Our last guest blogger brought us writing advice from her home in Turkey. Today we roll around the world to Australia. Australian writer Sarah Gates, author of Love Elimination, visits Write Naked with a few points aspiring freelancers might want to consider before jumping into writing full-time.
Do You Really Want to Write Full-Time?
By Sarah Gates
For many aspiring novelists, the dream is to write full-time. What could be better than pajamas instead of a uniform, and skipping the commute to work? Imagine all that time to write—with no more work to get in the way. If you wrote just 2,000 words a day, that’s a book every 40 days. Throw in editing and you could be sending a novel off to publishers/agent or self-publishing every 2-3 months.
But there are many downsides to writing full-time that are often overlooked, and there’s much to be said for writing on-the-side. You shouldn’t throw away the day job just yet and here’s why…
- The pressures of writing full-time. For most people, writing full-time means bringing in the dollars—and putting financial pressure on your writing changes the way you write. There’s no waiting for inspiration when you need to pay the bills. And making a living as a writer is hard. On average, authors make $5,000-$10,000 per traditionally published book. It’s hard to tell what the average indie author makes. Some surveys suggest as low as $500 per book (because we know a lot of books tank). But, of course, it depends on the person and the book—and many indies are doing extraordinarily well. But with this kind of pressure, perfection may go out the window. Writing may start to feel like a race. There’s also a psychological trap called the ‘overjustification effect’ where imposing external motivation (like money) on something you’re passionate about doing can result in a loss of intrinsic motivation. So, you may enjoy writing less (or not at all) if you do it for a job.
- The inspiration you can derive from work. Being around people and diverse experiences means a consistent flow of inspiration. Take John Grisham with his legal background, for example—or academics who nail historical fiction, teachers with the inside scoop on teenagers and children, police officers who write crime/mystery/thriller. Some day jobs will also save costs on consultants or help you to avoid making factual mistakes when you write what you know. It could also spark the interest of publishers when you’re uniquely placed to write about a thing. Or you could bring related skills to the table—e.g. marketing, design, business skills, or legal (negotiate contracts). Plus you’ll have a wider range of people in your life. The more people you know, the more source material you can pull for your characters. And your non-writer friends will be more excited about your published books. When you’re a writer, you tend to know a lot of writers, and keep up with all the new releases is near impossible. But you’re probably the only writer your work colleagues know. So it’s easier to encourage them to buy your book for all their friends and family, write reviews, and attend your book launches.
- The loneliness of writing full-time. Writing is solitary. It involves hours of sitting with your computer/notepads and your thoughts. For a first draft at least, your writing lives or dies with you and you alone. If you have an off day, there’s no one to pick up the slack. If you have a mental illness, these conditions can exacerbate it. Some writers tackle this by taking plenty of breaks, being active in online communities, meeting with a writing group, or working in cafes or co-working spaces. But the fact remains, writing can be incredibly lonely.
Some writers can overcome these downsides. They thrive with the freedom, the financial pressure helps them to be more productive, they experience enough success to maintain their life, they don’t run short of ideas (for long, anyway), and they build strong, supportive writing communities.
But it’s not for everyone and it’s harder than you think. Don’t give away your writing dream, but also don’t forget about the importance of balance.
Sarah Gates is an Australian writer. She is the author of Love Elimination (Harlequin Australia)—a romance that looks behind-the-scenes of a reality television dating show. Sarah teaches writing workshops at high schools, libraries and state writers centres, and has appeared on panels at National Young Writers Festival and Sydney Writers Festival. Find her on Instagram @sarahgatesauthor and Facebook.