I’ve gone through various moments throughout my writing career, but some of them hurt or helped a little more than the others. A big break with a client, a trip to California to interact with nature or an overall disdain for my desk job–they all helped in their own special way.
So, I wanted to share the moments that completely changed my writing career in hopes that they motivate others or at least shed some light on what is to come for those just getting started with their writing.
Hating My Job
This is the big one. Hating a job is nothing I’d wish upon anyone, but it creates a sense of wonder, similar to how you hear those stories about prodigies performing poorly in school or at work. I’m no prodigy, but daydreaming at work or school works up visions and ideas that you couldn’t stumble upon while engaged at your job.
Since I hated my job I vowed to get away, to find a vocation that led me elsewhere. This first step in my writing career gave me the balls to actually test the waters and ask questions. It sparked a sense of wonder and desire for other options.
Spending Time During My Job Writing
I wrote most of the time when I arrived back at home, but yes, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t write when talking on the phone or pretending to listen to a customer. I became surprisingly good at catering to customers and designing images while working on other tasks. Was it the most productive? Probably not, but I wanted to go elsewhere anyways.
Losing My Job
Did I lose my job because of writing on the job? No, well not directly, but this step led to a situation where I was gasping for air. I scrambled to the job boards and took writing jobs for just about any topic. I learned by jumping right into the water and struggling to swim. Sometimes, when you’re questioning your life choices, the best way out is to threaten the lifestyle itself.
Building a Blog as a Pitch Platform
I originally started a blog to make money. It ended up working, somewhat. The majority of my income doesn’t come from the blog, but from using this blog to pitch clients for whom I can write for. Yes, I still bring in a little cash from affiliate links on my site, but my original idea of becoming a professional blogger slowly subsided in order to make way for a freelancing career.
I realized that there are some areas that just don’t make money, or at least not enough money, yet. But you can leverage different pieces that you wrote for free and show them off to potentially sway others to pay you for your writing. The lesson here is to keep writing no matter how much money you make with it.
There’s a chance no one sees your first twenty blog posts or your first ten books, but it’s all building towards a point where the pieces just fall into place.
I’ve talked before about how to gracefully lose your job or big freelance clients, and it all sucks when you initially go through these losses, but the lessons learned far outweigh the punches to the gut. In fact, that punch to the gut makes life more bearable, like breaking up a relationship or losing someone you love. You numb yourself to future pain.
When I initially lost some of my big clients I realized that I was putting too many of my eggs in one basket. I focused on a few marketing companies who offered quite a bit of work for a long time, but then it just stopped. I also focused too much on finding website copywriting jobs, which always eventually end because once you finish writing the whole website the work is done.
Although every job makes me lick my lips, I realized that declining these jobs to focus more on writing books and finding consistent blogging jobs made me happier and put more money in my pockets.
Changing My Writing Area
My original writing area was in my bedroom, with my clothes on the ground, TV to the left and, of course, the tempting mattress just feet away. A crucial step in my writing career was when I changed my writing atmosphere. I actually switch up where I write just about everyday to keep my mind fresh, so I occasionally work in coffee shops, my girlfriend’s kitchen or in an office.
Taking a Road Trip
There are quite a few things that everyone should do while they are young, and even when they are older, but taking a grand road trip with friends or family, or even by yourself, is the perfect situation for forgetting about the barriers you encounter everyday. I took a road trip out west with my mom and sister back in college for an internship, and I recently cruised to Denver, then San Diego, as I dropped off a few friends who found jobs out there.
Why is a road trip so important? You forget the worries and the stresses and even the people you care about for just a few days, clearing your mind and opening it up to sites that no book could explain to you. This goes for all travel. My trips out west and to Europe have provided material for countless stories and blog posts.
I enjoy a little Ernest Hemingway from time to time, but it’s not because of his prose, but the way I can feel he was truly experiencing the Italian front in World War I or how he actually watched bull fights in Spain.
These stories are no match for a story from someone who just read about them.
Getting Rid of My Car and Other Possessions
About a year and a half into my writing career I sold my car, and started selling off random junk I no longer needed in my home. I even ditched my Windows computer for a more minimalist Chromebook, and I only use Google Docs, because Word and Office presented too much clutter on my computer.
Is this reasonable for everyone? Well, I live in Chicago, so I don’t really need a car, but I figure all people could use some sort of cleanup in their lives. It helps you cut down on multitasking and distractions. I no longer have to worry about my car insurance, and I even tossed my scanner because you can do that with your phone nowadays (not that I used it that often anyways.)
The point is, I feel lighter–free to move about without as many restrictions, confident I no longer forgot something because the items in my life are not that important to me. It also opens up time to focus on people, as opposed to possessions, the key to writing stories and building characters.
Earning Support, Not Asking or Begging For It
In the early stages of my career I reached out to various bloggers and writers to see if I could guest post or even just talk to them about how they succeeded. I wouldn’t really call it begging, but I certainly didn’t have anything to show them. My portfolio was weak, I hadn’t perfected my pitch and I still found it tough calling myself a writer.
This ties into the “Building a Blog” point, but it’s all about realizing your potential for yourself. No one cares that you want to write and that you have always dreamed of writing a book one day. Every schmuck believes they have potential. It’s when you go out and do something spectacular that people start to take notice. I marketed the hell out my blog and received loads of shares and comments to show clients.
I also built a mock-up class for one of my potential clients to show them that I had already done the work they requested. My weak portfolio might have landed the job, but showing them exactly what they want was a guaranteed hit.
Publishing My First Book
This was a huge stepping stone for me, because I never thought a book was my ultimate goal. It turns out, a first book probably isn’t going to make you rich and famous. At least for me, finishing and publishing my first book, a marketing guide for writers, lifted those weights off my shoulders and encouraged me to put in additional work towards new books.
There’s something about that first book that seems to irk writers. The idea of putting in all that effort for no money is exhausting, yet after hammering out those chapters, a habit forms, and you start to enjoy it.
Setting a Reading Quota
Last year I started writing down home many books I would read for the coming month. It turns out since I wrote it down I actually started reading more. It’s no secret; writers need to read, and if you can’t get out of the house to experience an event or location, reading about it is the next best thing. Now that I read more I notice tactics that other writers use, and even though I always hated it when others did this before, I tend to correct people’s grammar when they speak.
Fighting With Friends and Family
This isn’t exactly a single step, but more of an ongoing instance. It happens on occasion, and I’ve found that these fights are what make life real. You grow stronger with forgiveness and learn to accept people for what they are, flawed. Then you can translate this into characters or even just write a decent blog post that doesn’t sound rigid and forced.
Often the ones I disagree with most, or want to punch in the face, provide the best perspective and most material.
Let me know in the comments section what moments in your life changed your writing career the most. Are there one or two instances that truly changed your outlook on writing?
Photo Credit: Hakan Dahlstrom from flickr