Make the writing life you want your own

Ah, writing. For those of us who enjoy playing with words, it’s like deciding which dishes to sample from a smorgasbord. You can engage in a variety of writing activities as a thoroughly enjoyable hobby, such as crafting terrible poetry for people’s birthdays or children’s stories. Alternately, you could persevere and work on it day and night, certain that your book will become the next big thing. As your circumstances change and your experience increases, you can choose the writing life that is ideal for you right now and then change course later.


I’ll make the assumption that you enjoy writing in this case. (I’m at a loss as to why you would read this article for another reason. Why are you acting such a masochist if you don’t like to write? There are countless other jobs available that will suit you better. Don’t continue reading and go find one.) Given that you enjoy writing, you should now ask yourself: “Do I enjoy writing enough to do it full-time, or do I want to keep it as a hobby?’

You are already freed from a number of “duties” if you only want to keep it as a hobby. You are not required to make money because it is a hobby. Editors don’t have to like you. Not being published is not necessary. Anyone is free to write whatever they want on a napkin in a smudgy grey pencil. The best part is that you only ever have to write what you want to write!


Most of us do not have that circumstance. Either we want to pursue full-time careers in writing or we want to write as a paid hobby (also known as “part time writing”). Let’s start with “part-time writing” and assume that you wouldn’t mind getting paid for what you do. (In exchange for your carefully crafted text, at the very least in kind, offer a free book or meal.) You have a specific set of duties to fulfill if you want to be paid. Dark grey pencil is not an option because you need to make sure the person paying you can read your work. In fact, it’s highly likely that effective, clear word processing is in.

This is starting to sound pricey, hmm. All of a sudden, making money requires spending money. You must spend money on consumables, software, and hardware to advance your career. You must consider GST, which calls for a business name. You might spend more time and money than you had anticipated on your part-time writing career.


But hold on, you still need to make choices. Are you going to concentrate on just one type of writing, such as short stories for popular magazines, or will you try to find any way to make money off of your words?

There are many people who need writers in the world. To write their speeches for their 21st birthday parties, to craft clever cover letters and resumes, or to produce catchy advertising for their business flyers, they need wordsmiths. You can certainly make a part-time (or even full-time) living if you’re content enough to do all of these things and more. Of course, doing so might require you to spend more money on advertising and getting business cards… but don’t worry: the better you become at what you do, the more your clients will do your advertising for you. (“Oh, you really need to get so and so to design your flyer; she’s excellent…”)


It’s time to move on to the Serious Writer. There are two types of serious writers: those who aspire to write the Great Australian Novel (or to win one of the major literary awards for novels) and despise self-promotion, networking, and other cliched activities.

They are fervently committed to writing literary fiction, and if that means surviving off of relatives or typing at night after their day job for twenty or forty years, so be it. Some of these serious writers have the ability to write like angels and unquestionably succeed in their goals. Others don’t interact with anyone and are unaware that their work is poor or uninteresting until they receive their first rejection. (Even after they receive their one hundredth rejection, they might not realize it.)


The other category of serious writer is someone who is committed to making a living as a writer and will expend whatever resources—including time, money, and effort—are required. He enjoys interacting with clients, editors, and other writers. A person who simply enjoys words and creating finished works of writing, whether it be fiction, non-fiction, or promotional material, may turn this into a broad-based writing career. Any kind of writing makes him happy, he says.

Not everybody enjoys writing whatever puts food on the table. Some authors are content to write a variety of fiction (mainstream, romances, or romantic intrigue, for example) or to focus on one particular genre, like speculative fiction, in both short and long formats. They invest time finding other aspiring authors who write in these genres, trade tales of near-misses and “good and bad” rejections, and share the joy of finally receiving a “yes.” Don’t quit your day job prematurely if you are determined to write only what you want to write; it may take some time and a few “practice books” to receive your first acceptance.

Determining the writing life you want and starting to work toward it are things you can do right now. The ten questions listed below are a good place to start.


  1. Would I prefer writing of any kind to other work? (A multifaceted writing career might be right for you if the answer is “yes” and you are confident in your ability to use language creatively whether you’re writing a short story or a letter to the bank.)
  2. Can I list the types of writing that I’d be willing to try? Do we really need to write this? Can I serve a niche market or offer a unique service?
  3. What kind of literature do I enjoy reading? Would I enjoy writing these kinds of books?
  4. How much money will I need to invest in supplies and equipment to launch a writing career? How long will it take me to save or get the money if I don’t have it?
  5. How many hours a day can I spend writing?
  6. Can my family and I share a computer, or do I need a separate office and phone line?
  7. What other obligations do I have? What other time constraints exist?
  8. What kind of writing would I choose to do if I could write anything at all? Can I make progress toward this even if I can’t devote all of my time to it right now?
  9. Do I have a network of allies, including friends, relatives, and other writers, who can support me in achieving my goals? Can I still find these people if I don’t?
  10. What can I do RIGHT NOW to launch my writing career or to begin moving in the direction I really want?

(c) Copyright Marg McAlister

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