Once we get into writing, we all start to develop personal writing styles or preferences. Some of us focus on fiction, some of us focus on journalism or copy writing, and still others focus on startup white papers and b2b marketing. But at some point, you will find a set of writing styles that you like so much, that the time you spend on them will make you face this one big question:
Is writing your career, or is it just a hobby?
Your journey as a writer, especially as you improve or deepen your writing styles, will be heavily influenced by the answer to this question. So, to help you out (since I’ve had to answer that question for myself already, SPOILERS: I want to be a professional writer!), here are 6 things to consider as you decide how you will continue your writing journey.
1. Am I constantly trying to improve, or reading about how I can improve, my writing?
If you answered yes to this question, then writing can and should be a business for you! As you write, your personal style starts to enhance the genre or writing style you write about. And like any other profession, your ability to write within certain genres or writing styles is contingent upon your ability to keep up with the always changing world. The more you seek to improve your writing, the more opportunities you will find to profit from your writing.
2. What writing style should I focus on?
This question is good for both hobbyists and professionals. It’s hard to know what writing style to focus on. If you don’t have a style that has grabbed your attention, it can be daunting to try and focus in on one. To that I say, don’t focus on one. Play around in the giant sandbox that is writing until you find something that you want to work on. Chances are, if you like something, there’s a professional way to write about it. But if you want a more focused approach, a website called Small Business Trends has a great article detailing 50 different types of writing styles for professionals.
Personally, I started writing fantasy, then moved to science fiction. Now I write a little bit of everything, including blog and academic writing, and a little bit of copy writing. But the one thing that keeps me writing is my passion for science fiction is what keeps me writing.
3. Do you have the time to devote yourself to a professional writing career?
This one is a bit tricky to answer. For those of us determined to be writing professionals, we will answer ‘yes’ every time. I know that’s my first reaction. But if you take an honest look at your life and determine where you spend your time and where you have to spend your time, you’ll be able to get a better idea of your answer. You have to keep in mind familial obligations, your day job (which you should have unless you find a sustainable, repeatable writing salary), and your personal health and wellness. Also, keep in mind the various writing styles you want to focus on, some take a lot more time than others.
For myself, I had to sacrifice some things (mostly video games and other media, but some diet related things as well) for writing, and even though I still struggle to write every day, I’m only getting better the longer I work for it.
3 pieces of advice
1. Don’t take on more than you can handle.
This one I had to learn the hard way, and I’m currently still working through it. When I decided writing would be my career, I started two blogs (this one and another for my editing/design business, hybridhouse.cc), I started working on a nonfiction book about writing query letters, was revising a science fiction novel, and was starting a new YA science fiction novel. I was also holding down a near full-time job, was a full-time student, and was married. Your writing style will help you determine how much you can write. Writing technology-based whitepapers will be far more time consuming that a 900-word blog post every other day. Honestly, if you take on too much at once, the best-case scenario is that you’ll burn out or get behind. The worst-case scenario, you give up writing all together or you experience trouble in your real-life relationships. So only take on what you can handle.
2. Don’t quit your day job.
This piece of advice has shown up at every writing conference I’ve ever been to, yet every year I hear more stories of authors who signed a big, six-figure contract or freelancers who get a high-paying client and think they can quit their job. But publishing companies spread out the full payment of the advance across a 2-3 years making “six-figures” unlivable. On the freelancer side, companies will sometimes take advantage of freelancers and never pay at all. If you decide to freelance, you are in a better situation than novelists because the amount of money you make is relative to the amount of time you chase down leads and the types of writing styles you’ve decided to focus on. But whether you freelance or get a book deal, don’t quit until you have regular payments that take care of your expenses.
2a. Exception to Advice #2
If I don’t have a job providing for my day to day expenses, and I can’t predict money coming in from my freelance work, I hit a wall of anxiety and worry that makes it impossible for me to work.
Here’s the exception to the rule: If you are the type of person that gets motivated in situations like that, where you have no other choice but to find a way to succeed, then quitting your job might be great for you.
But if you aren’t that person (like me) don’t quite until you have a guaranteed monthly income.
3. Don’t give up.
Writing is not a get-rich-quick type of career. It won’t make you thousands in a month without a ton of effort. Writing styles can take years to master, and some can never be completely mastered. Most likely, you won’t be able to rake in the money while you’re typing away at a computer on a beach somewhere. At least, not at first. Eventually, you’ll find ways to make money while you sleep. You’ll expand your expertise to a more profitable market and make more each and every year. But that can only happen if you keep trying, keep learning, and most importantly,