Whether we want to write the next big thing, or simply see our names in print just one time, writers worth their salt will quickly realize: writing the story is but one battle in a multi-front war. The journey to being published involves many different elements coming together and lots of hard work slowly coming to fruition. What we do in the meantime, to keep our sanity, or help us along the way, can often be just as important as toiling on that manuscript. For example:
We need to eat
And that, unfortunately, means we need to work, not just on our novels, in order to put food on the table. For most writers, writing begins as a hobby, develops into a passion and can even become our single greatest drive. It would be great to clock in, work on our story all day, and see a paycheck at the end of the week for all our hard work, but obviously that is not realistic. So what do aspiring novelists do in the meantime to keep the bills paid? Some find related work, writing or editing, to keep their skills sharp. Some work the bare minimum and live frugally in order to make time to keep their dream alive. Others still find jobs that allow them to work on their novels while getting paid.
I know of a couple published authors that first worked as technical writers, which involves writing often dry, technical documentation for companies. This can range from descriptions in a product catalogue to patch notes for various software releases. Although this type of writing does not require much creativity, it can be a way to write for a living while you work on becoming self sufficient with your own work.
I know another published writer that worked the graveyard shift for some time at a hotel’s front desk. He was straightforward with the hotel during his interview: he knew the job did not pay well, but he wanted the ample down time the job provided to work on his writing while collecting a paycheck.
Personally, I’ve been working part time as a bike courier for the past year and a half making lunch time deliveries, while searching for freelance writing and editing gigs. I’ve found work ranging from editing student’s essays to traveling around the city, gathering information from businesses and compiling them for online listings. The up side to this approach is the extreme flexibility. I have short, mandatory hours during the afternoon where I make pretty decent money from tips, and collect additional writing work as needed on a case by case basis. The downside is the same as the up: the work is flexible, but inconsistent. You may find yourself struggling for money sometimes, while other times you are doing perfectly fine. You may find yourself leaning on your significant other or family as a crutch when the money is scarce, which can cause strain on those relationships.
The point is, there are multiple options a writer can pursue to keep food on the table in the meantime. Dedicating yourself to your art does not necessarily mean you have to starve for it.
We need to learn the ropes
Every aspiring writer is eventually disillusioned when they discover the publishing world is not eagerly anticipating the dawn of their artistic revolution, and is instead run just like any other business out there.
While the artistic integrity of our work is perhaps most important to us, every writer will eventually have to learn the ropes of the industry, try to break in and eventually establish a presence there. Invariably, that means networking, which can be a shy artist’s nightmare.
Networking is perhaps the single greatest challenge I have faced so far on the road to publication, but take hope! Once you get over your fear of networking, you will find the veil of fear slipping away, and instead begin to realize how truly advantageous it is towards getting your foot in the door and preventing your hard work from ending up at the bottom of a pile of slush.
Certain generous authors host seminars about becoming successful as a writer. Superstars Writing Seminars is one such example. Attending a seminar like this can get you face time with successful, published authors, a wealth of information about breaking into the industry, and a slew of friends and connections working towards the same goal. How do you think the Fictorians came together?
Another great place to meet affluent members of the industry is at conventions. I attend Dragon*Con each year in Atlanta. Not only are some of my favorite authors usually in attendance, but editors from their publishing houses as well. With a little bit of research, you can find out who will be attending and try your best to swing a social situation into a business opportunity. Last year I attended a small Wheel of Time banquet and was able to talk to an editor from Tor, walking away with a business card.
We need to keep our sanity
Finally, while hard work and diligence are necessary to success in the publishing industry, do not burn yourself out before you have a chance to make it. By no means am I telling you to neglect your work, but remember to pursue your other interests as well.
For example, writing fantasy is but one interest of mine. I also enjoy reading it. I also enjoy watching it, on television or in movies. And finally, I also like playing it. Video games can be the ultimate opiate for the escapist. While it is certainly a favorite pleasure of mine, it can also suck away your time before you even know what happened. I wanted a way to combine my love for video games with my passion for writing, as to not have it be a complete detriment to my productivity, so my friends and I started a video game site, The Flashy Review. By working on the site I get to play my games with the ultimate goal of developing my writing abilities. This even ties into my first point above, that we all need to work and eat. A website like this can become a great source of writing samples, which can help land a job doing what you love: writing.
There is no direct path, like a paved road, waiting to guide us to the top, and straightforward, tireless writing is likely not enough to get us there. It is often what we do in the meantime: meeting and connecting with others, keeping ourselves afloat, and keeping things in perspective, that determines our success as much as the craft itself.