Allow me to clarify. Despite the subject line of this post, I’m not talking about the bowl of mixed berries and Corn Chex I’m gobbling as I type (I know, carbs at 10pm — what am I thinking?!). I’m talking about making a living writing, which is very different than writing for the pure passion of it. If you want to write only those things that take your breath away, the advice in this post isn’t necessarily for you. If, however, you want to support yourself writing, read on!
I’ve had no day job other than writing since 1996. In that time, I’ve had assignments that fed my passion (like POPULAZZI and DINOSAUR TRAIN), and assignments that simply paid my bills (have we discussed my 100-plus page tome detailing every word the Pikachu Furby said?). My key advice for anyone who wants to be a working writer is this: don’t be overly precious about the assignments you’re willing to take. There are people to meet, lessons to learn, and great experiences to be had in every writing job.
I’ve heard some say that writing the non-passion projects leaves them too depleted creatively to write their own novels, screenplays, etc. I get that, but for me it doesn’t work that way. I’d be more drained by a non-writing day job. Writing my freelance assignments stretches my brain in new ways, which only helps the work I do on my own.
To me, the key to staying inspired when you’re writing something that’s less than number one on your hit parade is finding the fun. I look at those kinds of assignments as puzzles. For example, I wrote several ten minute shorts for Fisher Price — little DVDs that came packed with the toys. Obviously, in a job like that there are certain expectations. I have to feature the toys and what they do, I have to run with characters the Imaginext team has already created, and I have to keep all the language and plot pretty simple. There’s a distinct box in which I have to write. The challenge and excitement for me is to be as creative as possible within that box. Doing that on a regular basis, and with a wide variety of jobs, keeps my synapses snapping, so it’s easier to sit down and be fresh for the projects that matter on a personal level.
We all know that while writing books can be financially rewarding (more power to you, Stephen King and J.K. Rowling), more often they’re not, and the money isn’t why we do it. That said, you can make a living writing, and an awfully fun living at that. A writer writes, and when writing’s your day job, you can’t help but write — a lot. You also don’t have to worry about hurting your artist clout. Before THE HUNGER GAMES, Suzanne Collins wrote for the show WOW WOW WUBBZY. Joseph Heller and Mary Higgins Clark worked together as copywriters for an advertising agency. Our own Sarah Jio is a freelance fiend, writing magazine articles for pretty much every publication imaginable.
So if you think you want to make writing your full time gig, don’t wait for your novel to become the next TWILIGHT. I’m not saying it won’t happen, but in the meantime, look around for what else is out there. If you’re willing to open your eyes to different kinds of writing, you might find you can finance what you love… by doing more of what you love.