation to create?

I find the best way to find inspiration is to show up and start writing – without thinking. Just start writing. Words my be gobbly-gook and make no sense. Maybe it’s simply writing “What do I write about What do I write about What do I write about” over and over until suddenly you find yourself writing about something.

Give it a shot. You have nothing to lose.

“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” – Pablo Picasso

Lee Laughlin CU 7-13

Lee Laughlin: I’m with Lisa, for me it’s about filtering the ideas that are floating through my head. I try to keep a running list of things that have caught my attention and stay with me for more than 30 seconds. If I overhear a snippet of conversation and it’s still with me 2 days later I write it down.  I saw the movie Spotlight on Monday night and I’m still reflecting on the movie and the broader story. Who knows where that will lead. =

I also play the “What if?” game. What if Peyton Manning and Tom Brady had to share a jail cell when they are in their 70’s? What do they talk about? Do they talk? Why are they in a jail cell in the first place?

Sometimes an issue is important to me (i.e. the maiming and killing of people with albinism in Tanzania) and I rage at the computer until I get my ideas out and then see what can be done to turn it into a salable piece.

My fictional WIP features a heroine with multiple chemical sensitivities. This came out of issues my husband and daughter have with VOCs (volatile organic compounds). There are gems to mined in every aspect of your life, just pick up the pen or sit at the keyboard and start typing. In my experience people who have trouble coming up with topics to write about are letting their self-editor get the upper hand. Lock him or her in a box somewhere and just start brain dumping.

For more inspiration, I highly recommend Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird.

Deborah Lee Luskin, M. Shafer, Photo

Deborah Lee Luskin,
M. Shafer, Photo

Deborah Lee Luskin: I’m interested in ordinary, daily life, so I find ideas everywhere; for me the trick is to capture them, which is why I carry pen and paper with me at all times.

Like Lee, I ask, “What if?” Case in point: I was stuck in construction traffic near my house when the state highway was relocated. While waiting for my turn to bumpety-bump over the dirt lane, I wondered what Vermont was like before the interstates were built and what happened during construction. I did a lot of research, including interviews. The result: my novel, Elegy for a Girl.

Ideas for radio commentaries and my weekly blog come at me thick and fast, alongside the rush of daily life. And ideas, scenes, characters, voices all bubble up on my daily walk.

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon: I don’t have much to add to the answer listed by my colleagues above, except to say that if I don’t write ideas down, I end up thinking I didn’t have any ideas that day. If I make a point to write my ideas down, (or record them as voice memos in my phone,) I’m always surprised by how many ideas I have.

For my life coaching blog, I write about things that come up in my daily life or in the lives of my clients. For other writing, I often write about things that happened years ago that have stayed with me. Recently, a writer friend asked me why this incident I was trying to write about was so important to me. I realized it was much more than one incident and I suddenly could see a thread running through a number of situations that happened to me and others in my life–they were all connected in my mind.

 

 

Staying Inspired

Staying inspired to keep writing by reading this essay collection.

Staying inspired to keep writing by reading this essay collection.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about staying inspired.

I’m not talking about finding ideas, characters, plots, essay topics or images for poems, but encouragement to keep writing and affirmation that writing is well worth the effort. I’m talking about staying inspired and knowing that regardless of where you’re writing – in an isolated garret on a desolate moor or at a table in a crowded café – you’re never really alone, but a member of an order called to articulate the fine points of human existence as you experience or imagine it, and that this is an honorable endeavor.

The most positive way I’ve found of staying inspired is

Another inspiring title.

Another inspiring title.

reading a well-written book about writing. Most recently, I read Ann Patchett’s collection of essays, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage. It was a pleasure to learn about Patchett’s journey from a waitress to a journalist to a widely read novelist and now an owner of a successful independent bookstore in her hometown of Nashville, Tennessee.

 

And another.

And another.

The essays range from magazine assignments to pieces written specifically for this collection. As in any good collection, its organization creates a narrative arc so that the whole is greater than its parts. The book opens with Non-Ficton, an Introduction, in which Patchett tells the story of learning to support herself by writing non-fiction for Seventeen Magazine. The book concludes with an essay about Patchett’s former teacher turned friend, a seventy-eight year old nun who faces moving from communal living in the convent to live by herself in an apartment with little practical experience and a lifetime of faith.

