Writing Fulltime: 8 Tips to Survival

When the Sky Falls

I quit my job a year ago to write fulltime.

What was I thinking?

Honestly, I figured I would be back in the workforce again by now. Who really believes they can write for a living? Not me. In fact, I don’t do it well most days. When my friends who are writers tell me that they talk about me as someone who doesn’t just write, but does it professionally, makes a living and is prolific, I wonder who they are talking about.  Have they seen how many times a day I post to Facebook and Twitter?

Yet here I am a year later and I’m struggling, but deliriously happy and keeping a roof over my head. I am teaching a memoir workshop starting next week, have a new parrot training book coming out in May, a three-book contract with Animal Planet for tie-in books to Too Cute, am blogging for Nat Geo TV, crime reporting locally, editing a magazine for the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters, writing copy for various businesses, been published in a gorgeous anthology on women’s rights and reproductive health, returned to my Alma Mater to speak at Writers Week, am inches from finishing a high concept speculative fiction novel I’ve been working on for 5 years and was filmed for a very popular reality TV cooking show with my falcon (it will air in June. Shhh. I’m not allowed to talk about it yet).

For the love of the falconry gods, just rereading that list stuns me. Those are not the things I expected to tell you in a year. It’s been amazing, but I’ve learned a lot in the last year. I’ve freelanced fulltime in the past, but times have changed a great deal even in the eight years since I struggled at it last. I’m no expert, by any means, but here are a few things I would say if you truly want to write for a living (And remember I hack write too… I’m not just a literary writer. If I find it interesting and it pays, I’m probably not above writing it.). All the same, this is the advice I would give you over shots of tequila.

  1. Be flexible. You’re not going to pay your bills with the gigs you imagine getting. You’ll pay your bills with the gigs you get and they will be crazy cool, but you can’t guess what they will be yet.
  2. Knock on every door. Try, apply, investigate everything. See above. Even if you have a few gigs, keep doing this. Your jobs will be fluid and unpredictable.
  3. Ask for help. I have courage, a place to work/ do workshops and several of my gigs because friends and family either made it happen or set me up to make it happen for myself. The relationships you build are the djinn in your lamp. Cherish them and don’t be afraid to rub the lamp if you need a wish to come true.
  4. You’re going to screw up. Let it go. You’re probably going to fail to meet some deadlines, bomb at projects you think you are perfect for and hate things you thought you were going to love. Say you’re sorry. Mean it. Remain professional. Move on.
  5. Be grateful. Say thank you. In fact, don’t just say thank you, explain why you are thankful and amazed and in love with any project you get. Tell people who have been amazing to work with exactly why you would work with them again and again. These people are rare and you were lucky to get to work with them, trust me! Editors and clients are people too. We all like to work with people who appreciate us.
  6. Forgive yourself. Writing every day and looking for work is hard. You’re going to be worthless some days. Beating yourself up doesn’t help. It just gives you something else to do instead of writing. Let it go and try again tomorrow.
  7. Balance your life. Surely you decided to write for a living because what you wanted was time and to live life engaged. Don’t forget that writing and ideas originate on long walks, hours on the elliptical, day-long drives, solitude and soaking up other amazing art. More gets done when you give yourself room to do less.
  8. Give back. Say something supportive, kind and genuine to someone in person and online every day. When you are asked, smile and patiently answer a few questions that now sound silly, but are the exact ones you asked mentors ten years ago. Find ways to teach and encourage others who are writing. This is where you will find more inspiration and motivation than any place else.

I’m not going to pretend like this has been an easy year. I’ve done battle with more demons than I remember having. They scream at you when you are taking risks that may change the way you see the world. They wake you up at night. Your biggest challenge is going to be the voices in your head.

So what do you do about the voices? Don’t entirely discount them. They’ve saved your ass many a time, after all, but don’t let them dictate. Face them the way you would anyone who cares about you, but is coming from the wrong place. Hear them out. If there is something positive you can take from them, use it! Understand where they are coming from. Love them if they are coming from a place they earned or tell them to shut the fuck up if they spouting hate, but either way, listen to the person you are now, at the moment. He/She is the one who needs your support. Your voice, brave and in the now, is the one that counts the most. Listen. Encourage. Console. Cheer-lead for what you want, because believe me, you deserve it!

Now, back to those deadlines I’ve missed and am about to miss. There is a crazy amount of work on my desk, but all of it is fascinating and worth writing about and I am so very grateful. This is the life I wanted. I hope you are living yours as well.