Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Writing High Wire

I recently read two posts by Rachelle Gardner. Each one focused on the things she says writers need to do to make money: volume and variety. Volume in that you need to build a base of work that will continue to advance your cause in the market and create opportunities to get paid. Variety in that you should write in multiple genres and try new things.  

I was thinking about this advice when I realized, “Hey, I do do those things” and “I do make my living writing.” It’s always a fun surprise when I remember that I actually am a paid writer. I suppose that's why I found myself in agreement with Rachelle's advice. I have to admit though, if I had read this advice a few years ago, I would've thought something like, "That's advice for other people." I didn't think my writing skills could have any other use but crafting bestselling novels. So what changed? 

I guess I learned to respect writing. I think Jonathan Maberry and Mary Robinette Kowal said it best in a podcast someone linked to on Rachelle’s site. The podcast is on Writing Excuses.  In the talk, Jonathan Maberry said a writer should be able to, “Apply their writing ability to writing anything.” He explained how he had made a living by adapting to circumstances and writing what he could sell. He also advised that writers avoid pigeonholes. Initially, I did pigeonhole myself. That kept me from making money as a writer. For a long time, I saw my MFA in Creative Writing as a step in my journey to writing novels. That was the end game, and I wasn’t veering from the path. 

Shift toward things that can help you stretch as a writer and make a living.
Jonathan Maberry

I shifted in thought and attitude. What I found was doing the work that paid me as a writer, as Mary Robinette Kowal similarly expressed,  “doesn’t mean you don’t get to tell the story you want.”

I learned this in doing PR pieces and blog posts. I love journey stories, heroic tales full of adventure, and if you could retrieve the nameless pieces I’ve done for different blogs and PR, you’d discover that quite a few of them mimic these themes. In fact, I recently received a thank you from a WW II vet after a piece I did on him—FYI the subject had nothing to do with WWII or his valiant sacrifice, but I put it in there anyway. I tied everything together. I did a similar thing for a woman who needed me to write her bio on a website. I’m fairly certain she now thinks of herself as a heroic, self-starter. And you know what, I really hope she does. Writing both pieces was fun. I learned things from challenging myself to write in these different areas. I also challenged myself by writing screenplays and continuing to write novels. 

The thing that I’ve found in all forms of writing is you can belittle it in your mind, belittle your job, your success or lack of it, or you can dive in and see the work as a great adventure. I chose the second way. And you know what, I really like the work I do, paid and unpaid. I appreciate the people I work for and the things I get to do for them to improve their lives, help support their visions, and shine a spotlight on them. Mary Robinette Kowal defines this as getting your “creative jollies” from different forms of writing. (Yeah, I love that expression.) 

I guess what I ultimately discovered by adapting and allowing myself to make a living in writing is that you might not make the money from your number one bestseller or award-winning screenplay, but you can still write. Keep at it, challenge yourself with all kinds of writing. It will increase your skills and your confidence. You might even get to spend your entire day making a living doing the thing you love. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll help make someone’s life better. Maybe, you’ll take a story about hearing loss and use it to thank and even remind a WW II vet that he’s still a hero. 

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