A program to foster creativity.

A program to foster creativity.

In between these two essays are stories about being called to write and the importance of storytelling in her life. Patchett explains, “the story is in us, and all we have to do is sit there and write it down. But it’s right about there, right about when we sit down to write that story, that things fall apart.”

I’d be hard-pressed to explain why I find what could easily be considered a demoralizing observation inspirational, but I do. I supposed I’m thrilled to know that even a novelist of income-producing novels admits that while there is no question about being called to write, that doesn’t really make it easy.

Hugely inspirational.

Hugely inspirational.

I’m also inspired by Patchett’s moral courage. In The Right to Read, Patchett stands up to censorship, and in The Bookstore Strikes Back, she tells the remarkable story of starting an independent bookstore exactly when bricks and mortar chains are crumbling. This is brave stuff.

And of course, I loved the story of the happy marriage, the marriage that Patchett resisted for so long, the marriage that makes her a better person.

I don't know what I expected from the title, but I was hooked from the first sentence.

I was hooked from the first sentence.

This collection of funny and wise essays affirmed what and how I write, and it inspired me to keep on doing it.

Thank you, Ann Patchett.

 

Other inspiring books about the writing life that I’ve reviewed here include:

Where do you get your inspiration to keep pushing the pen forward?

Deborah Lee Luskin, M. Shafer, Photo

Deborah Lee Luskin,
M. Shafer, Photo

Deborah Lee Luskin is the author of the award-winning novel, Into The Wilderness, “a fiercely intelligent love story” set in Vermont in 1964. She is a regular Commentator on Vermont Public Radio, teaches for the Vermont Humanities Council and blogs at Living In Place and The Middle Ages.

NaNo 2015 Update

Well, I won. I wrote 50,000 words in November.

On the evening of November 1st, after my son was in bed and the kitchen was cleaned up from supper, I remembered I’d joined NaNo at the last minute and I needed to do my word count.

Even though evening is not my best time for writing, I walked into my office and sat down at my desk. In less than an hour, I’d banged out just over 1667 words on the short story I’ve been thinking about for months.

That was easy, I thought.

Then: Why was it so easy? That’s never happened before.

On November 2nd, the same thing happened. At the end of my day, I just sat down and wrote the words I needed to write to meet my goal. I loved watching my little bar of words meet the slanting line that showed I was on track with my word count.Screen Shot 2015-12-10 at 5.28.12 AM

If I compared my previous NaNo wins (and attempts) to the story of the tortoise and the hare, I was always the hare. This year, I was the tortoise.

The first weekend of NaNo I didn’t meet my word count goals, but by the end of the next week, I’d caught up again. Toward the end of the month, I had more “no words written” days, but I’d already completed so many words I wasn’t willing to give up.

Luckily, I hosted a Write-In at my local library on November 28th, so I was able to really boost my word count while in the company of fellow writers.

Winning NaNo this year was a little anticlimactic. In previous years, I was behind (really behind) most of the month and the question of whether or not I could write 50,000 words in a month took up a lot of room in my mind.

  • When am I going to write?
  • Can I really catch up if I’m this far behind?
  • Why did I sign up for this?
  • Why did I tell people I was doing this?

This year, I just sat down and did it, day after day. No drama, no angst—just get it done.

For the first time ever, I was able to shut off my inner critic, my internal editor, and just write—which made the writing go much faster than my usual pace.

I haven’t looked back at what I wrote yet, but I doubt much of it is usable. But some of it will be.

And that’s the whole point, right? To have something to edit, rather than a blank page.

Which I do.

Thank you, National Novel Writing Month, and all my fellow Wrimos, who did it before me and with me.Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 10.20.54 AM

Now it’s time to rewrite!

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD: is a writer, blogger, life coach, and family physician. I’m ready to look back over the year and see what I’ve accomplished and what’s on tap for 2016. You?

 

Overhelmed and Not Finding Answers? Maybe a Change of Venue Can Help

This post is prompted by this image I came across on Facebook the other day:

AnswerMayNotBeAtBeach

As I’m actually at a beach this week, it seemed timely.

