When you meet someone new, they ask you what you do for a living, and when you say that you’re a writer, they usually give you one of the two responses:
- They either ask you the question again, thinking that you misunderstood their question and thought they were asking about your hobbies.
- Or they give you that polite silence break, then a nod and “oh, how interesting!” response while thinking that you either come from a rich family, or you’re a broke artist.
Of course, I’m just joking — we’re not living in the ’90s anymore, and people are way more open-minded and educated about creative careers. Still, there is a lot of stigma surrounding the writer’s career, and even writers amongst themselves are divided and disagree on what being a writer means.
But despite that, al of us want to be successful at what we do and have long-lasting careers doing what we love — write. The good news is, it’s never been easier to make a good living being a writer than it is today, but it takes some inner work and adjustments to make it happen.
Your ability to write is not a talent or a gift — it’s a skill you use to create a product
I can already imagine some writer’s faces turning bright red and smoke coming out of their ears as they read this sentence. But whether you like it or not, it’s true — content you produce as a writer is not a piece of art or expression of your muse. It’s your product that you will be selling.
For some reason, selling ourselves as writers and creatives is very difficult. Your writing is personal — it’s full of your personality, opinions, and sometimes even your most intimate experiences. It doesn’t feel as easy as selling something more solid, like a scarf you knitted or toilet paper rolls you buy for cheap in bulk and re-sell around your neighborhood. But even if it feels too personal, it’s still a product. And you have to train yourself to see it this way if you want a long and successful writing career.
Also, by seeing your writing as a product, it will be easier to deal with rejection. It’s not you that people are rejecting — it’s your product. And products can be improved if you’re willing to put in the work. Of course, we can improve ourselves as well. But altering our personality and character to fit someone else’s taste is not something that’s healthy for us, while altering our writing to fit other people’s needs is professional.
Change your idea of what a “real” writer is
My favorite author of all time is Oscar Wilde. The Picture of Dorian Gray is my favorite book — I read it every time I need a pick me up.
I’m going to be honest here — when I was younger, I imagined that a “real” writer is someone like Oscar Wilde or Charles Bukowski, or Ernest Hemingway. Only if you give yourself up to your art muse and lead a life full of internal and external torture can you be a “real” writer.
I also believed that your writing has to be complex and flowery and hard to read for an average person, or you’re not good at writing. At the end of the day, it’s all about the writing muse and not those peasants who read my work, you know? But this kind of thinking is a huge mistake. There is no such thing as a “real” writer, and there is no need for never-ending torture for the sake of creating more meaningful art. You can very well be a writer while comfortably writing from your couch, having a roof over your head, and a stable income.
You’re not a sell-out or a disgraced artist if you do copywriting work so that you could pursue your dream of becoming the next New York Times bestselling author. There is also nothing wrong if you don’t write a book during your writer’s career. Many people want to write books, or they think they want to do it, but not everyone has a book in them.
Just because you have a faint idea, it doesn’t mean that you have a whole book in you — and that’s OK. It might be that you don’t have it in you at all, or maybe you need to wait for another five to ten years, and then you might be ready to write a book. Being a writer means many different things, and the important point here is that no path is better or worse than the other. You just have to find the right one for you.
Plan your writing career as you would plan a business
Every business has a business plan; you need it to attract investors, get loans, or if you just want to know where you’re going with your business. You, as a writer, need to create your own 5-year business plan as well. Yes, it’s going to be a real pain in the ass, but it’s going to help you take your writing more seriously, and it will also help you build a stable writer’s career.
Take a peek into my 5-year business plan for my career as a writer:
Screenshot by author
It’s not my whole in-depth plan — just the skeleton of it. I created it for myself with no intention of showing it to everyone. But I needed to have a direction for my work as a freelance writer. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life working with clients. I want to scale my writing business and have a few different income sources that stem from my writing.
Before I had my 5-year business plan, I felt lost. I was depressed only at the thought of having to spend another-however-many years working as a freelance writer for corporate clients. I knew that if I ever wanted to hit my income goals, I would need to charge an insane amount for my freelance work, which is not sustainable.
You have to sit down and be honest with yourself. Think about your goals and how you want your professional and personal life to be in 5 years. If you know that you want to self-publish on Amazon someday down the line, you have to start preparing for it today. You’ll need to build your author’s platform, find your community, and then do many other things to be successfully self-published, and that kind of work takes years.
The same goes if you want to be published traditionally. You should start working on your personal brand and author’s platform before you even start looking for literary agents. When you create a plan and write down actionable steps you need to take, everything — even your biggest goals in life — becomes way less scary and more achievable.
Being a writer is something that has a peculiar reputation in our society. Many people dream of being writers, bestselling authors — they glorify the creative life, but there is still a lot of stigma around making a good living from your art.
People will doubt you when you tell them that you’re a writer and plan to create a long-lasting successful career doing what you love. No one will believe you, even your loved ones. But that’s OK. Remember that you’re not some bohemian writer with a tortured soul — you’re a businesswoman first. And your writing is the product you’re selling. Once you understand that, you’ll have that long-lasting successful career, even if others won’t believe you at first.