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.
13 Replies to “Deb Elise on Writing and Eating at the Same Time”
Good morning – I’m about to make breakfast for the kids, and all I can hear is The Brady Bunch’s Alice saying, “Who wants flapjacks?” I agree with Elise 100% – it’s unlikely that writing books alone will sustain you in the manner to which you have grown accustomed assuming that manner is a step above a Salvation Army shelter or you can stretch a dollar like OctoMoms belly while pregnant!
Also, the benefit of writing in many places is that you’ll build your platform – and sadly, or not – platform is important to reach potential readers and book buyers.
Now, where’s the maple syrup?
I always get a kick out of it when I read your first-thing-in-the-morning comment when I’m about to go to bed from the night before.
Ha! You mean you’re just going to bed as the East Coast “site minder” is up making breakfast? Sleep well! I’ll save a stack for you.
This is great advice, Elise! When I’ve done technical writing, it really challenges me to be both brief and clear, lessons I can pull into my own writing.
And I think in general, stretching ourselves helps – I’m better at yoga when I’ve done weight training, for instance. Wait….did I just use yoga and stretching in the same sentence? I got up too early today!
Hmmm…. have you started a new workout program? Come join me P90X-ing!!!!
No, but I’ve been home for a whole week and have actually had time to go to the gym! Heaven!
I saw the P90X on BL a few seasons ago and have seriously considered getting one to take on the road with me. Of course, it’s not equipment that’s the problem on the road, it’s time and energy.
Did you see Jillian Michaels now has some kind of P90X copycat?
Oooh, haven’t seen the Jillian Michaels one. I’m now a Tony Horton convert though — can say his patter right along with him at this point, but still loving it!
Ha! I was that way with the Cindy Crawford workout video way back when and her trainer. My ex-husband could recite the entire thing.
Writing anything and everything could well be akin to the adage “Practice makes perfect.” In addition, such diversity breeds creativity and (often) fun!
With rare exceptions, I’ve loved even the most random of writing jobs. I did have a brief stint as a search engine maximization writer in the early days of the process — it basically entailed me pretending to be an “expert” on random topics, and writing the information in keyword-heavy passages. That was amusing at first, but then it just felt ethically wonky and I had to stop.
Great post, Elise! I’ve worked in marketing/public relations for most of my adult life, and I do find that when the day job calls on me to use the “writing center” of my brain, I’m a lot more depleted for other kinds of writing. I’ve gotten into trouble a couple times when I’ve spent the afternoon blogging for the day job and then have to come home and crank out the next day’s Debutante Ball post, plus something for my own blog. Sometimes, my brain just doesn’t have what it takes!
I read that blog post of yours! It’s what I was referring to when I said I knew some people got burned out on the day job writing/passion writing combo!
YES! I so agree with all your points here. Writing daily flexes my creative muscles and I think that it helps so much with fiction. I worry what would happen if I didn’t write for magazines any more. xoxo
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