But it’s also relevant to how there are times when work is so piled up or a project is so challenging that we’re stymied with how to proceed.

And when I get stuck, or stymied, my frustration level tends to rise and nothing good comes from getting upset – I know my mind seems to stop trying to solve the quandary instead of resolving it, at least.

A change of scenery generally does the trick. Sometimes it’s as simple as walking out to the end of the driveway and back. Simply stepping out the door, taking a few deep breaths, realizing the issue isn’t all that complicated to solve, and a few steps (literally) away from where the tension was mounting can kick ideas free.

Anything that gets oxygen circulating and endorphins kicking up their heels, is a good thing.

Of course we can’t always hop on a plane and go to a nice beach to ‘escape reality’ for a while, but the concept is one to keep in mind.

For me, the beach is a great getaway – virtually or in person. Your perfect place may be the mountains, the lake, a foreign country, your garden, a park — whatever it is, if you find yourself stuck or struggling and need a break, get to that place if you can.

A different perspective can shake answers free — and fresh air never hurts any one, right?

Being at a New England beach in December is a bit on the chilly side, but I can’t think of anything better (for me) than walking on the beach any time of the year to get me back to being grounded. November was crazy-busy for me (in a good way), and although I’m working while ‘away’, knowing the beach is right outside my door is comforting in a way my home is not.

So, the beach may not have the answers, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to check!

Where is your getaway location?

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with manufacturing, software, and technology businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

When You Feel Like Quitting… Consider This

You work hard toward your writing and business goals.

You spend time on the big picture and getting daily tasks done.

You make strides, you celebrate milestones, and you continue working and building your dream.

But there are hiccups and stumbles along the way.

And sometimes, whether it’s a bad day, a tough client, a technology snafu, or some other “last straw,” you might think about quitting and walking away.

Success isn’t always a breeze — if it was easy, everyone would succeed at whatever they tried. Success takes works.

If (or when) you find yourself thinking about quitting and moving onto something different, think about why you started.

Go back to the spark. What was it that started you on your current path? Take some time to remember how it felt, how inspired and fired up you were. Remembering that first spark might help you refocus and keep moving forward today.

Robin Sharma said, “When you feel most like giving up is when you most need to keep going on.” I think it’s usually at this moment, the moment right before saying “I quit”, when you make the most critical decision.

I experienced this unadulterated moment years ago and I can put myself back in that moment in an instant.  I was climbing Mount Washington in NH, making good time, enjoying the beautiful day, the exercise, the challenge.

Then I got above treeline and fog moved in. I couldn’t see anything. I lost track of the markers on the stone and I only knew I was still climbing because of the incline, but I had no sense of how far I was from the summit or the tree line. Totally lost and blind. After a couple of discouraging and frustrating hours, I reached the point where I was absolutely done. I didn’t want to think, I didn’t want to move, I was just done trying. I’d been pushed beyond my limits and wanted to curl up and hide until life was easy again.

I sat down on a boulder and said, “I quit.”

And it turned out the universe was teaching me a lesson.

No sooner had I uttered those 2 words of defeat, the fog lifted and blue sky appeared. But not only that, I was seated beside the tracks for the Cog railway (which leads directly to the summit). But not only THAT, I was literally sitting a few feet below the summit house.

I had achieved my goal after all. I was at the summit of the mountain. I did it all under my own power, and yet, because I felt lost, because I had lost my focus, because I didn’t push just a little bit further, because I couldn’t see what was right in front of me, I quit.

I had a goal. I prepared and planned. I executed on the goal. I took one step at a time toward my goal.

But then challenges popped up, and I got tired, then frustrated, then angry. Instead of stopping to refocus, remember what started me up the mountain to start with, take a breath, and come up with a new plan of attack, I went with the easiest choice – quit.

Now, whenever I feel the word “quit” moving into my thoughts, I go back to that moment on the mountain and I have to say, I have never regretted taking one more step toward my goal – writing, business, personal, or otherwise – being so close to quitting is when you need to push just a little further, a little harder, and with a little more determination.

Edison_quote

Wishing you the greatest success with your writing and your business dreams!

Have you ever regretted taking one more step, pushing just a little harder toward your business goals?

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with manufacturing, software, and technology businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedI