I love telling people that I'm a full-time writer. Just because I get to write my title on my tax return doesn't mean I always enjoy my writing career. Since turning words into my sole source of income, I've experienced more than a few surprises along the way. If you're considering a full-time writing career, make sure you're ready to deal with the consequences of these five facts/surprises.
For the longest time, I thought I wasn't meant to be a writer because I didn't enjoy writing about half of the time. It wasn't until years later I learned that many writers have to force themselves to write, kicking and screaming, every single morning. The words don't always flow naturally and dance from their fingertips into the computer. They have off days. They may have off years. But unlike writing novices, they will put their butts in their writing chairs almost every day and make sure the books get written. For some writers, myself included, the fun part about writing comes after the books have already been written. In order to connect with readers, give talks and be interviewed about being a writer (three activities I love to do), I need to have written something first.
As a writer you may have your struggles. Other writers do too. If you can set some writing goals for yourself or a specific daily writing time every day, you're bound to start and finish some books. But you aren't always going to like it.
Writing the book may not always be fun, but at least you get to spend all of your time typing glorious words on your computer, right? Surprise! A successful writing career often consists of four parts marketing and one part writing. I've known multiple writers who block out two hours a day of writing and spend three to four times that amount on interacting with readers, spreading the word about their next release and making valuable connections with other writers. Now, marketing doesn't necessarily mean advertising. You can start a podcast, create a course, plan an event or a ton of other things you enjoy doing to market yourself. You can even write a free book to promote your other books as part of your marketing scheme.
The important thing to remember here is that if you're an author you're also a small business. An author who does nothing but write may be as successful as a storefront without a sign. If you spend time gathering customers, you're much more likely to get your words out into the world.
If you understand that having a writing career makes you an entrepreneur, you may also realize that royalty payments tend to fluctuate. Last month was my highest author paycheck yet, but June through November were some of my slowest months since I became an author. When you're a full-time writer, you can't always count on your monthly earnings to grow or stay the same. This makes household budgeting a pain in the butt. You may be tempted to creep back into a 9-to-5 job to supplement your earnings, though there may be a better solution.
Freelance writing can be a lucrative second source of income. It too can fluctuate, but if you build up a large enough client list or you get a steady 10-20 hour per week gig, you'll be able to ride out the storm of fickle royalty checks.
Even if your author paycheck is relatively consistent, you may have to work more than 40 hours a week to keep everything going. So much for avoiding the 9 to 5 lifestyle. The positive thing is that you'll be spending almost all of your time on yourself. When you work for a company, you don't get to see the direct benefits of your hard work. Somebody at your job could be making millions of dollars off a project you put thousands of hours into. I find it much more rewarding to put all of my effort into my own projects and get 100 percent of the spoils. I may not be making millions, but if I work hard and smart enough on a project, I could see the benefits from a book for the rest of my lifetime. How many 9 to 5 jobs can offer that?
When you do have to put extra time into your writing career on a certain week, make sure to get everything cleared with your loved ones. A fluctuating schedule can be difficult on your personal life. If you give everyone enough lead time to plan, they're more likely to understand why the office door has been locked for the last 10 hours.
Even though this post is describing the thorns, I have a rosy outlook about my writing career. My income has gone up each of the last three years since I became a full-time writer. Aside from money alone, I've also felt more fulfillment as I've been accepted deeper into the writing community. Success as a writer requires working when you don't want to, selling yourself in an intelligent way, dealing with feasts and famines and spending long hours writing, formatting and publishing. Even if you put in all that effort, you still may not strike it rich.
One thing is certain. If you don't try something new, you'll still have the same life you have now in five, 10 or 20 years. Stay the same and you'll wonder what could have been, lamenting that the song's still inside you.
A writing career is a gift wrapped in barbed wire and booby traps. It's not for everyone. It may not be for you. But if there's a tiny chance that it is, don't let these surprises scare you off.