4 Ways to Treat Writing Like The Job You Want It To Be

JobsHere’s the thing: you’ll probably never make a living by writing. Even if you luck into selling a manuscript, it’s unlikely that it will even pay your mortgage.

I mean, the last statistics I read say that the average debut author advance was around $5,000 and 80% of novels never actually earn out their advances.

So why even bother when being a career author looks more and more like a pipe dream?

Because you want it?

Well, wanting it isn’t enough. Sometimes you have to suck it up and make things happen. The only way that writing will ever be your job is to treat it like the job you want it to be.

No more amateur hour, no more kid gloves, and no more training wheels. (And no more motivational platitudes, am I right?) If you don’t treat writing like the job you want it to be right now, it will never happen.

Last summer, I finished the first draft of my very first novel by disciplining myself and following these simple steps:

1. Make Writing Mandatory

Lots of writers call this BiC, or Butt-in-Chair.  I consider it “working.”

If you want to sell books, you have to write books. The only way for that to happen is for you to sit down and write, to make time when there doesn’t seem to be any.

Last summer, I gave myself a quota and a timeframe: 2,000 words/day or 10,000 words/week between 8am and noon, Monday to Friday. Sometimes I only turned out 1,200 words or I might have written between 11am and 2pm.  The details didn’t matter. I was actively working every day and eventually finished the first draft at 86,000 words.

Some days, I didn’t feel like writing, but I did. I trashed and rewrote thousands of words.  In it’s current, unrevised form, it is not a salable novel, but it is a novel that would not have existed if I hadn’t treated the writing like the work I want it to be.

So sit down and write. No excuses.

2. Switch It Up

Sometimes, the words just don’t come.  Or, worse, they come, and they’re awful.  They actually hurt the story you’re telling.

One of the surest signs you’re getting closer to being a professional is the ability to distinguish your good stuff from your garbage.

When you begin to see nothing but garbage, stop writing and switch to something else.  Write a short story, another novel, an outline, a blog.  Something.  Take a step back from your darling and give it time to stew.  When you come back–and you will come back–you’ll bring fresh ideas that help the book rather than hurt it.

3. You’re Never Finished

So let’s say you you finish your novel. Heck, let’s say you’ve even revise it.  Millionaire time, right?

Not even close.  Now, you need to set that book aside for another round of revision (alternatively, if you haven’t sent it to beta readers, do that) and start on your next project.  Preferably not a sequel, just to prevent burnout.  Work on some short stories to submit for publication, start a new novel, blog about your process.

Just don’t let the habit of writing you’ve developed atrophy.

The old cliche that “writers write” is a cliche for a reason.  When we want to, we write.  When we don’t, we write.  When we have nothing to say, we write about the irony.  When we have no more projects in the queue, we make something  up and call it a project.

What you write next might be craptastic, but it might be the one that gets you out of that studio apartment and off the air mattress.

Keep building momentum.  Remember that everything you work on will not sell, nor will it all be good.  Eventually some of it will be good enough.  You will learn lessons from it all, with the most important being that if you don’t write, you forget how to.

4. Get Your Name Out There

Some people buy from unknowns.  Many people don’t.  Your job as a newbie is to make sure that people know your name.  You have to promote yourself, even if you land the fabled New York Six-Figure Contract.

The easiest way to get your name out there is through social media.  Use Twitter (don’t just shout into the night; actually talk to people).  Blog.  Comment on blogs you like, email the authors, and ask if you can write a guest post their readers would really enjoy.  Set up author pages on Facebook, use Goodreads.  Generally make it so that when someone Googles your name, they see you instead of the famous cat herder you share it with.

Shop around various short stories.  You’ll never make any real income with shorts, but having professional publication credits will get your name to new readers.  It’s about making a brand out of yourself in order to hock your wares to the largest market.

Your books aren’t the product; you are.

Many new writers feel that spending this much time on building a platform/brand through social media and networking takes away from their writing time.  And it does.  But it’s just as important.

Remember when you were a kid and you wanted to be a paleontologist?  Now do you remember the shock when you realized that digging up dinosaur bones was only a small part of the job, that finding research grants, writing papers, and other menial, unglorified tasks made up the majority of the job?

Well, writing’s like that, too.  It’s not all unicorns and cupcakes.  It’s a job, and with that comes the good and the bad.

You Ready?

If all that doesn’t sound like what you want, then walk away now.  The operative word here is job.  This is, after all, “how to treat writing like the job you want it to be” not “treat writing like the vacation from reality it looks like on Castle.”

Writing for a living takes time, discipline, and responsibility well before the first cent is ever earned.  But that first, shiny copper will never come if you don’t put in the effort it takes to chase this dream.

If you do, you’ll finish books and stories, and people will know you’re a professional before you actually are.  If not, you’ll keep on calling yourself an “aspiring” novelist, bragging to the barista about having “a ton of ideas,” and keep poking at the dozen sub-10k manuscripts in My Documents on your laptop.

If you want writing to be your job, don’t you think it’s time you treated it like one?

8 thoughts on “4 Ways to Treat Writing Like The Job You Want It To Be

  1. That 5,000 dollar advance number is scary… I try and do 2,000 words a day… a lot of the time, I only get half that… but still… it’s better than nothing.

    • I agree. It is scary. That’s why I’m likely going with the Kindle selfpub route as Indie. I know it’s a lot harder, and the odds are against me, but I have the work ethic to get it done.

      Also, I’m with you on the quota. I’m having a hard time getting my head around the BiC this summer, but I’ve started revising my novel and have been getting roughly 1k words per day added to it in addition to fixes (expanding scenes that were too “telly”). So that’s something, at least. I think next week is my “full force” start.

  2. @B.J.-So very true, but for me, the insane desire to leave the Day Job is a great motivator to get words on the page every day.

    @Austin-The $5K advance is actually pretty generous these days unless your regularly hitting the NYT or USA Today lists. I hear stuff from my trad-published friends that makes my hair turn white.
    Suzan Harden´s last post ..More PiratesMy Profile

    • It is a great motivator. I love my job, but the idea of being an author has been my dream since I was a kid. I just can’t give that up. Even if it’s a side job.

    • I’ve been noticing that lately. I started revising my novel from last year, and I’m looking at sections and saying to myself “what was I thinking?” then chopping/rewriting it all. That’s what second drafts are for, though.

  3. “Remember that everything you work on will not sell, nor will it all be good.”

    This tends to be true in any creative endeavor. One of my best art professors in college told us that we each have about 1000 bad drawings in us that we have to get out of the system before we can *start* doing the good stuff. There’s just no way around it; you’ve got to work to get better at something. (One of my favorite teachers of all time, my high school art teacher, said that “talent is merely the will to work hard at something”… there’s truth in that. Inborn ability exists, but it’s not enough.)