This is the default model of ‘being a writer’:
You do something you don’t really like to make enough money to give you time to write; then you spend your time chasing submission opportunities in the publishing marketplace, pursuing the goal of making enough money from your writing. You get regular rejections or fail to hear back from many places you send your work. There’s a battle within you between self-doubt (‘Maybe I should change my work to fit the market? Maybe I’m just no good?’) and egotistical confidence (‘No! I deserve recognition! I will persist regardless!’) But the net result is that you have made nothing or almost nothing from your writing.
What’s wrong with that model? How could it be any different?
I’m going to say this here in such a way that many of you will read no further, so shocked and offended you will be:
You will never have a viable career as a writer if you continue to operate on this default model.
I’ll wait for you to take that in.
This default model is how 99% of writers work, which is why what I just said is so shocking.
They are continually chasing tasks that someone else has set.
They are hardly ever paid, and certainly not paid for the time they spend writing.
The client — usually a publisher of some kind — calls the shots: they determine the length of the work, its topic, even its style; they determine whether or not it will be accepted, often on the basis of criteria which are unknown to the writer; and they determine who will see the writer’s work.
The writer operates like a casual employee of the publisher — but one who has to resubmit a job application with each piece of work.
And yet the goal for by far the majority of writers everywhere is to figure out how to make more money from their writing and have more freedom.
It seems that achieving that freedom requires them to stop thinking like a free individual and be the effect of the marketplace. A paradox.
You don’t have to put your hand up if you recognise yourself in this model. You may not have thought about it like this before, but you are effectively like one of those ‘zero hours contractors’ that you hear about on the news — people employed by someone on a take it or leave it basis.
Only in your case, you don’t even get paid.
The only thing you get is a small amount of recognition. Oh, and maybe access to a tiny number of readers.
Can anything be done about any of this?
The first step is to recognise that this is actually the set up: you are working casually, usually for nothing, for employers who don’t give you any prediction other than occasionally letting you know when the work is to be published. I know - I'm one of them. I do my best for writers, but I have a growing awareness that this default model is deeply flawed.
It’s very much an employee mind-set for writers; it’s almost a slave mind-set.
What’s the first change you can make?
It’s a change in your perception of self.
I don’t mean some kind airy-fairy new wave ‘Believe in yourself’ change. I mean starting to see yourself as a service provider. Become a business, in other words. Not like you probably think, though.
Many people don’t consider individuals selling their services as businesses, and they certainly don’t consider writers selling stories as businesses. Where are your offices? Where are your employees? But a business is simply an entity that exists to provide something of value to the world in exchange for money.
When I say ‘become a business’ I don’t mean apply to the government, fill in forms, incorporate yourself, think of a brand name and all that stuff. You can do all that if you wish, but it will probably all be useless unless you also stop operating on the default model described above and start doing things differently.
When you operate like a business you are hired for whatever it is you do that is valuable.
You aren’t hired to just do a job, but to share absolutely unique and specific skills that only you possess.
This radically revolutionises what it is that you think you are doing, and how to go about doing it.
You’re not — or no longer need to be — a slave.
Let’s build a different model.