I’ve been a writer since I was in middle school, and I can’t remember a time when I haven’t looked at a shelf full of books and imagined my own future novels sitting there. In between those halcyon days and now, my life unwound in ways I never imagined as a middle schooler–a child of my own, college, marriage, divorce, iterations of ‘real’ jobs that kept money rolling in but weren’t especially fulfilling. All the while, I kept writing, still dreaming of that day when I’d find my own books for sale. But it took actually getting let go from one of those ‘real’ jobs to force me into finally deciding to try my hand at writing for a living.
Once you become an adult, it’s difficult to justify spending time on something that doesn’t pay the bills, take care of your kid, or clean your house. And folks are quick to storm all over your parade when you tell them you want to pursue something artsy. Oh, you write? How nice. My 7 year old likes writing too.
But there are some people who aren’t as judgmental and awful. Upon hearing that I’m a successful freelancer, they want to know how I managed to escape the hellish trap of working in a job you dislike so you can afford a life that’s not quite going the way you planned. I became a freelancer officially after losing my job last April, but I learned the focus and discipline necessary to write all day long many years before that. And for those of you who are wishing and hoping and thinking and praying and planning and dreaming to transform your own love of writing into a job that actually pays the bills, I have some suggestions to get you started.
Treat writing like the job you want it to be
I used to write in between managing the rest of my life–raising my kiddo, doing laundry, working a job, etc., etc.. But once my kiddo was in school and I had a supportive (now ex) husband who agreed I could give this writing thing a go and see where it led me, I realized the only way I was going to be able to get any consistent work done was by actually treating writing like a job, not a hobby that I fit in if I found myself with an abundance of free time. Once I shifted the way I thought about it–even though I wasn’t yet making any money–I had instant results. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that envisioning shit doesn’t help you actualize it, because it totally does.
Plant your ass in a seat
This is critical. The best way to treat this writing thing like a job is to sit your happy ass in a chair for sprawling hours at a time and force your fingers onto the keyboard. No matter what happens, power the hell through. Doing this helped me set up my own individual groove…and the words flooded in by the thousands every day. Thanks to this process, I found that writer’s block isn’t really a thing. It’s really just a prettied up way of saying ‘plain old loss of focus’. And do you know what the cure is? Keeping that ass in that seat.
Don’t focus so much on quality of the words you write (that’s what editing’s for, silly). Focus on quantity, because without quantity, you can’t get to quality. If you have to put a knife to your throat in order to force yourself through the harder scenes, do it. Every time I do this, I’m sure what I’ve written is complete shit, but then I go back to read it and am pleasantly surprised if not outright pleased as punch. But you’ll never get there if you keep removing that ass from that seat. I’ve had days where I knocked out well over fifteen thousand words. Just don’t overthink it. Give your inner editor/critic a swift kick in the balls and keep writing so furiously, you don’t have time to contemplate the how and why. In this way, I went from writing a novel a year to writing three to five a year (and now that I freelance, I can do an 80k novel a month, no joke, and that includes editing).
Make like Virginia Woolf and get a room of your own
For years, I wrote on my living room couch, sometimes while the TV was on. It sounds incredibly stupid now, but that’s how it was. When I first started treating this writing thing seriously, I made myself go to my local library from the time it opened until I needed to pick up my daughter from school in the mid afternoon. This got me used to sitting at a desk and writing for hours at a time. I couldn’t wander to the kitchen or decide my baseboards needed a good scrubbing at the library. It also helped that I didn’t yet have a Twitter account and only had like 50 friends on Facebook. After a few months of that, I trusted myself enough to try working at home, but not on the couch this time. With the help of my (now ex) husband, I converted one of our guest bedrooms into an office. Every morning I got up at 5, went running, took my daughter to school, and then came home to write until it was time to pick her up again. Having my own space that was only for writing changed everything.
Soldier through, no matter what
I have submitted eight novels to agents and dozens of short stories to literary magazines. I’ve managed to land an agent and work with her for two years through several edits of my novel only to have her tell me that she was quitting the business ASAP, without selling my novel first (that was a blow that took some time from which to recover). I have weathered more rejection than you can imagine. It’s a bummer and I hate it, but it has never made me question my desire to write. I know I can string words together so they jump off of the page. I just need to get the right piece of work into the right person’s hands, and that hasn’t happened yet. So, no matter what, keep writing. Even if you’re working a job you hate. Even if you believe what you’re creating is total shit. I guarantee you, it isn’t. Writing is a process. The more you do it, the better you get. Stopping won’t get you where you want to be. Do. Not. Quit.
There are writers who are much more successful than I am, but there are also writers who are stuck where I used to be: dreaming about turning this burning desire into a job that pays real money. I’ve done that (this would be a marvel to the Tess of several years ago). I still have more work to do to get to the point where I’m seeing my own original work on the shelf, but I’ll take this. For now. But, believe me, the hustle never ends.