On Writing: The Year I Decided to Write for My Life

On Wednesday this week I hit send on an email that I'd been getting ready to send since January. Attached to it was the first draft of the sequel to The Weaker Sex, a book tentatively titled The Way We Were. That email whisked away the 80,000 word draft to my developmental editor (not sure what that is, read this post about different kinds of editors) and I will get it back some time in May covered in highlights, red lines, comments and questions about what the eff is going on in my brain. It will likely reduce me to a fragile, possibly blubbering mess having my words, my story, my characters torn to pieces. And I can't wait.

Because this is what I want to do. This is what I've always wanted to do on some level, ever since I was a child. But I wasn't doing it. Sure, I'd published some books (and I will forever be proud of Shy Feet, London Eyes and Nine Women and all the short stories I wrote) but I wasn't doing it with my whole-hearted self. And I definitely didn't give myself permission to do so until about a year ago.

Now that I have that book with my dev editor, and another book, my next release, Five Sunsets available in June (blurb to follow, but it's a contemporary steamy romance set in Crete so the ultimate beach read - you can pre-order here or find out more on Goodreads here) with my proofreader, I have a little time to catch my breath and try and share with you why I gave myself permission, how it's all going, and what my hopes and dreams are for the future.

The Year I Decided to Write Fiction Full-time

I'm not sure when I first decided to "just go for it" and write fiction full-time, but I know by May last year I was deep in drafting mode for not one, but four new books. Yes, four. I was also busy working on getting The Weaker Sex ready for publication. You can read more about that book and that journey here.

I distinctly remember spending my May Sunday afternoons sitting on the grass in a park, surrounded by daisies, outside the swimming pool where my son was having swimming lessons (and we couldn't go inside because of Covid restrictions) and I would pass that hour in a blink of an eye, writing thousands, yes thousands, of words for these new books. I was lost in these stories, falling in love with my characters, and wondering why the heck I hadn't done this before.

And by 'this', I mean give myself permission to write fiction like it was my job. Permission to actually make it my job. Permission to take my passion seriously and permission to prioritise it over most other things in my life. So why did I finally do this? What was it that pushed me over the edge?

Well, simply put it was the pandemic. It was the pandemic and also the culmination of a long time working hard on myself, getting to know myself better, and also getting to know the world around me better. It's a little simplistic to say that only the struggle of 2020 was responsible for this when in reality it was much more, a longer process that has roots in my whole lifetime to this point, but it's definitely fair to say that the pandemic was the trigger, or the kick up the butt I needed. The biggest, ugliest reminder that life is short and I needed to spend my time wiser than how I had been to date.

I've always tried to be self-aware, and I've always tried to learn lessons from the harder periods in my life (like when I had post-natal depression and anxiety) and my poetry collection Lover Mother Other and my journey with positive affirmations are hopefully testament to that. However, it puzzles me now that through all that self-exploration and self-discovery I have never really asked myself the question what is it I want to do with my life?

Or rather, I've never asked myself, what do I need to do to make that happen?

The Catalyst That Made Me Become a Full-Time Author

When my travel blogging income and freelance work dried up almost overnight in March 2020, I had to rethink everything about my career and how I was earning money. I was on the cusp of earning enough through this blog that I could drop most of my freelance work, which I'd long wanted to do as it no longer fulfilled me and was often a source of stress. The pandemic wiped away that future instantly, and I had no clue when or if it would come back to be a reality.

At the same time, my kids could no longer go to school or childcare, so the three working days I had per week were reduced to none, again overnight. And again there was no knowing when normality would return. Furthermore, in the early stages of the pandemic, it was unclear how world events would affect my partner's business and our main source of income so he had to maintain his working hours, if not increase them. It therefore proved most logical for me to stay at home with our two boys and for him to continue working to ensure our income remained reliable.

This was our survival strategy, but it lasted for many, many long months. As I've touched on in my Motherhood Diary way back when my oldest boy was just a baby, I do struggle when there isn't much balance in my life, and personally I need to balance hours with my children with hours spent doing creative work. The pandemic, especially in the first twelve or so weeks, made that almost impossible and it was tough. It was almost traumatic at times, compounded very much by the uncertainty that rippled across our world during those days. But it also helped me see things clearly, and made me realise what I missed.

I missed blogging. I even missed freelance writing. But what I missed the most was the occasional bits of writing fiction I used to do. I missed it in a way that made my heart feel heavy and hard.

