I'm very happy to welcome the wise mind of Mike Sowden to the blog today to share his experience of becoming a writer. The kind of writer that is paid to write. Yes, one of those, but while his story is one you may be used to hearing, his reflection on it here is not. Mike blogs at Fevered Mutterings and he also runs e-courses to bloggers to fine tune their own storytelling skills. You can find more about this course (which I've done and highly recommend) below but in the meantime read Mike's story and his fine advice for anyone wanting to "live their dream" which in Mike's case is becoming a full-time writer.
This is how you really become a full-time writer
In 2012 I quit my job to become a fulltime writer, and I've regretted it ever since.
This may sound like I've losing my mind, or having a breakdown. I've been a professional writer for 6 years now, and I sell a course for bloggers on storytelling. Do I need a PR team yelling at me right now, and wrestling me away from the keyboard for my own good?
Not so. Hear me out.
You may have encountered "The Dream" in your travels across the internet. It usually involves the phrase "6 figures," a photo of someone's hot dog legs in a hammock in Bali, and the promise of very, very little work for truly enormous amounts of income.
You probably know it's mostly feckless twaddle - but The Dream has a way of getting into your brain when you're feeling low. It makes you doubt yourself and what you're doing. Your fear of missing out starts throbbing like an intruder alarm. You perspire and your lower lip wobbles.
At this point, the people who are still climbing the foothills of their careers (which is 99.99% of us), who are encountering the hard daily slog of getting words on a page (which is the process that actually creates professional writers) - this is where they're most susceptible to Dream-like thinking.
Here's one Dreamy piece of advice that absolutely savages new writers.
"Quit your job!"
The suggestion is - if you aren't quitting your job, you're doing it all wrong. You're not taking this writing thing seriously. You're a failure.
Here are a few notable "failures" through history who didn't start their careers by quitting their jobs:
- Stephen King sold his first short story in 1967 to Startling Mystery Stories. Like the complete loser he turned out to be, he didn't immediately quit his teaching job, but continued to feed himself and his family by teaching English in a school. During this time he wrote a novel, called "Carrie", and after six years of almost entirely failing to make money from his writing, a publisher bought that novel for a $2,500 advance. A little later, the paperback rights went for $400,000. This was the point he quit his job.
- Albert Einstein, German theoretical physicist, couldn't get a teaching job when he graduated in 1900, so he took a position in the Swiss Patent Office in Bern. During this time he totally blew his chance to become famous and live the dream by writing physics papers alongside his dayjob (the complete fool). Those papers formed a body of work that won him the Nobel Prize In Physics in 1921 - and his quantum mechanical theory, which changed modern science and technology forever, is basically why you're reading this on your laptop or phone right now.
- Your favourite writer had a day-job, and they only quit it when their writing was really taking off. I bet you anything they did. Go find out what it was.
The Dream says you should quit your job to write - and maybe travel the world while you're at it. But here's the thing: that's not how it worked for the vast majority of professional writers. That's just a story someone made up. A particularly obnoxious story, too, because it pretends your life is identical to theirs, with exactly the same complications, commitments and desires. It pretends you are the exact opposite of special and unique.
Well, screw that.
If I hadn't quit my job in 2012, I'd have had more capital in the bank and avoided a lot of misery early on, when I was blundering around cluelessly, trying to work out how to pay my bills as a writer. A part-time job would have turned me into a novelist first and a copywriter second, which is the way my heart is arranged. A part-time job would have been the quickest way for me to get books published. I took a different, needlessly harder route, and I consider myself lucky to have got here without burning out, losing hope or going bankrupt.
"The Dream" almost killed my writing career. It might do the same for yours.
So here's a better alternative. Forget "The Dream", and focus on the stuff that's truly timeless. Read a ton of things. Pitch your own work fearlessly. Learn how to tell a great story. Stalk your favourite writers, so you know the real story behind them going pro, and can take those lessons and adapt them to your unique path towards what you want to write.
And above all: do whatever it takes to support you, while you build your talent, your business and a body of work that speaks for both - and don't quit your job yet if it'll threaten your *true* career.
Live your own dream - not someone else's.
Speaking of telling great stories - I have a thing.
It's called Engage! and it's an intensive 8-week course teaching the basics of great, attention-grabbing storytelling, through all your writing and in and around your blog (and it works for small businesses too).
Good storytelling is why you read Frankie's blog, and the blogs of all your favourite people online.
It's a toolkit for making people care...
And making people care will unlock everything for you.
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 putting down some roots with her Australian partner and having a baby boy in July 2015. 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 son around Amsterdam.
Find Frankie on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google+
Find Frankie on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google+