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Make Writing Your Only Plan

7 December 2012

From bestselling author and former writing professor Dave Farland: 

Many people want to become writers, and many of them have a tremendous amount of talent. But almost always, the young writer decides that he needs a backup plan. For example, he might say, “I’ll take a job as a tech writer and plan to write on the side.” Or “I’ll take a job as a computer programmer or work as a dentist.”

Eventually, the writer finds himself with a career, and his writing gets shoved back further and further in to the corners, never to escape. Very often, after years of regret, the writer will try to make a go of writing, but she’ll often find that the constraints of family expenses and the time involved just don’t allow for a transition to a writer’s life. The dream may soon be gone forever, becoming nothing more than regret.

As a college student, I studied several things in my early years. I was a straight-A student in marketing and business management for a year, but then went to pre-med. Though I’d worked as a butcher when young, I found that I didn’t have the stomach to become a surgeon, and so I began looking seriously at my backup plan—writing. Perhaps I could make writing my primary plan and do something else if it didn’t work out.

I quit studying medicine and dove into writing, thinking that it if I couldn’t sell my writing, I’d perhaps take a job as an editor.

Well, the writing career took off much faster than expected, and my “backup plans” were cast by the wayside. Oh, I do still do some editing and teaching but mainly for fun. A guy has got to get out of the house once in a while. But I keep myself focused on writing, and here’s my backup plan: more writing.

Link to the rest at David Farland and thanks to Eric for the tip.

The Business of Writing, Writing Advice

14 Comments to “Make Writing Your Only Plan”

  1. I came to writing late in life.I never had any plans on being one. It just “happened”. I was sitting at the computer one day in Feb. of 2007 and I don’t know why I went to wordpad but I did and I wrote this paragraph about dragons. From there I wrote my first novel of which I still have and I still believe in it and will turn it into a middle grade fantasy series one day.

  2. Bartholomew Thockmorton

    Once upon a time there was a dragon that liked eating princesses. He also liked eating brownies, but since brownie preparation involves cooking, along with the need cooking utensils and opposing digits for batter stirring, he mostly ate princesses. Perhaps this is way he was unwelcome in the neighboring towns and villages.

    Hey! This is easy!

  3. Well, I might have said this before here, and if so, apologies.

    I’ve read there are two types of writers:

    a. Those who are in it for the money.

    b. Those who are in it for the artistic expression.

    This article is possibly good advice for those who want to make writing a business. It’s risky – but there can be something powerful about jumping into something with both feet.

    This is (I believe) the absolute wrong advice for those who are in this as artists. Comebing livelihood and art is dangerous because it puts too much pressure on the art to be sellable, instead of the art as free expression. Those who are in this for artistic expression are wise to have a day job, imho, so they can explore their art without worrying about it being marketable. That’s not to say that if something they write hits it big, and they make millions, they shouldn’t retire, but that’s after the fact.

    At least that’s how I see if for myself. I’m in it for the art, and I don’t want my security dependent on writing, I want my writing to be free of that anxiety and pressure.

    • On a funny note, the free of anxiety and pressure made me think of Friday’s in the school of art. Fridays, you see, are critique day, and if someone wasn’t crying in the halls, the instructors couldn’t live with themselves. 🙂

      I’ve seen amazingly talented and creative potters explode in a fit of creative pressure and throw a wheel across the room before stomping out to smoke (or maybe to chew on the railings) Artist seem to bring our own anxiety and pressure to the table. 😉

      • Frances, I believe you about the wheel throwing. Those potters can be scary. And they have strong hands. 🙂

        I’ve never been in an MFA program, but I’ve heard they are brutual. Seems sad to me. I know an outstanding writer who went to an MFA school, and now she refuses to write at all – they really hurt her. Very sad.

        • That is sad. And also, maybe something to be learned there too. I left the painting program and switched to fibers and then ended with a general “visual arts” BA. Art school is brutal.
          Very sad to hear her writing went the same way. Maybe I’m glad I didn’t switch to an English major. I can still love to write.