With no discernible revival of my blog's traffic in sight, by the time 2021 began I was already having inner conversations about doing something different. Almost as if to tease or taunt myself, I considered lots of different things from working in a coffee shop through to getting an in-house copywriter role, but my heart already had the answer; writing fiction. Around the same time I discovered a printed out old draft of The Weaker Sex. It was incomplete and a very hot mess but as I began to read it, I saw its potential, and I saw the answer to my question as clear as day. I wanted to write fiction and I wanted to spend all my working hours doing that. 

I'd love to say there was a single moment where I just said to myself "That's it, Frankie! That's what you're going to do. Let's go for it!". But it wasn't quite like that. More it was like most big decisions or changes in life, I played around with it in my mind for a while, slowly started to talk about it out loud with my partner and my closest friends, and then gradually it became my truth.

A truth I cemented in stone when I started work on The Weaker Sex with the goal of finishing it and publishing it. And likewise, a truth I made bigger and more solid by giving myself permission to write romance.

The Role of Romance Books

Three years ago, if you told me that I'd be publishing my first contemporary romance in two months, I would have laughed at you. Much in the same way, had you told me that I would read romance books for fun (so much fun!) I would have told you to shut up. But that's what happening. I love reading romance, and I love writing it too. I cannot wait for my first romance novel to be out in the world this summer, and I'm already excited for the other ones I'm actively working on right now.

I can't say for certain that giving myself permission to read and write romance was another reason why I am finding writing and prioritising my writing so much easier, so much quicker to do, and just so much fun - I wrote the 140,000 first draft of Five Sunsets in about six weeks last year and my lastest draft is for an urban suspense thriller that I wrote just as quickly - but I am happy for it to be more than a coincidence. Whether it unblocked me or not, I don't know, but I'm glad I feel unblocked!  

I will write more about why I didn't read more romance in my "past life" but I think it goes a long way to confirm how we put restrictions on ourselves for the strangest reasons. And yet they're not strange. There's quite a bit of literature out there that confirms the way romance is pitched and marketed is heavily influenced by patriarchal and misogynistic standards, and I know only too well how fundamentally sexist and archaic the publishing industry can be.

So if you take one thing away from this blog post, let it be this. You have permission to write whatever books you want, as long as they bring you and potential readers joy (or thrills/horror/consensual emotional damage depending on your genre!) then please give yourself that permission.

How I Can Afford to Write Full-Time Right Now

So let's dive into the how. How am I making this a reality? How am I making it work for my schedule and for my family? How am I finding it in these early production stages?

Firstly, I can afford to write full-time right now because I have huge privilege in that my partner is the main breadwinner of our family and his income covers all our outgoings. There is no financial pressure on me to bring huge amounts of money in and I will never ever deny that this is what is facilitating this big leap, and what is keeping a lot of stress at bay.

But that doesn't negate that I want all this work to be profitable. That I want to make a sustainable income from my books. As the last two years has proven again and again, we have no idea what the future holds for us and so I am not "relaxing" and relying on my partner's income to always sustain my family alone.

Right now, I make very little money writing fiction (like under 100 Euros a month, sometimes less than half of that). And I expect this to be the case. I know enough about the industry to know that my current back catalogue, as an indie author, is not set up to make me a lot of money, not least because I do very little marketing and no advertising. I don't have a completed series, and I write across genres which makes things like newsletters hard to use as a sales tool. Navigating these challenges is something I know I will have to do, but I know the priority for me right now is writing the books. I can't market books I don't have.

So that's why I'm focusing on writing, or production of books. I plan to publish three books this year (The Weaker Sex is already out, Five Sunsets is coming in June and I hope to have The Way We Were out by the end of the year). Next year could be even bigger, with hopes to publish two more romances and the final two books in the London Killing series. That will mean I then have two completed series which from a business perspective is a great start.

This means A LOT of writing right now. Writing and editing. But I'm quite a quick writer now and can easily write a first draft in 1-2 months if my schedule and my children allow! Since my mindset shift, I have had no problem prioritising my writing and I set myself project goals so I can stay focused on what needs to happen and when. I work closely with excellent editors to ensure my edits are efficient and effective too. Ten years ago, I would never have imagined I could write so quickly and productively but I have spent a long time refining my craft and it's finally paying off. What happens next is actually much harder for me, i.e the business side of being an author.

