A colleague of mine often sends their writing students to ask me various things about writing and the business of being an author.
Here's the latest, in which the student asked me two questions: 1. How do you find time to write? and 2. How do you support yourself financially?
HOW DO YOU FIND TIME TO WRITE?
Prioritize your writing
Consider your writing as work and prioritize it. Schedule dedicated time to write. Consider the acts of brainstorming, thinking about writing, reading, and doing field recons of similar books/media as a part of writing.
This allows you to mix up your writing time and keep your interest fresh.
Be willing to sacrifice time spent more frivolously and put that time toward your writing. For example, when I began my MFA, I worked full-time and had a full-time editing gig. I had to give up playing video games. It was a tough sacrifice, but in the end, it was essential for me to carve out the time I needed to focus on writing, to write, learn, and grow as a writer.
Make writing a habit
Write every day or at least on a regular schedule. Most writers I know write at the same time every day. This helps make writing a habit.
Making writing a habit makes it easier to break down bigger goals. A 50,000-word novel seems a lot more doable when you break it down to 1,000 words in 50 days. Also, if you have to miss a day due to illness, holidays, or just plain life happening, it’s not such a big loss if you’re planning on writing again tomorrow.
To stay on track, some writers use the Pomodoro technique, where you work 20–25 minutes and take a 5-minute break. Here’s more on that:
There are a variety of Pomodoro apps. I don’t always use an app to write, but it does help when you’re having trouble focusing. The free app I use is Forest. https://www.forestapp.cc/
I am extremely fortunate to be able to write most days. I write in the morning until about lunch, then I take a break and go back to writing until about 2p. Afternoons are typically spent on freelance work, reading, resting, brainstorming, world-building, etc.
I write nearly every day because it spares me from wasting time getting reoriented to my work after days away.
Reject the idea that you need a special place, a special notebook, or a special pen or beverage—or even a special time—to write. Some of the best ideas I’ve had have been in the middle of the night or scribbled on a napkin or on the back of my hand.
Get yourself a note-taking app and use it to collect ideas. Keep a “brain dump” of ideas and let them flow without judgment. You can reassess them later. A lot of writers I know use Evernote.
I use Notebook, because I like the look of it, but it can be buggy:
Several writers I know cobble together their schedules with a few jobs. If you can, consider how much mental energy you’ll be using at your job(s) and adjust accordingly. If your job is mentally demanding, try to write before working.
Your best hours belong to you.
HOW DO YOU SUPPORT YOURSELF FINANCIALLY?
Having a budget is key. Money flow in publishing can be strange and sporadic, so it’s best to know that ahead of time. Supporting yourself financially as an author takes careful planning and budgeting. It can definitely be done successfully, but every author’s publishing journey is different.
Define what success looks like—for you
First, I find it’s helpful to define what success looks like for yourself. If your idea of success means landing a 6-figure book deal and being on the NYT bestseller list, I hate to say this (and I hope I’m wrong), but you’ll probably end up disappointed.
Publishing is extremely unpredictable, and “making it big” is very difficult, so I recommend having more down-to-earth expectations of success. For me, success looks like writing every day, publishing my books, and making enough to support a modest living.
It’s true: you’ll probably need a day job
You’ve probably heard the advice “don’t quit your day job.” That’s because unless you’re independently wealthy, writing, like a lot of creative professions is really a labor of love. Many writers hold down day jobs to support their writing while they try to build their audiences.
Authors I know do a variety of things:
Freelance writing gigs
Some work for freelance companies. This offers them the flexibility to choose their jobs and their hours. Some companies pay well; others not so much.
My experience has been that technical writing/editing pays better and has more opportunities than fiction editing/writing, but your mileage may vary.
Here’s a short list of companies that allow you to write for pay. I am extremely fortunate that through my MFA I’ve met some very good freelance clients, so I have a solid client base built up for times when I need a little extra money.
As such, I haven’t vetted any of these myself, so I recommend always doing your own personal research.
Grants may seem like a longshot, but I know a few authors who go this route. Some of these are already closed, but it’s not too soon to start thinking about next year.
Here’s a list of grants you might consider:
Be willing to take jobs no one wants—at the beginning
For a long time, I worked with various publishing houses as a senior editor and as an editor-in-chief. I did freelance editing gigs, and I did a lot of scientific editing (tech writing is realistically where a lot of the good money is). I really hustled to get the jobs that either paid well or gave me the experience I needed to buff my resume.
At the beginning, I was willing to take the jobs a lot of folks shied away from. As an editor, I took on the authors who were deemed “difficult” and needed a more involved editor.
This really helped build my resume, and then later down the line, I had more opportunity to pick and choose who I worked with.
I’ve found publishing to be the type of industry where face time is very important, so I recommend attending some writers workshops. Making those face-to-face connections is key.
Agents and editors always seem more likely to request at least a partial submission (query, synopsis, first 5-10 pages) at a convention, and it’s a good feeling to be able to put “Requested Material” in the subject line.
Doing an MFA, if you have the time and means, is another excellent way to meet connections.
Many opportunities have come my way because of people I met through and during my MFA. Plus, it’s a terminal degree, and you can teach at the university level, if you wish, opening up another avenue of potential cash flow.
You can’t query, publish, or sell what you don’t write, so keep your creativity flowing.
A few other random thoughts:
The key to supporting yourself financially is flexibility. Ideally, you want flexible hours, pay that makes it worth your time (or lets you add to your resume), and time left over for writing. This, of course, varies from person to person, depending on many factors.
Best of luck!