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The *Real* Life Of A Writer

The *Real* Life Of A Writer

“It must be wonderful to do nothing but write all day. No boss, no job, work in your pajamas, just sit at the keyboard and write.” Thus sayeth many people. But they’re wrong.

Yes, the life of a writer IS wonderful. But it’s not what you imagine. Let’s take it from the top.

First: Many writers still have dayjobs. They work their 9-to-5s, come home, have dinner (and often have to cook that dinner themselves), and then, at the end of an exhausting day, have to summon the energy to sit, focus, and spend an hour or two or three or more writing—writing instead of spending time with whoever they live with (spouse or S.O., possibly kids) or with friends who are beckoning them to do something fun.

Second: Even of those of us fortunate enough to be able to be full-time freelancers, many do other kinds of writing to help support ourselves. I for one do freelance business writing, ghostwriting books for clients, editing books and other kinds of writing for authors and for publishers. I don’t just work on my books all day.

Third: Writing a book is only the beginning. Once it’s written, you need to find a publisher unless you’re planning to self-publish. Finding a publisher involves sending either a query letter or the whole manuscript, along with a well-crafted cover letter, to a variety of editors at publishing houses, then waiting…and waiting…and waiting. You might get an answer. You might never hear back. If you do get an answer, the odds are in favor of a decline (rejection). You don’t just send your book out and—bingo!—get a contract. If you’re self-publishing, you need to find an editor, a cover designer, a layout artist, and a printer. Although you can find them all in one package with a self-publishing company, you will pay a CONSIDERABLY higher price than if you negotiate for each item with individuals or companies that do that kind of work. Then, whether you publish conventionally or self-pub, you will need to read through the edited manuscript to be sure you are OK with all the edits, and you will need to read through the page proofs to be sure no screw-up was committed. Reading your own words yet again—and again—is tedious but necessary.

Fourth: Whether you self-pub or are published conventionally, it’s on you to publicize the book. Otherwise how do you expect potential readers to find it? You might do any or all of the following: Send announcements to everyone you know and, if you have previously published another book and have the names and addresses of some of the people who bought it, send announcements to them of your new book; send out press releases and other publicity; try to get on radio (including podcasts) and TV shows to promote the book; write an ongoing blog in hopes of attracting readers; join such sites as Goodreads and Amazon’s Author Central; hold book-readings and -signings; do anything else you can think of to promote your book.

Fifth: You are your own boss, but don’t think you don’t have a job. Writing IS your job. Treat it like one. Yes, you have the luxury of booking a visit to the nail salon in the middle of your workday, but don’t overdo it. Don’t take time off frivolously. You need that time to WORK. (And writing IS work.) Take it seriously. It’s a FUN and WONDERFUL job, but it’s a precarious way of earning a living. Unless you have another source of income—a dayjob or at least a side job, a monthly Social Security check, a working spouse who earns a decent dollar…unless you have some other form of income, you are going to be doing some serious nail-biting as you wonder whether you’ll be able to meet the mortgage or rent bill.

The life of a writer is wonderful but precarious. I wouldn’t trade lives with anyone else. But it isn’t what many non-writers or wannabe writers imagine it to be.

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