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Assuming, of course, that you are reading this article with the intent of learning how to earn a respectable income as a writer, either part-time or full-time, designing a writer’s life should be your first step.
A second bit of unsolicited advice: IF you can manage it, which is no small task, doing so should ideally become an involuntary reflex.
A “writer’s life,” in this context, means the following: Strategizing as to how to pay your bills in full while earning an income on your terms.
In other words, not a simple matter. You have work to do.
I was 16 years old in 1980 the year my reality hit. Joseph Campbell famously said, “Follow your bliss.” Truth be told, my “bliss” was a “need”—again, like breathing—not a “want.”
I was one year away from entering Brooklyn College, already fretting over meeting my expenses as my parents would no longer own that responsibility.
Nor should they have.
Most importantly, (I have my priorities), I had just returned from seeing The Empire Strikes Back for the first of what would be 400 viewings or thereabouts. I was utterly captivated, my inspiration was at its zenith... and my personal tug of war between reality and fantasy began in earnest.
Hours after making his acquaintance, Yoda came to me in a dream.
“So manageable, you must make it. All of it. Yes, hmmm...” said my little green friend.
“But Master Yoda,” I responded. “That’s impossible.”
The green bugger then proceeded to show me my future. I could work full-time for a living, or I could take my first steps into a larger world (with apologies to Obi-Wan)—a world that promised little stability at first, but innumerable rewards if I stayed the course to where I could ultimately replace most any job income.
I took the safe way.
“THAT is where you fail,” Yoda said, just as he told Skywalker.
The reverie continued, and I saw myself as an old man. I bemoaned my fate. I felt as if I achieved nothing of note in my lifetime.
And I opened my eyes. I was horrified.
Yes, the dream was legitimate; it really happened exactly that way. I knew I’d be woefully unhappy working for anyone else. I knew I needed to live based on my passion.
I thought writing was that passion, but I was only half-correct. Living the writer’s life was the rest.
I needed to do this thing full-time.
I came to a realization early. I realized back in ‘80 that I may have to write "outside" of the books and screenplays I so desired to create in pursuit of my dreams. But that was okay. I’d much rather write articles and the like if those earnings could replace my 9-5.
Eventually I replaced my last income dollar-for-dollar. I wrote articles such as this one in the early morning and pursued my more literary ambitions later in the day.
I also discovered I loved it all.
Every life has at least one turning point, a moment when everything suddenly alters, without warning, usually when confronted with a decision. Consider this excerpt from Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” as a prime example:
“Two roads diverged in a wood and I, I took the one less traveled by. And that has made all the difference.”
The triggering event of a turning point can be anything: an illness, an argument, or something positive. As for my own, I was working a day job while attending Brooklyn College in ‘81, stocking tools on a shelf for a local department store. My boss called me into the office at the end of my shift. He smiled, and said, “You have a real future here, kid. Great job today.”
I stayed awake all night, and elected not to return the following morning. I quit. My boss’ words scared the hell out of me. I realized at that moment I had become complacent, satisfied with a simple weekly paycheck.
"My God," I thought. "Just like in that dream." Thing is, I didn’t want to stock shelves for a living. Honest work, sure, but it wasn’t me.
I wanted to write.
Five years later, I moved to Los Angeles to become an Oscar-winning screenwriter.
Okay, the Oscar still eludes me, but goals are good things.
Even then, nearly 39 years ago, I had a plan. I would network and meet ever influencer I possible could, in whatever industry. After all, it’s not who you know so much as who knows you.
I needed for them to know me. All of them.
I was especially diligent in meeting those people who could influence my career. I found out who they were—I asked around, found names in various directories, researched contact information—and networking to meet them became a way of life. Constant exposure was a rule. I needed to be noticed, and speaking to everyone was a necessity.
Ask yourself why actors walk red carpets? To stay relevant. To remain noticed.
My efforts would mimic those results. That was the plan, anyway.
Those efforts bore fruit and continue to do so. I had soon realized that, indeed, I could meet anyone I wanted to meet. Anyone at all, because people know people and if you “show up” enough and ask for enough introductions, some will come through for you.
I asked myself, “If certain people are able to succeed—regardless of industry—why can’t I?” It was a good question.
My response? “I can.”
The Internet was in its infancy when I began to take my career seriously. I did not have sites like Vocal.media or Hubpages.com to lean on to begin replacing my previous job income. I instead wrote spec articles for magazines, and submitted via snail mail. That’s how I got noticed, writing for professional wrestling and martial arts newsstand periodicals. Blogs and the like did not exist. I called newspapers to feature me as a local writer. If one out of 100 of those calls was successful, and led to a story, that was one more story than I had the day before.
And one more check.
You get the idea. If you want to write for a living, you need to write and sell yourself, and not make excuses. Anyone who has succeeded as a full-time writer learned these facts early. We all have our lives, and our responsibilities. You need to write in whatever time you have.
