Blueprint for the writing life

“Let’s play ‘what if,’” the forum post began. “What if you were launching your own career as a writer. You saved enough money to cover all your expenses for a year, so you don’t have to work another job. No kids. No other commitments. Your only concern is making sure your career takes off. How would you budget your time and efforts?”

I’ve been really, really lucky and privileged to be in this situation for the last 16 months. With regular full-time employment just around the corner, here’s my 20-20 hindsight.

After hearing local author Curtis C. Chen talk about configuring life so writing can happen, I’m reassured that I’m further along than I thought in some ways, because this all takes much more time than we expect.

The first six months of my time off were essentially a personal reboot. At first I felt I was wasting time and screwing around, but in retrospect, it was necessary for the enormous personal growth and self-knowledge that resulted.

Strategically, I began formulating aspirational goals for myself as a writer: what I wanted to accomplish; how my career should develop; what I wanted my reputation or brand to be. Tactically, I Googled “how to be an author” and began to learn what’s involved in the business of writing. I started my own personal checklist for this because it’s different for everyone.

Two bits of personal business I also addressed up front were:

  • I developed an “elevator speech” for well-meaning friends and family so they wouldn’t worry and could give me the right kind of support.
  • I had to take some time to understand how unemployment or self-employment would impact taxes, health insurance costs, credit rating, and even car insurance rates so I could make smarter financial decisions.

As I learned I grouped aspects of the writing life into “buckets.” (See this previous post for more details.)

  • Writing (writing, research, organizing files, scheduling time to write, etc.)
  • Craft / education (get better at writing: read, courses, conferences, webinars, participate in critique groups, cultivate beta readers, etc.)
  • Editing (formatting, organizing, remedial grammar and style, etc.)
  • Marketing / platform (set up author website, mailing list, social media, write blurbs and bios)
  • Publishing (mechanics of creating covers, massaging files, uploading to distributor websites, etc.)
  • Networking (join writers groups, mailing lists, meet local writers, etc.)
  • Administrative (make legal and tax-related decisions and track tax-related income/expenses; track social stats, etc.)

Yes, it was hard to decide where to start or how to prioritize or distribute my time. The priorities I eventually settled on (aside from actually writing) included:

  • identifying my goals and priorities as a writer (logical outcome of self-knowledge);
  • developing a daily schedule (added structure to freeform lifestyle);
  • building an author platform (because it has a long lead time);
  • and social connections (joining and leading local writers groups so I wouldn’t turn feral).

Other things I learned as the need arose. When I had writer’s block I turned my attention to craft until the block cleared.

I haven’t accomplished everything I thought I would in 16 months, but I’m a lot further along than I thought I would be, and certainly much further along than if I’d never started. Some of my accomplishments include:

  • Author platform basics in place:
  • Draft of nonfiction book during NaNoWriMo 2015, adapted to building platform
  • New stories on medium.com on various topics
  • Several fiction pieces varying in length from short stories to novellas
  • Draft of fiction book during NaNoWriMo 2016, in editing stage
  • Learned a lot about marketing, craft and ebook publishing through many courses and conferences
  • Acquired new technical skills with new software (Jutoh, Scrivener, Sigil, etc.)
  • Participated in critique group
  • Organized / co-led local writers group
  • Joined a second writers group w/ semi-regular attendance (and made new friends!)

As I start a new job, I know that I’ll need to adjust my writing goals, priorities and schedule. But now that I’ve got a better picture of what’s needed for my writing career, I’m better equipped to balance it with the rest of my life.