Learning about the industry of being an indie author is almost a full-time job in itself and I find this side of this journey the hardest, but I am prepared to do it, and I have faith that I can do it. I'll write about this in a separate post because I'm never saying never to being traditionally published, but right now I am specifically focused on being an indie author because I have seen how it can really work for some authors, and I mean really work. And not just in terms of money but in terms of how they write what they want, when they want, and publish it on their own schedule. And yes, with fantastic results. I know, for example, if I wanted Five Sunsets to be traditionally published, at this stage I would be lucky for it to get a summer 2023 release date, and even that is very optimistic. Frankly put, I want this book to exist in the world MUCH quicker than that, because (admittedly selfishly) there are more books I want to write.

Also, I have some fundamental issues with how publishing is owned and run these days and I can't ignore them with a clear conscience. I would also much rather any money or place I take in traditional publishing be allocated to an author of colour or of another marginalised group. I know this is simplistic but it makes sense to me.

Keeping in mind that I want to have some of my own independent income for the reasons highlighted above, I still have one freelance client I have a monthly retainer coming in for work I do, and I am now seeing income from my blog pick up. As you may have noticed, I haven't published a new blog post in over three months (until this one!) and so I am aware if I worked a bit harder on my blog and published more regular content I would be able to maybe go back to making my blog income match what my freelance writing income did. But I don't want to do this.

I made my blog a focus for many years and I did succeed in making it profitable but I never felt fulfilled by the work in the way I feel fulfilled by my fiction writing. That is reason enough for me to keep going with what I'm doing right now. In case it's not clear, a lot of my decision making process relating to this whole journey was me just acknowledging how short life is and how we don't know how many years we have left, let's fill our time with things that make us feel fulfilled.

And the money I do earn? I am putting it back into this business I'm trying to build. Editors cost money. Cover designers cost money. Proofreaders cost money. And eventually, when I can afford it, formatters, marketing courses and advertising will cost money too. In addition to spending my earnings on this, I'm also using some savings from money my grandmother left me when she died. Again, I am very privileged and fortunate to have that inter-generational wealth available to me, and it took me a long time to feel comfortable spending some of this money on my writing and publishing business, but it does feel right now. My grandma loved reading and wrote for pleasure too. I'd like to think she'd be proud of me spending this money in this way.

The Reality of Being a Full-Time (Indie) Author

I've touched on some of the realities of my life as a full-time author right now, in terms of the (little!) money I make, and the way I am focusing on production of books right now, but I also wanted to highlight how as wonderful chasing my dream is right now, it's not all rainbows.

It's hard.

I am constantly battling imposter syndrome, self-doubt, vulnerability hangovers and fear of rejection in many different forms (editors tearing my work to pieces - for good reason, but then there are also bad reviews, bad sales weeks and bad feedback from readers). And that's without touching on external influences like illness in the family, my own currently not excellent physical health (another blog post for another day!) and always having to work around my kids' schedules. My eldest son finishes school at 14:15 every day so I don't have full days to get lost in the worlds I create (something I crave far too much) and two days a week I'm with my youngest for most of the day.

These are most excellent problems to have, I'm aware. I am not complaining as much as saying if you follow me on Instagram and TikTok you may not be aware of how hard it can sometimes be to keep up the rhythm of writing a lot of words regularly (which is what I have to/want to do right now), nor do I share much about these struggles because I want to keep my social channels focused more on upbeat, funny or inspriring content because I'm trying to attract new readers not repel them! Also, honestly, I don't give as much time to social media as I used to, intentionally, so that I can focus on the writing.

And focus I do. Somehow, despite the obstacles, despite the hard days, I keep writing. If there is something that makes me proud and happy and centred on this journey, it's how much joy the writing brings me. And not just giddy, giggly joy (although I get that too - just wait until you read my steamy rom-coms!) but more that grounding, substantial, life-affirming joy, that you're doing what you're supposed to be doing.

And that's why I decided to become a full-time author of fiction.

Thank you so much for reading this, I hope it offered you some inspiration and encouragement if you're a writer, and if you're a reader, I'd love you to check out my books on Amazon or Goodreads to see if there's anything you like the look of. To keep in touch and find out when my next books are coming out, make sure you're signed up to my newsletter, and if you're keen to read Five Sunsets before anyone else, you can sign up to my ARC list here.

Frances M. Thompson

Londoner turned wanderer, Frankie is an author, freelance writer and blogger. Currently based in Amsterdam, Frankie was nomadic for two years before starting a family with her Australian partner. Frankie is the author of three short story collections, and is a freelance writer for travel and creative brands. In 2017, she launched WriteNOW Cards, affirmation cards for writers that help build a productive and positive writing practice. When not writing contemporary fiction, Frankie shops for vintage clothes, dances to 70s disco music and chases her two young sons around Amsterdam.
Find Frankie on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Google+.

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