Understand Your Needs: Tips for a Writing Career

by | March 27, 2020 |

Although I am no longer going to give a talk to the creative writers at Florida International University on April 2, I still have Five Tips for a Lifelong Writing Career. I am posting them in installments on my blog. My number four tip for a life-long writing career is: Understand Your Needs.

Understand Your Needs: You Need To Earn Money

At first, you will likely need a side hustle until you can support yourself with your writing. In fact, you might need one your whole life.

I know many talented writers who teach creative writing. The ability to teach creative writing is a separate talent and skill. I don’t have it. I don’t pretend to have it. Fortunately, I have a profession as a linguist.

Being a professor at Duke University has been my side hustle. But this statement is not quite right. I don’t have a hierarchy in my head about my two tracks, academic linguistics and creative writing. They are equal.

I will illustrate my main point here not from my writing career but from someone else’s. A famous creative writer joined the faculty at Duke some years ago. He was a Pulitzer Prize winner in fiction. The book for which he won the prize was made into a movie. He taught creative writing one semester a year until he died unexpectedly. I got to know him a bit, but not enough to know what motivated him to teach at Duke. I never asked. The position came with a salary, of course. It is quite all right by me if his motivation was money.

My point is: winners of prestigious writing prizes with movie deals just might choose to teach creative writing. At whatever time in their writing career. For whatever reason. Such a choice is part of a life-long writing career.

Understand Your Needs: What Are You Willing to Invest?

In Know Your Market: Tips for a Writing Career, I suggested that if you’re a mystery or thriller writer, you should attend the Writers’ Police Academy conference. The registration fee is in the neighborhood of $400. That’s a lot of money. In addition to the travel expenses, hotel and everything else.

A professional editor will charge $1000 to edit a 40K-word story. For an 80K-word story I’m not sure if it’s double.

If I were starting out now as an unpublished author, and I had finished my first manuscript, I would likely invest in a professional editor. But, being unpublished, it would be no easy feat to find a reputable editor who would be appropriate for my work in my chosen genre. And I would find it next to impossible to wade through editors offering services online. Many of them might be just fine – but how would I know?

The best way to find a high-level professional editor is through networking. And networking at conferences is how you often find an agent and maybe even an acquiring editor who takes an interest in your work. But as an unpublished author you still have to come to market with your best foot forward.  And this means having a professional eye look over your work and evaluate it for its narrative integrity and its commercial appeal.

Ideally you should invest in both: conference-going and editorial services. But where is all that money coming from?

Understand Your Needs: What Are You Willing to Sacrifice?

I don’t think we’re in a world anymore where artists are starving in garrets. But I do know some now-successful authors who made material sacrifices early on. They led a no-frills lifestyle until they could afford the frills. And for many years.

I, for one, ditched my car some 15 years ago. I now organize my daily life around walking, public transportation and the occasional ride share. The money I have saved on car insurance alone has paid for a couple of my around-the-world trips. And my travel has fueled my fiction. For instance, my latest release is The Forest Breeze Series, a romance trilogy set in Vietnam. A few years ago, I had a sabbatical and spent 6 months at a Vietnamese language school in Saigon or, if you prefer, Ho Chi Minh City.

So, I shed expenses where needed in order to practice my Tip 3 preach Do Your Research so that I can live up to my Tip 1 ideal Write Good Books. And even when I’m on the road I’m all over Tip 2. I Show Up For Work Every day.

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This post was written by Julie Tetel Andresen

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