Writing IS a Business

by Marg McAlister

 

Why is it that so many people don't take writing-as-a-job seriously? I once heard it said that writing is one of the most under-rated cottage industries in the world. I believe it.

Perhaps it is because many of us do so much writing in the course of a day anyway. We write reports for work. We send emails. We take down messages. None of that is creative writing (on second thoughts, some work reports might fall into that category) - but it's part of the reason that "writing" per se is taken for granted. Since the people around you write frequently anyway, they can't see your hours tapping away at the keyboard as being anything much more difficult. It's your 'hobby', isn't it?

Sometimes, you can change people's attitude towards writing by changing your own attitude first. It's very easy to lose track of the reality that writing IS a business when you're creating fictional worlds. (Imagine having so much fun and getting paid for it as well!)

1. Talk About Writing In Businesslike Terms

Let's imagine for a moment that you're not a writer. You run some other business. To make it a paying business, you have to look at income and outgo carefully. Note that not all businesses make a profit in the first year. (Many go into business expecting to run at a loss for the first year or even two years.)

A writing business works in just the same way. You're likely to put in a lot of hours, a lot of effort and at least some money before you can expect to see any results. Those results - payment for your labour - might be in the form of a flat fee, or an advance payment with royalties at intervals later.

Try putting it all down on paper. Work out:

  • your expenditure on supplies - paper, toner, hardware, software, etc
  • your expenditure in hours - keep a writing log
  • your expenditure in training - workshops, seminars, professional journals and books, courses
  • your expected return - what do you expect to earn? This is, of course, hard to work out if you're writing fiction. Try surfing the web and asking around at writers' groups/discussion lists to get some idea. If you're a freelance writer of non-fiction, you may be able to set your own rates. 

It won't take you long to see that you need to put in a certain number of hours to get a return on your investment. When you talk about your writing, talk about it as your writing CAREER. Start dropping into the conversation a few terms like 'return on investment' and 'business plan' and watch for the change in the listener's expression. Quite often, this is the first time they've ever thought of writing in terms of being a business!

2. Plan Your Expenditure

Any business requires some start up money. Traditionally, writers have not spent much at all on their craft. (Even today some writers still have that 'starving for my art' mentality... writers should sit and scratch away with a quill in a cold room and hope for a government grant so they can afford more than soup.)

Let's get real here. If you want to establish a thriving writing career, you need to plan as carefully as you would for any other business.

Sit down and look at your budget. How much does your writing career mean to you? Are you prepared to go without other things in order to invest in your career? Do you need to sit down with the family and say: "This is important to me. This year instead of spending money on XXXX, I want to put aside $500 to go to this conference," or "I can't write while I'm trying to fit it in around the rest of the family's computer usage. I need my own computer."

Only you can know (a) how much money you can put aside in the next 12 months for your writing career and (b) the best way for you to spend it. A computer may be your most urgent need. It could be a fast internet connection. It could be an advanced writing course.

Here's a list to start you thinking:

  • books for your professional library
  • a computer
  • a second telephone line (for your own internet connection)
  • a writing course/conference/workshop/writers' retreat
  • ergonomic furniture
  • renovations to the house to provide an office for your writing
  • software - a word processor or office suite
  • filing cabinet/bookshelves 

Keep in mind that the cost of an internet connection could be repaid many times over by the amount of information you gain (either for research purposes or at writers' sites.)

If you've been having trouble getting your career on track - or getting people to take you seriously - then start with your own approach. If you treat writing as a business, then it's much more likely that others will too.

(c) copyright Marg McAlister

 

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