    • Well said, Mira. I tried going into writing for the money, and was miserable. I hated the pressure of having to produce a sellable product. It became so stressful that I pondered giving up on the whole writing thing entirely. I actually needed time to recover from the experience.

      Now I have a day job. And I still make time, every day, to write. Even if it’s just my morning pages. Once I quit trying to be sellable, got a job, and made a commitment to balance art with moneywork, I had the most successful creative year of my life.

  4. I read a bit on another blog, probably Dean’s, about our institutions of learning and how writing is one of the only professions that doesn’t include any job/career training or planning as part of the official education.
    In fact, we are pretty much trained that we can’t ever do this as a job. Keep your day job, etc.
    It doesn’t surprise me at all that most people fail to think of writing as their first career choice and look at it as a source of income and security. Hopefully those attitudes are changing. They seem to be.

    As for the art of it, I went to six years of art school. Got my degree in painting and visual arts. The entire last two years of art school are intensive in training for a career and the business of art, career planning, portfolio setup.

    That wasn’t commercial art either, I studied fine arts. Just my opinion, but it seems to be less of an issue of art vs. business and more of an issue that writers are supposed to have a day job so the rest of the publishing industry doesn’t have to pay them properly.

  5. This happened to me, more than once. Day jobs eat your time in ways sometimes far beyond the value in your paycheck. It happens somewhat insidiously, too. Before you know it, months or years have gone by without seriously pursuing the reason you took the day job in the first place. That job basically becomes a self-perpetuating loop that, in the worst cases, provides just enough resources to continue working that job but never progress beyond in any direction. Hourly work on a full time basis is generally the least efficient way of earning income, unless you’re making $75-$100 an hour or up, but nobody’s picking that kinda gig up on a lark to support their writing career.

    I’ve found, in better times a few years ago, diversification was key to earning a living. At one point, I was collecting regular checks from 12 different publications for varying duties ranging from writing, editing, graphic design to magazine delivery routes. A lot of that has dried up considerably over the past few years, both in quantity and rate of pay, so now I find its good to have a skill where you can do contract work on a per job basis. Mine’s painting, and it works great. Pick up a few jobs that take up small bursts of time, a couple weeks or a month here and there, and pocket large chunks of change each time. It’s not full time work, but its flexible, pays much better relative to time than day jobs and leaves ample room to be choosy about the writing work I take on and get a little self-publishing enterprise going without undue financial pressure.

    Basically, you do what you gotta do. Some people need the constant security of a regular paycheck. There’s a ton of insecurity in not knowing where, or if, you’re getting paid next month. Fortunately for me, I thrive on insecurity and have become ever more resourceful in response, which I think helps me in my writing, as well. It’s a handy trait to have. What it comes down to is I need to structure my living arrangements to support what I really want to do, which is writing, and my first-hand experience tells me full time day jobs are not conducive to that. Maybe I’ll succeed, maybe I’ll fail, but what I know is that kind of time suck presents the very real risk that I won’t even try.

    If someone says they want to write but aren’t willing to make choices to support that, then they don’t really want it at all. Of course, having kids to support changes things entirely. I can’t fault anyone for doing what’s best for their family first.

    • I’ve been on both sides: the cushy, well-paid career, and the hand-to-mouth “freedom” of having no ft job. Both have their drawbacks for a writer. But I agree that if a writer wants it badly enough, he/she will find a way to do it.

  6. I think it should be said that there are SO many paths to being a writer, or any kind of artist, that it’s foolish to look at someone else’s journey and say “that’s what I should do/should have done.” Some start early, some start after some life experience, some start early and suck for years and get better, some burn brightly and flame out, some go into another profession and love it. Who the hell knows what’s best.

  7. It would be great to become a full time writer, but writing on a full stomach is more creative and enjoyable, and that’s my opinion. I guess I was not cut to become a starving artist. Considering that it takes years to establish yourself as a writer or artist, a day job may be necessary. Having an evening, writing-part-time job, and keeping at it for years it shows passion and motivation to do what you enjoy. And most likely you’ll succeed.

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