As a small town famous writer with over 20 years of experience not getting paid for her work, published, or produced, I know all about what it takes to keep your dream of becoming a real writer alive in a cold, cruel, indifferent world. Here are the Top Ten things you absolutely NEED in order to sustain yourself in the face of improbability.
- A Room of Your Own
Don’t take it from me, take it from Virginia Woolf. If you want to be productive, you need a room of your own. Ideally, this means a studio and/or 1-bedroom apartment so you can do whatever you want whenever you want. Of course, living with roommates or family can be more practical for a variety of reasons. Just make sure you carve out a space that is YOURS and YOURS alone where you can listen to music, talk to yourself, converse with your characters, dance around, or do whatever else it is you need to do in order to achieve maximum productivity.
- A Viable Business Plan
The #1 reason most freelancers fail is because they don’t have a plan. They just go into it with this vague idea of what freelancing means. This is a mistake. You need to think of it as a Business. Would you start a business without a viable plan for profit? No. Treat freelancing the same way. Take the time to make a plan. Take courses if need be. Seek out other freelancers and learn from them. Treat yourself like a small business owner because that is exactly what you are.
- A Diversified Skillset
Writing alone isn’t going to make you money. Trust me, I would know. As of today, I have made exactly $0 from writing. It’s a good idea to have other skills that you can monetize so you aren’t relying on writing alone. I sustain myself in other ways. These ways are not glamorous. Mostly, they involve mixing drinks and waiting tables. This was a great back-up plan until Covid. Well, not really. I don’t really do well working for other people. I could not keep a job for the life of me, but I was also living in South Dakota and people there are… well… different. That’s why I’m starting my own online business now! I’m taking the numerous skills I’ve learned and developed over the last two decades and turning them into something profitable! At least, we hope…
- Lots of Ideas
Don’t get hung up on one idea. Let’s say you’re really dedicated to one manuscript. Finally, after years of struggle, that book gets published or that movie gets made. Now what? Do you have another idea to develop, or are you just going to become yet another One Hit Wonder? The more you write, the more likely you are to develop a real, sustainable, long-term career. You have to keep writing, no matter what. That’s the real secret ingredient to success. Or so I hear. You’re looking at a Work-in-Progress here, people. I’m not trying to pretend I’m something I’m not in order to profit from your naivety.
- A Good Attitude
This part is very important! Put down the “I can’t” excuses and start telling yourself you can! You can do this. You are a writer. Be confident in that fact! If you want to be a writer, tell everyone you are a writer. Don’t wait around for other people to give you that validation. Fake it until you make it, like I’m doing right now with this blog. Most important of all, you need to have a thick skin. There are going to be so many people who are going to doubt you, tear you down, rip you apart, and tell you that no, you can’t do this. You will endure failure. You will face rejection. You will get bad reviews. You will get banned from your favourite bar. But you can’t let any of that stop you. Start developing a sense of humor now and it will be your best weapon when it feels like the world is against you. Your success will be found in your resiliency.
- A Sense of Dignity
Let me explain what dignity means, says the person who was arrested for setting up a chair to write in outside of her favourite bar after getting kicked out and refusing to “just let it go.” Dignity means knowing your value. That means getting paid for your services. It means not taking assignments “for experience” after a certain point in time. It means walking away from unhealthy situations. It means not staying in bad relationships. It also means ghostwriting is a scam and if you really valued yourself, you wouldn’t let someone else take credit for your work and reap the profits from it. Just saying.
- Orderly Finances
If you’re planning to quit that job you hate, tell your Boss to get bent, and live your dream of becoming a traveling writer, make sure you have your financial house in order first. Pay off any significant debt you may have so it doesn’t hover you when you can’t afford groceries because you spent the last of your money on booze. Maintain a solid credit score. Seek out benefactors and/or patrons, aka family members who are willing to give you cash so you can eat. Make long-term investments. And most importantly, figure out how your taxes work BEFORE you become an “independent contractor.” Pro Tip: Maintain residency in a state with no income tax, like South Dakota. Sure, it’s a third world shithole with a crazy two-bit dictator of governor who is totally and completely out-of-touch with reality, but at least I have Muh Freedoms.
- Professional Support
There are three very important people you need in your career as a professional writer. The first is a great agent. You will never get anywhere in any industry without an agent. It is what it is. Keep querying until you find one. Eventually that day will come.
The second is your lawyer. Yes, you need one. The first reason is because you should never, ever, EVER sign any kind of contract without consulting a legal mind first. Do not trust anyone who asks you to sign something without a lawyer present. Furthermore, do not trust anyone who threatens to rescind an offer if you don’t immediately sign the contract without reviewing it. Contracts should always be negotiated to protect your own long-term self-interest.
The second reason you need a lawyer is because you might potentially piss people off with your writing. Should you offend the fragile ego of a raging narcissist, he will send his flying monkeys after you in the hopes of destroying your career, your life, and your sanity. A lawyer will protect you from this person’s attempts at sabotage. A lawyer is also great to have around should you deal with a client who tries to screw you over. You have rights as a small business owner. Know them. If you can’t be bothered, keep someone on retainer who will know them for you. Your career will thank you later.
The last person you need is an accountant. If you’re shitty with money, numbers, and finances, it’s worth it to keep someone around who you can trust to take care of it for you. They may find things you never thought of, like clever tax write-offs or investments with long-term potential. They will also help you translate the utter gibberish that is the US tax code.
- A Stone-Cold SOLID Self-Care System
Writers are not well-known for their exceptional mental health. In fact, we’re quite famous for the opposite. How many of your favourites have had epic breakdowns and interesting suicide attempts? If you’re going to be a writer, there WILL be days when you seriously contemplate sticking your head in an oven or stuffing your pockets full of rocks and wandering out into the sea. You have to be prepared for this. Develop the self-care routine that is right for YOU. Do whatever it takes to fight for your sanity. This business is not easy. Creativity is both a blessing and a curse. Figure out your counter-curse.
- No Fear!
Don’t be afraid of failure or rejection. It is inevitable, like death is inevitable. Learn to face your fears and carry on without them holding you back. The world has always been a hard place for writers, artists, and creatives of all types. You are no exception to this rule. Hashtag, Live Fearlessly. Yes, even if that means letting the spider in the corner of the room stay. Spiders are good spirit guides for writers, but we’ll talk about that later.
There you have it, friends! It’s not so hard after all. Just work hard, stay positive, and never forget your dreams. Someday they’ll all finally come true.