We’re approaching the business of writing as though it were a business, expected to generate a profit for you, the writer. You can, of course, continue write for pleasure alone or to accept only a trickle of funds from your work, if you wish — but if you’re serious about creating a viable income, then there are certain steps you can take that will help.
One of the earliest of these, as we saw last time, is to get into your head that you are creating a product, an article or substance that is manufactured or refined for sale. As soon as you include the words ‘for sale’, you introduce someone else into the equation, namely the reader: someone else who will look at, pass judgement upon and either reach or not reach for what you have created.
Don’t take for granted this idea of ‘product’: writers who don’t pay enough attention to this can continue along a path which leads to a dead end. You have only to look at the kinds of offerings available on the internet to see hundreds of examples of books which have been put together without any ‘refinement for sale’ — covers which have been designed because the author ‘thought they looked nice’, blurbs which have been written without any thought given as to the appeal they must have for the reader, chapter after chapter of story which may have been a pleasure to write but which make no effort to engage readers or glue their attention.
It’s important to grasp, therefore, that, if you want to make a living from writing, you are making something for someone else.
‘Being a Writer’
It’s possible that you thought that ‘being a writer’ was enough in itself to generate activity and income. Many do — they think that by setting up a writing space, telling all their friends that they are a writer and trying to look as much as possible like a writer, things will ‘just happen’ and income will start coming in, maybe not straight away but certainly after a year or so. Writing is such a peculiar career — we would not expect a plumber to make money by merely dressing as a plumber or telling everyone he knows that he is one. But because writing is such an esoteric practice, involving the individual working in some arcane way with his or her own imagination, some think that all they have to do is adopt the identity of a writer and a career will form around them.
It’s certainly important to get the identity right in your own head; but it’s certainly not enough on its own to create that viable career that you’re interested in.
‘Doing the Writing’
Some writers, further along the road, take the above one stage further and actually get busy writing. They churn out chapter after chapter, keep word counts, devote time each day to writing and actually manage to generate material on a pretty consistent basis. While this is definitely a step towards having a viable writing career, ‘volume of words written’ will not in itself create a writing career. That’s because no matter how much they produce, it isn’t necessarily ‘refined for sale’. Many millions of words sit in drawers, or in computer hard drives, fully written but never likely to be read — because they are not yet a product.
‘Having a Career’
By ‘have’ is meant ‘possess, own, or hold’. You can ‘have’ a product. You can’t properly ‘have’ something which is unfinished or unwanted — if you somehow needed up with it, you’ll be wanting to exchange it for something better or get rid of it. If you bought an apple at the grocery store and found that it was half-eaten when you got home, you’d be unhappy — you wanted a full apple.
Same with fiction: readers want things that they can have — they want to embrace, own, possess, hold a story, and the more finished and desirable it is, the closer their affinity will be for it. It sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But again, just glance over much of the material available on the internet, vast quantities of which authors are trying to give away for free because readers aren’t reaching for it — family sagas which lack appeal, science fiction epics which are simply author wish-fulfilment, erotica which is poorly envisaged and direly written, and much much more. The marketplace is full of half-eaten apples: someone has got words onto a page or screen, but turn them over and there’s a shallowness and inedible quality about them. They are not products.
So where do you begin?
Here’s a unique exercise for you which might help to clarify your thinking about all this:
There are four aspects to setting up a writing career:
1. Establishing a writing office or space and time.
2. Using that space and time to create finished pieces or products.
3. Repairing, re-arranging or otherwise tweaking the space and time.
4. Repairing, re-arranging or otherwise tweaking the products produced.
For example, a computer is manufactured, purchased, and is located on a desk, plugged in, fully operational. This is establishing something that produces as in 1. A writer operates or runs the computer which thus produces documents which are the product produced, per 2. above. The computer from various causes eventually requires repair in order to continue to produce. This is 3. The editing, reworking and proofreading of documents so that they will become products able to be sold would satisfy 4.
To get to be a writer producing a reasonable income from your writing, you need to be generating Quantity —an acceptable, expected or useful volume — and Quality — the degree of perfection of a product.
Viability is the longevity, usefulness and desirability of the product.
If you do not know that you are dealing with all these factors in producing your writing the tendency would be to just ‘write’ and ignore the actual factors governing production, which would result in total operation only. The computer would soon go to pieces; the writing generated would vary all over the place. By paying little attention to products (as many writers often do) or by shifting their importances — giving total importance to just writing — viability would not be achieved.
If one understands these factors and realises that they are all present in running a toaster or the world's biggest finance company, one will not be floundering around. When one does not know these basics one struggles endlessly and can get into a frantic correction or goes into apathy as there appear to be no guidelines.
So, take your existing situation and answer the following:
1. Do you have the necessary equipment and time to produce writing?
2. Are you producing writing?
3. Are you able to fix/repair/replace any equipment or schedules that you need in order to continue writing?
4. Are you able to fix/repair/replace your pieces of writing so that they sell?
Most writers reading this will probably be on top of 1 to 3. It’s 4 that will be standing in the way of their viability.
That’s where our focus needs to be.