You’re Writing? 3 Things All Writers Must Know
Well, actually, I’m writing…
I find myself saying that a lot lately. In the past few months, writing has become an unexpected side hustle – one more thing to balance in an already busy life. I have always written, from childhood fairy tales to books on life and work, words have always flowed from me. Writing or editing were even my ‘back up plans’ – what do if I failed at my first choice career, veterinary medicine.
So it’s no surprise that in these crazy times, I turn once again to words. This locked down and networked world offers new outlets with readers all over the world. And I finally have the time to reach out to them.
And I have learned some important lessons about writing, and being a writer.
You won’t get rich quick
People of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities are publishing their words. Whether you write books, blogs, or essays, you are not alone. The internet is liberally sprinkled with supposed success stories: ‘How I Sold 10,000 Fiction Ebooks in My First Month.” Five Ways Guaranteed to Make Your Blog Go Viral.’ You can spend thousands of hours and dollars chasing courses from self-proclaimed experts who are happy to sell you their magic formula.
Don’t buy it
The truth is, writing is hard work, and making a living at writing is even harder. That’s why so many author biographies start with some version of ‘I was barely getting by when…’ Sure, what happened next was life changing. It is also vanishingly rare.
For example, Medium is a great place to write. You can publish almost anything, and its readers are, for the most part, thoughtful and polite. I publish twice a week and promote my posts heavily. This month I am heading for my best month ever: $10 in writing fees. That’s right, $10.
According to Medium’s own stats, only 5.7% of contributors made more than $100 in June 2020. That means about 19 out of 20 make less than $100. Usually a lot less. My $10 is good for someone publishing twice a week, without a ‘name.’ To potentially make more than $2000 per month, you need a large following that will reliably read the multiple curated articles that you manage to post every day. That’s an awful lot of work to try to reach $2000 per month.
Books are not much better. Yes, self-publishing means that you don’t need to beg a publisher to take you on. It also means that you do all of the marketing work. You will invest time and money; most of us who write don’t make enough to cover the investment.
And most blog postings are unpaid or lightly paid. Your post might drive sales to your base business, but it won’t make you millions on its own.
Writing takes discipline
Like any other skill, developing it takes practice. That means writing, writing, writing. Practice lets you develop your own style and unique voice. It teaches you how to write efficiently. It shows you what works and what doesn’t. But it’s tough.
Check out these tips from Stephen King, one of the most prolific and loved (feared?) writers of the 20th century. Three that resonated with me are:
1) Disconnect from the world while writing
2) Stop watching television and start reading
3) Take your writing seriously
Finding the time. Writer’s block. Overcoming criticism. These are just a few of the challenges that writers face. The solutions? Make a schedule. Reward yourself for small achievements. Use writing prompts (I like these from Natalie Goldberg) Take a hint from Eleanor Roosevelt, and develop skin like a rhinoceros. Most people don’t write, but everyone’s a critic. Get used to it.
Yes, writing is hard. So is anything else worth doing.
Learn to write, write to learn
Committed writers are also voracious readers. Whether we prefer a specific genre or browse the whole library, we’re drawn to the written word like mice to cheese, searching for that last delicious crumb. Reading helps you learn from other authors: what soars and what falls flat. What attracts an audience, or repels them. What good grammar looks like, and how bad grammar and spelling can get in the way of the reader’s enjoyment. What a good editor can do for your work.
Learn from courses, books, writer’s groups and reading clubs. Read books on writing. Never stop learning.
The last line
Being a writer is not easy. It’s not even always fun. But it is challenging, stimulating, engaging, and above all, interesting.
Don’t write for the money. Write to express yourself. Write to share, to educate, to inspire. Write to soothe your soul. Just write.