It is exceptionally hard to make money as a writer but it can be done.
It is really not a soft option, being a writer. Perhaps that is why so many people, myself included, hesitate for so long. There comes a point, however, when you feel you can allow yourself to call yourself an author, and it’s even better when your partner starts referring to you as writer – even if in the next breath he asks “When are you going to start earning some real money?
I argue that anybody can write if they really want to. That isn’t being too facile because the “if” is a rather big one. It includes being prepared to supplement your talent by an enormous amount of hard work and a professional attitude towards the skills that you need to hone. It includes being able to cope with all the rejections and the moments of self-doubt. Even once you are published, it doesn’t stop. You are open to critics and reviewers then as well as an exacting general public. It includes having the courage to go on and on. And you must be prepared to be poor – for a while at least. Many, many fall by the wayside.
The big cry is “Don’t give up the day job.” Well, don’t. Or maybe do if you’re really brave – see Way Number One. But you may still call yourself a writer.
Aka the bloody-minded way. Get someone else to support you, and lock yourself away in a garret. I know someone who took two years’ rental on a tiny flat, a subsistence allowance and a new computer as a divorce settlement. You earn very little and really depend on the generosity of others until you have written, sold and marketed your best-seller.
Hans Christian Anderson did this and so did Dickens to some extent.
Other versions of this might be the gap-year student, the housewife whose grown -up children have just flown the nest, or whose younger children have just started school. Or you could use that redundancy package.
But you just have to succeed. You owe other people too much to even think of failure.
The saving your creative energy way.
Get a job which does not use up your creative resources. To be avoided at all costs is something like teaching – each lesson plan is like a chapter outline. You’re engaging with your consumers day in and day out. You’ll have little energy left for the Great Work.
Ideal jobs are working in a bar – you meet lots of people i.e. fodder for your stolen stories and you get a free social life. Not bad either is working as postie. It gets you up early, so there’s plenty of the day left over for writing, again you meet plenty of people and you get a good deal of exercise thrown in.
Redefine. Take a job that uses up your creative energies. Work in advertising. Write copy for a firm’s newsletter. Definitely go for those sorts of jobs which use your skills as a writer. And you can still call yourself a writer.
Become a jobbing writer. Spend all day every day writing but be a bold business person in the way you pursue opportunities. Take on each and every writing commission of which you’re capable. Argue about royalties. Become a member of the Society of Authors and get your contracts checked. Have a marketing plan, but if you can afford to – and possibly you can if writing time is precious – get someone else to handle that. Initially it’s as bold a step as Way One, but you soon start running yourself as a business. You might, in the process, have to ditch your dream project and find you have even less time for that than the hobby writer. Self-employed people often don’t have time for hobbies – either because they really love their work and don’t need them or because, more often, time is money.
Academia. Go back to university. There are numerous undergraduate and postgraduate creative writing programmes, including with the Open University, and many others include distance learning opportunities. Look out also for low residency MFA programmes in the States. A university course doesn’t guarantee publication. In fact, sometimes it can work against it as you may be encouraged to produce something which is excellent in it own way but not commercial. Except that – well, as what you’re doing then becomes of interest to the academic community – you may have a chance of getting into print. But you probably won’t make megabucks that way. It does anyway give you an excellent opportunity to look really closely at what you’re doing and get some interesting insights into the writing process and often some useful feedback about your work. You’re also likely to get some respect from family and friends.
Those are the choices and probably most people don’t fit too exactly into any of those five categories. There is of course one absolute rule. In order to be a writer you must write. Every single day. To the best of your ability always. And be prepared for rejection, criticism, frustration and self-doubt, but also immense satisfaction and great joy. You can be a writer.