Writing Full Time: How I Did It

Recently, as you know, I took a step that terrifies me: I quit my 9-5 job, and to write full time (both for myself, and freelancing). Now each morning, I am in my little home office, surrounded by my notebooks, a steaming cup of tea beside me, and I feel the anticipation of being at the top of the roller coaster, in that exquisitely tailored pause before the cart goes hurtling down a hill.

So how did this happen? Did I get lucky?

Yes and no. When people ask me if I know how lucky I am, I can’t help but think, yes, but not in the way you mean. I was born without health complications that would keep me from writing as much as I do, I was born to a family affluent enough that I did not need to take care of younger siblings or get a job to help support us, I was born to a family that highly valued reading and education – and I am very, very sure that this is only the tip of the iceberg. So as it happens, yes, my success in writing can be attributed to a great deal of luck.

But if you mean, as I think most people do, that luck is responsible for what success I have had… I would have to say that, too, is an incorrect assumption. What I did was actually not all that special, and so what I would tell you is twofold:

  1. Success in any endeavor is often the result of luck, and those who succeed over the long term often do so by deliberately or inadvertently doing things that place them in the way of good luck; and
  2. In writing, as in everything else, this can be learned and achieved. Above all, continue to show up, continue to strive for quality, and make your books easy to find.
  3. The secret third thing is, don’t be a dick. We’ll come back to this at the end.

Let’s break this down.

Continue to show up. You’ve probably gone onto Amazon or a similar site at some point and seen “new releases.” In fact, that’s often how media is sold: what’s new, what’s just been released, what’s suddenly interesting to the public. What this means is that websites are primed to show off what’s new. And what is new, of course, is your new book. No, not the last one you wrote – the one you’re writing now. If you aren’t writing one now, go do your inspiration thing, be it running or reading or watching movies or digging through old Popular Science magazines, until you are struck with inspiration, and then start working again. Unlike other advertising, which you must pay for, a new book is an automatic boost to the old ones, and it’s like advertising that pays you. Which, I mean, is kind of the best thing ever.

But Moira, I just wrote a book… And now, if you want to keep being a writer, you must write more things. Indeed, if you are a writer, I promise that you will write more things. In fact, scratch what I said above about books. It doesn’t need to be books. Learn to listen for that little spark of inspiration and nurture it, allow yourself to daydream, and try to capture it. Writing exercises, short stories, mimicking style – write anything and everything you wish. What you can’t do anymore is allow your fear of failure to keep you from writing the next book that’s inside you. I know, the reception to the last book wasn’t quite as glowing as you hoped, and you’re worried that what comes next might be complete failure. That feeling, unfortunately, isn’t going to go away, so you might as well learn to write around it now. (Sorry. No one warns you about that one.)

It’s as simple as this: at any moment, the person who turns one of your books into a bestseller could stumble onto them. That person might not even know what it is they’re doing. They read the book, they like the book, they tell a few friends – the right friends, the friends who also like the book and tell their friends, and… But none of that is going to happen if there isn’t a book for them to stumble onto. And furthermore, your chances of them stumbling onto it are markedly higher if you have multiple books, any one of which might be that bestseller or which might lead them to that bestseller.

Continue to strive for quality. Getting better at writing is pretty much inevitable. As you continue to write, you will continue to grow in your writing. However, writing is a lot like running. Let me explain: when I began running, even going half a mile made me feel like I was going to throw up. Gradually, as I kept going to the point of wanting to throw up, that feeling receded. Now, even if I haven’t run in a couple of weeks, I can lace up my sneakers and run a 5k. Writing is similar: only by forging through the undergrowth and swampy recesses of unfinished drafts can you uncover the stamina and courage to keep doing that. It does take courage. Make no mistake about that. Also, however: you can do it. And if you strive for quality each time, you will do it, and your books will be better.

Make your books easy to find. Make it as easy as you can for people to stumble onto your books. Website, facebook, twitter, tumblr, heck, even instagram. Be there. And that leads us to the final point.

Don’t be a dick. Don’t be that person who does the tech equivalent of crashing through someone’s living room window, screaming, “buy my book!” Just don’t. Don’t do it. And don’t be that person who takes readers to task for not liking your book. That one’s also bad. In fact, it’s this simple: behave like a reader when you’re online. You like reading, watching shows, tap dancing, rock climbing, whatever – be that person. Don’t be a brand. …and don’t be a dick.

Can I guarantee you success in writing if you follow the steps above? I really can’t. Can I say that I whole-heartedly believe this is the best, surest way to success? I can. Go take the world by storm, authors! I believe in you. And as always, email me if you want to talk more about any of this.

-M

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