Create the Writing Life YOU Want
by Marg McAlister
Ah, writing. For those of us who love to play with words, it's like standing in front of a smorgasbord,
agonising over which delicacies to try. You can potter about with your writing as a thoroughly delightful hobby -
writing wedding speeches, penning dreadful doggerel for people's birthdays, or writing stories to entertain your
children. Or you can work at it, hour after hour, determined that your book is going to be the next bestseller. You
can choose the writing life that's perfect for you now, then change direction later, as your circumstances change
and your experience grows.
HOBBY OR CAREER?
I'm going to work on an assumption here - that you actually like writing. (I can't imagine any other reason
you'd be reading this article. If you don't like to write, why are you being such a masochist? There are thousands
of other jobs out there that will suit you better. Stop reading this and go find one.) So, given that you like to
write, you should now ask yourself: 'Do I like writing enough to do it full time, or do I want to keep it as a
If you just want to keep it as a hobby, then you are relieved of a number of 'duties' already. Since it's a
hobby, you don't have to earn money. You don't have to please editors. You don't have to be published. You can
scribble in faint grey pencil on a table napkin if you want - nobody else has to read it. And best of all, you
don't ever have to write anything except what you want to write!
PART TIME WRITING
Most of us are not in that situation. We either want to write as a paid hobby (which might also be known as
'part time writing') or we want to work towards a full time career. Let's look at 'part time writing' first, and
assume that you wouldn't mind being paid for what you do. (At least in kind - a free book or meal in exchange for
your carefully produced text.) If you want to be paid, then you are faced with a certain set of responsibilities.
You have to make sure that the person paying you can read your work, so faint grey pencil is out. In fact, it's
very likely that good clear word processing is in.
Hmmm... this is beginning to sound expensive. Suddenly it's taking money to make money. You have to invest in
your career - in the form of hardware and software and consumables. You have to think about GST and that means a
business name. Your part time writing career might take up more time, and cost more money, than you had
WHAT KIND OF WRITING?
But wait... you have more decisions to make. Are you going to concentrate on just one kind of writing (say,
writing short stories for popular magazines) or are you going to peddle your words in any way that will bring in
There are lots of people out there who require writers. They need wordsmiths to write their 21st birthday party
speeches, or to put together smart resumes and application letters, or to create snappy promotional material for
their business flyers. If you're happy enough to do all of these things and more, then you can certainly generate a
part-time (or even full-time) income. Of course, you may have to advertise, and obtain business cards, and that
costs more money... but don't worry: the better you become at what you do, the more your clients will do your
advertising for you. ("Oh, you must get so and so to do your flyer; she's really good...")
THE 'SERIOUS WRITER' - TYPE #1
Time to move on to the Serious Writer. Serious Writers come in two flavours: the ones who want to write the
Great Australian Novel (or win one of the major literary awards for novels) and disdain networking, marketing,
self-promotion and all those mundane things.
They are passionately committed to writing literary fiction, and if it takes twenty or forty years of living off
relatives or typing at night after their day job, then so be it. Some of these Serious Writers can write like
angels and will undoubtedly achieve what they want. Others never mix with anybody else and have no idea that their
work is substandard or boring until they get their first rejection. (They may not realise even when they get their
THE 'SERIOUS WRITER' - TYPE #2
The other kind of Serious Writer is the one who is determined to make a success of writing, investing as much
time, energy and cash as is needed. He is happy to network and talk to clients or editors and other writers.
Sometimes this becomes a broad-based writing career - this person just loves words and crafting finished pieces of
writing, whether it's fiction, non-fiction or promotional material. He is happy to be writing - any kind of
Not everyone is happy to write whatever puts bread on the table. Some writers are content to do an assortment of
fiction (mainstream, romances, or romantic intrigue, for example) or to target one specific genre - say speculative
fiction - in both short and long formats. They spend time tracking down other aspiring writers in these genres,
swap stories of near-misses and 'good and bad' rejections, and share the jubilation of finally getting a 'yes'. If
you are determined to write only what you want to write, then don't give up your day job in a hurry - it might take
a while and a few 'practice books' to get your first acceptance.
What you can do, right now, is determine the writing life you want-and start working towards it. Begin by asking
yourself the ten questions below.
KNOW THYSELF: 10 QUESTIONS TO HELP YOU DECIDE ON THE WRITING LIFE THAT WORKS FOR YOU:
- Would I rather do any kind of writing than do other work? (If the answer is 'yes', and you know you handle
words with creativity whether you're writing a short story or a letter to the bank, then a multi-faceted
writing career might suit you.)
- Can I identify a range of writing that I would be happy to attempt? Is there a need for this writing? Can I
provide a special service, or target a niche market?
- What kind of books do I like to read? Are these the kinds of books I'd enjoy writing?
- How much money do I need to spend on equipment or resources to start a writing business? If I haven't got
this money, how long will it take me to save it or obtain it?
- How many hours can I devote to writing?
- Do I need a separate office and phone line, or can I share a computer with the family?
- What other commitments do I have? What other demands are there on my time?
- If I could choose any kind of writing at all to do, what would it be? Can I work towards this, even if I
can't spend all my time on it now?
- Do I have a network of supportive people - friends, family and other writers - to help me achieve what I
want? If I don't, can I find these people?
- What can I do RIGHT NOW to set my writing career in motion, or to start moving in the direction I really
(c) Copyright Marg McAlister