Today, there are innumerable “content mills” one could write for to attain extra income. There are ads on Craigslist frequently under their Writing Gigs section. Finding the real ones are up to your due diligence, but they do exist. Consistently build up your social media network, and share any articles you have written there.
If you can. If permitted. With most internet writing, this is not an issue.
The more readers you have, the more you will earn.
For further information, feel free to check out my prior, comprehensive article on the subject, "How to Exponentially Maximize Your Vocal.media Income," here.
I’ll share some photos with you of my professional journey below, a journey that has become exceedingly busy. You will certainly need to balance your lifestyle to attain your desired goal, and then pivot based on new responsibilities once you attain that goal. Personally, I wouldn’t have it any other way, and I’m proud of, and grateful for, my continued progress.
But you need to put the work in, first of all. And then, when you “make it,” you must always give back, and mentor others as others may have mentored you. Always give along the way.
Hence another purpose of this article. Allow me to first prove myself to you, and then let me know how I can help.
Here’s a valuable tip: Giving up will get you nowhere.
Day by day, you scale the highest peak of the highest mountain you need to climb, you swat away the fires or other obstacles, and you stand tall... or you do not.
As Yoda said, “Do. Or do not. There is no try.” Never discount the words of green gremlin-like pop-culture icons.
Success is actionable. Common sense, no? You have the same 24 hours in a day as John Lennon, Pablo Picasso, and Mark Twain.
Then why aren’t you there, yet? Why aren’t you where you want to be? In fairness, though I have cultivated what some consider a “successful career” to this point, getting there has been fraught with turmoil. My creative passions have been hell on relationships, and balance is always a challenge based on new achievement. I still worry about money. If I don’t create, or sell, I don’t get paid. Despite talk to the contrary, usually from those attempting to use logic and not really in the know, once you attain some success, life does not get easier. As I alluded to before, it gets busier.
How busy do you want to be? How many hours do you want, or need, to expend on your passion?
How you utilize those hours is what makes the difference. If you are not attaining your desired result, you need to pivot.
Though I have some achievements behind me, I am personally not comfortable. I am nowhere near where I want to be.
I still need to win that Oscar for Best Screenplay.
There’s still time.
More advice: Never stop networking. Make it a way of life. As I said, speak to everyone. Tell them about your online work, in addition to your more literary pursuits. Do not solicit as many will turn away. Take an interest in others, then respond when asked about you. Hold nothing back. Share with others, and others will want to share with you. This is also how referrals begin.
Do for others, and others will want to do for you. Of course there are exceptions to these rules, but they’re just that. Exceptions. Don’t be “just good." Be “the best.“ Go where the “elephants” are, as in, attend events where those you believe you should meet gather on a regular basis, such as restaurants, speaking engagements, film festivals, pro networking groups... anywhere and everywhere. Do your research.
Nearly every U.S. state has its share of opportunity. “I live in Idaho” is not an excuse. The internet can be of immense help in that regard. Personally, I’ve met more professional influencers over Facebook than most anywhere else.
Purchase a plane ticket, if you can afford it, to attend an out of town event. If not, maybe driving is an option.
Whatever it takes.
I hire good writers when needed. I’m not the only one.
Use social media to define and build your “brand.” Contact your local newspaper if you believe you have a work of some merit ready to expose. It could be an article of some note. You have one chance to impress an editor, so only approach when you’re ready. Contact your local library to speak about your work. Get comfortable in front of crowds large and small.
Get out of your comfort zone.
Learn how to say “no.” You want respect, “no” is the strongest word you can offer. Do not write for free. Do not allow yourself to be taken advantage of. My industry is a tough nut. Its artists are not always respected, as many simply refuse to learn the business side of things and are subsequently preyed upon. Chances are, if you undertake an unpaid writing assignment, for example, with the promise of “exposure,” three people will see the end result: yourself, the hiring party, and your mother.
Sites such as Vocal.media are the opposite. You’ll earn and gather an audience as you prove yourself. It’s a great test.
Perhaps the best advice I can offer you, fellow content creators, is this: Convince yourself that giving up on your dreams is more difficult (and painful) than continuing your artistic journey. There is nothing wrong with taking a sabbatical, but never lose sight of your goals. Together, we comprise an artistic community that cannot ever be broken. A chain. If one link falls, the others falter; however, with the turn of a tool the links that remain still have a chance at connecting.
It’s sometimes wrenching to accept seeing one of your associates “make it” when you have not, regardless of how “happy” you are for them. You may be more talented, but if you quit the world will never know just how much you had to offer.
But your sense of resentment will surely be heightened.
Do what you must to stay inspired. Work on your craft daily. As Steve Martin said, “Be so good at something, it’s impossible to be ignored." Eminem represents those words to me. The late Robin Williams as well. J.K. Rowling too, and so many others.
If they can do it, why can’t you?
Answer: You can.