What is the Professional Writing Life REALLY Like?
Aspiring authors have quite a time of things, right? We put years of grueling work into something no one is paying us to write, something that may never be published or read by anyone. Yet in every panel of famous authors I attend and every professional author I speak to, they insist that "making it" is just the beginning of their hard work. So, If you are interested in pursuing writing as a full time job, here are 5 things you need to know about the position:
1) Even the most famous and successful writers you've ever heard of once had to struggle to get by, usually working a minimum wage job and writing in snippets of time eked out in the middle of their busy schedule. When they finally "made" it, most were middle aged with children already to provide for and take care of. These people had less than no time to work on what would later become a best-selling novel, but they did it anyway. MORAL: It's okay to have a full time job, but you must make time to write.
2) If you thought of teaching while you work on your novel, you should know that you can only become a Creative Writing professor after achieving the following qualifications: teaching experience at the collegiate level, short story publication in a respected literary journal in your genre, essay publication in a peer-reviewed journal, letters of recommendation, a teaching philosophy based on your proven experience, and an impressive CV. Getting all of these qualifications takes time and effort for a position where you will be overworked and underpaid and have to keep publishing academically and creatively. MORAL: Even working at a job in your field leaves you little time to write your own work.
3) Critique groups are hard. Do you know how much you have to read for those things? I read SLOWLY compared to peers at my level (thanks to dyslexia). Setting aside time to read for critique groups is something I am continually working on. MORAL: Networking with fellow writers is important, but you have to give more than you get to make it worthwhile.
4) You have to read as much as you write, if you want to keep up on what's current, what matters in today's market, and who the big players are. When you submit a query to an agent, it will behoove you to be able to explain why people would want to read your book. Listing successful books with similarities to your novel to will easily show an agent or publisher why they want your story. My personal reading goal this year is 70 books, far beyond anything I've done before, as there truly is too many books and not enough time. MORAL: Reading takes time away from writing, but is necessary to write well within your genre.
5) You have to get "out there." This means publishing in those literary journals I was talking about, and preferably subscribing to and reading them as well. It also means attending Cons, book festivals, and reaching out to authors you love. Even if you got into writing because it allowed you to sit in your room and type away at your computer all day without talking to anyone (admittedly, this was me), eventually you want to get your book in someone's hands. That means building a community of writer friends, making connections which could help in your writing life, and getting your name and work out into friendly reader hands. MORAL: No one cares as much about your writing future as you do, so if your book is going to go anywhere, you have to go out and give it a strong shove.
There you go, aspiring author friends! For more insights on the writing life or to hear about bookish events I will be attending in the near future, subscribe to my monthly newsletter.