Writing is a strange business. On the face of it writers exist in a world of dreams, both in terms of what we come up with for our stories and in the way we think about our careers. I for one dream of being paid so much money for a book that I could take holidays in space. Most writers dream of being able to quit their day jobs and live full time in the world of wordcraft, coffee breaks and afternoon naps.
But, as always, there’s more to it than that.
Despite the fact that we make things up for fun and profit, writing fiction for money is career choice that runs head first into reality very quickly. For the modern aspiring writer there is no such thing as only being a writer. You are also your own publicist, accountant, marketer (not the same thing as a publicist as it turns out), editor and mob enforcer. You need to make the decision early on which parts of the process you can handle yourself and which you will pay to outsource*. Even once you have a publishing contract or a successful self-publishing career you will still be handling a lot of tasks yourself, especially around promoting your work.
This means that the image of an author with her head in the clouds but no grounding in the real world is a false one. Being even moderately successful as a writer or any other creator requires you to deal with reality in all its horrible facets. You will be responsible for keeping track of your advances and sales money, you will responsible for keeping the tax inspectors from raiding your house with a SWAT team and you will be responsible for making sure a world flooded with books knows about yours.
Your story should always be your first priority, after all it’s hard to sell something you haven’t made, but for all the time you spend perfecting the perfect trap for your protagonist to fight their way out of, you need to spend some time looking at the reality of your writing life and learning the skills you’ll need to survive.
It can be hard to know what those skills are, after all the environment that writers exist in keeps changing, and by the time you read this you might need to know how to beam a story into a reader’s brain. Obviously the internet is a good place to start, especially Twitter. A great many writers hang out on Twitter and even the famous ones tend to be generous with their time if you’re polite to them. What’s more if you follow professional writers the vast majority of them will be regular bloggers that you can learn from. I personally think you can’t go wrong with following the ELEW writers (not that I am in any way biased), but I can also highly recommend the blogs of Chuck Wendig and Kameron Hurley to get some insights as to the wider reality of the professional writer’s life.
One of my pet rants is about putting aside time to write, but I think that it’s equally important to put aside time to learn and implement the non-writing skills you need. Even if for an hour a week you dedicate yourself to learning something new about the industry you’ll be doing your writing dream a big favour in the long run.
With all my talk of staying grounded, I should point out that there is a risk of going too far in the other direction, to spend so much time with your feet on the ground that you stop seeing the clouds. You still need to spend time dreaming, writing and generally arting hard (to steal a phrase from Chuck Wendig) otherwise what’s the point of any of this? Trying to make creativity your job is not an easy path to take and for many people the shock of how hard it actually is drives them away from their goals. You can avoid this reality shock with a little planning. If you know that as soon as your book is written you’ll need it to be edited, then you can plan ahead for that moment. If you know you’ll need an accountant to help you with taxes and you plan for it ahead of time you won’t be scrambling at the last moment while you’re also trying to write your next book. So while you’re imagining what you’ll do with your money and fame, plan a little for how you’ll get there first, and for what you’ll do when you arrive.
The (one weird) trick to making your dreams into a reality is mixing some reality into your dreams.
* If you have to pick one, pay for a good editor, you can do your own leg breaking.