You’re A Writer? How D’You Make That Work?

© Copyright 2010 CorbisCorporationThat’s the one question I get asked at least once, every single week of the year. Telling someone you’re a writer would seem like such an easy thing to say but you soon realise there’s actually two responses that always come back.

What have you written?

How d’you make that work?

It’s fair enough, I mean, if someone was a Doctor then I’d ask, ‘who have you saved?’ Or a plumber, I’d ask, ‘sinks or toilets?’ Oh no wait, I don’t ask those questions because most jobs bore the pants off of me. There is actually a reason why people ask these questions.

They want to see if they could do it. Writing is a funny profession. Most people can read and write already, they learn it at school, so what else is there to learn? Also, it sounds like an easy life, so it immediately annoys people when they hear of someone else doing something that they’d love to be able to do, if only they had the balls to quit their boring office job. Although, people will never own up to this.

The reality is obviously very different to most people’s perception of it. In today’s environment you have to be part writer/ part entrepreneur but they won’t really understand that, I’m working longer hours than I used to but again they’ll laugh at that incredulously, and there’s a fair amount of stress involved in accepting that payment will come at some point in an uncertain future but they’ll only smile sagely at this.

The thing is, just saying you’re a writer is actually a bigger step than these people realise. You know you’ll get these questions every time you say it, so if you’re slightly shaky about the answers then there’s no way you’re going to volunteer the information. If you’re a writer then you know how vulnerable and exposed you feel. Only by being a best-selling author, who lives in a house with a book-shaped swimming pool, will you be able to proudly announce your occupation.

Assuming you don’t live there, you’re going to have to answers these questions. I’ve worked out my patter now so that it just rolls off the tongue, which makes it sound like I’m in control and the same people don’t ask for more detail. (They don’t want to hear that you’ve got it under control, they’ll only keep the discussion going if you show a flaw in your thinking.) Here are some bullet points to remember to mention:

  1. Long-Term Goal
  2. It’s about volume
  3. Mention your genre
  4. Mention success stories within said genre
  5. Legacy of books in 3-5 years time
  6. 70% royalties
  7. Drop in a bit about freedom
  8. eBook reading habits
  9. Platform
  10. It’s going well so far

All of these will leave them in the corner looking around for any kind of change of subject available.

Have you ever come across these types of people, or is it just me?



6 responses to “You’re A Writer? How D’You Make That Work?

  1. Surely it’s also about:
    1. How to finance yourself in the start-up period. I would have though that when people ask how you make it work, that’s what’s uppermost in their minds! It’s just not considered polite to phrase the question as “how can you afford to do that?”
    2. There’s the next question, (also phrased within the “how do you make that work” question), about how to make the finances add up. For example how much can anyone expect to be able to earn in an average year. Won’t most people will be coming from the “my outgoings are this, so how do I earn that from writing?”
    3. I know that in an earlier blog you discussed how many words you needed to write to churn out enough product to make a reasonable income. Have you revised those figures now that you’re further into the writing process or did the planning and producing the Christmas No. One clarify for you a very disciplined approach to writing?
    4. The question about what you’ve written is double edged I think! Picture the next conversation that person who asked it of you has. “Hello, Dave, guess what? I’ve just been chatting to that writer chappie, Mike.What? You’ve not heard of him? Oh really, he’s the author of that great book…………are you saying you’ve not read it yet?”
    One-upmanship you see! The question’s NOT about YOU it’s about HIM!

    Drop a teaspoon of these thoughts into your responses……………..they could be slightly nearer what people are REALLY asking! However, nosey people deserve YOUR esoteric answers!

    Ms Cinical!

    • You are direct, Mrs RC. 🙂

      You are the devil on my shoulder challenging me every step of the way. I need this though to ground myself. I could ignore your comment or go in to each point discussing in detail, but instead I will just agree with you. The money is the nub of it for most people because we live in a world where money is given far too much importance. The simple truth is that to earn a liveable wage from most things, if you have some kind of a brain and aren’t afraid to use it, is relatively easy these days. Look around at the opportunity in front of us all. Instead of thinking about money as this compensation that is provided to us in return for putting some hours in at a local building, it requires a shift in our thinking. Instead, what is it that I can do that will earn enough to pay the bills while I’m getting set up.

      It’s about getting serious and actually having the confidence to see it through. The obvious answer to most of your questions is, keep doing what you’re doing and in every spare moment that you have you must write continuously. The bills keep getting paid and eventually you have a book too. It takes longer but so what, you still get there. It takes commitment and dedication but so what, you don’t get anything for free.

      Saying you’re a writer before you’re making a living from it is more of an aspirational message but it doesn’t make it any less true. When someone says they’re a teacher, you don’t ask, ‘but what do you do for the other half of the year?’ Until you make a living from your writing you have to supplement it with something else, either as a stop gap or as a genuine goal for another focus of your time. If you were passionate about becoming a writer, then become a teacher and for the other half of the year you could write a couple of books. There’s always a way to get where you want to get to.

      Most people though, in my experience, are too set in the traditional mindset of getting a job. I used to be like it myself and so, a) I can recognise it when I see it, and b) I also know how I had to change to not be like it anymore. To these people, being a writer seems almost impossible, a dream if you will. The definition of a dream is something that isn’t based in reality. I’m just saying that it is a reality and it just takes effort to get there. Obviously if you’re a crap writer then you probably won’t ever make a living from it, but that’s not completely guaranteed either. 🙂

  2. Strong reply!
    I agree with you……………….but it takes courage and support and clarity to undertake the path you are taking. Not everyone has that support…….not everyone has the clarity of thought that you’ve developed…………not everyone’s got the courage to take the risk of potential failure!

    What’s SO good about your approach is that you’re sufficient a risk taker to share your learning as you go along and, in so doing, you probably learn even more!

    Not certain that I want to be the ‘devil’ on you shoulder…………but if it helps, then I’m game for the post! It’s good to talk!

    Now, where’s this next book??

  3. When I tell people I self-publish, they dismiss me right away. Because of my own experiences with the publishing world, I made the decision to self-publish a long time ago and with eyes wide open and not because my work is “no good.” So it doesn’t really matter to me what these people think since in my heart I know I have made the right decision for me right now. I just answer people’s questions as best I can. Some people will never accept you for their own reasons, none of which you can control. But that is their loss.

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