Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Business Of Being A Writer

I woke up to lots of good news on Wednesday. A membership organisation for which I hope to do a monthly magazine asked for a meeting for Friday. It was a quick response to an application I made the day before. Their offices are near my house, the job is interesting and within my skills set and it would be steady work, which would mean I could scale down a bit on the marketing and focus more on the actual writing. I really do hope I get the gig - wish me luck.

I also had a new client asking me to take on an urgent assignment, a regular client had also sent work overnight. I need to finish 3 short articles to submit by the 20th. And I still have my daily client website updates to do.

So I'm working until late tonight so I can get as much work done as possible, as I never even managed to touch a whole pile of admin (service provider forms for a client and publishing grant application) I need to do. Ja, I could do with some rest - and wish I didn't have to work late today - but I'm also grateful for the work.

I also got an email from an old friend asking me about a career as an author. Her 20-year old son doesn't want to do anything but be an author, and she wanted some advice because she's not confident that being an author is a reliable source of income. She supports her son's career choice 300% in theory, but authors also need a roof over their heads, need to eat, wear clothing, drive cars etc. and she wants to encourage him to get some backup training. Maybe get a diploma in graphic design or something ( he was tested and said to have an aptitude for that).

Her son sounds like me, back when I was young and wanted to be an author. I had an aptitude for science ( did a Bachelor of Science degree), but I didn't want to do anything but write stories.  With age, I learnt that I have to take on writing work that's not necessarily creative because it pays me better. I  also learnt that being a writer needs a business mindset. Sure, there's the creative aspect of it ( and I wish I was able to spend more time doing that), but like I have mentioned quite a lot here, there is also a big marketing and admnistrative element to it.

So I invited mother and son to the next meeting of my local writing group - so she can meet professional and aspirant writers and learn about how they are making their writing careers work. One of the members is in his early twenties, and I'm also hoping that they will hook up, support each other etc, because they're likely to have face similar issues in their writing careers.

Question: what advice would you give a young man/woman who wants to be a fulltime author and nothing else but an author?


Judy Croome | @judy_croome said...

Oh goodness. That's a tough one, because you want to encourage his dreams, but keep expectations real at the same time.

You seem to have covered the basics well, especially doing something practical to keep that roof over his head and write at the same time. Graphic design is good - with the explosion in self-publishing he could always turn that into something writing related - like start a business doing book covers.

Judy (South Africa)

Tamara said...

I'm in the same boat with loads of work coming in all at once. It's great to be in demand, but I wish my clients would space out the work a bit better ;-)

The advice I would give is from my own experienc: do a course in journalism or copy writing. The skills you learn assist you in putting words together well and also ensure that you can make money by writing that will allow you to live while you work on your masterpiece. Also, it's hard to make money as an author in SA as the market is small. Sports biographies and cooking books are are biggest sellers. I would advise he does some vacation work interning at a publishing house (also my personal experience). It's a real eye-opener as to how the industry works.

tiah said...

Congrads (and good luck) with all the writing excitement in your life.

To the dreamer: Budding actors have to take up jobs as waiters and waitresses while they go to auditions, accepting bit parts while they strive for their big break.

Dreams are great. But in order to fullfill a dream one must find a way to stay alive long enough to make that dream become a reality.

po said...

Hhaha I am a pure cynic so my advice would be find and keep a day job, be it writing for money, being a parent, any day job, until you know authoring works. You may never make any money off being an author, so do it for the love of it and do it in all your spare moments. Especially in South Africa, where authors don't make much money.

Also day jobs give you life experience, and suffering, and all the things you need to be a writer.

Tamara said...

Also wanted to say it's such a great idea of yours to take the kid and his mom to your writers meeting. Very cool.

Pamela said...

My friend, as usual you gave excellent practical advice without raining on his one-man (for now)parade. I think the idea to hook him up with the writing group is great but I agree with Po and Tiah that a spoonful of realism is needed too. I've made some money from writing but it's the day job that keeps body together while the soul gets its fulfillment from writing on the side. Sure I have dreams of being Barbara Cartland or Wilbur Smith but my mommy didn't raise a fool and I know those dreams may remain alluring figments of my overactive imagination. I do wish him luck and think his mother also did well to advise him to look into another skill. Sometimes people want to be writers because they think they don't really work. We all know what a joke that is though! As for me, you're my biggest supporter and I so appreciate you. I'm glad that young man's mother had the good sense to contact you. Stay well!

Damaria Senne said...

@Judy - I think the hard part is communicating that he needs back-up training without making it sound like we don't expect him to succeed as an author.

@Tamara - You're right. A course in journalism or copywriting will teach him the craft and he can still it to find a paying job while he works on his own projects.

@Tiah- Thanks for the reminder that writers are not the only creatives who need to do something else while they hone their craft.

@ Po- You're so right. When I was younger, I felt like I couldn't write authentically, because I'd been nowhere and done nothing interesting. Meeting people outside my comfort zone through work had a huge impact on my writing.

@ Tamara - Thanks. It always helps to meet people facing similar challenges as you.

@ Pam - Thanks sis. You've also been there for me; since way back when I was in my twenties and there was still a question of whether I can make this writing thing work. I know it helps to have people around you who believe in you ( even when you have doubts) and who help you keep it real when the creative aspect has to take a backseat. I hope that this young man also meets people who can support his career like that.

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