8 Survival Tips for Writers
It wasn’t until I got serious about becoming a freelance writer that I realized just how many people want to do the same thing—and that's great! But why?
According to PayScale, freelance writers earn anywhere from $10.33 to $52.77 per hour, at a median of $24.07—the higher end predominately in the technical writing arena. However, as Contently Tech editor, Dillon Baker, pointed out in his 2016 study, 35 percent of full-time freelancers earn less than $20,000 annually.
Point being, it’s not like every freelance writer is out there making it rain. Now, I'm not saying you can't make an excellent living writing—you absolutely can! But it takes a lot of work and some serious tenacity.
This leads me to the conclusion that most of us write because we love it. But there are likely more than a few who want to write because they have a grandiose idea of what it’s like to be a writer—this group may be in for a shock!
Misconception: Writers Live a Magical Life
Writers spend 20 percent of their time working and the other 80 riding unicorns through a field of wild flowers, right? Well, some of us choose to ride a Pegasus so we can feel the clouds brush our fingertips as we fly by …
The True Nature of the Beast
In reality, writing can be one of the hardest jobs on the planet. In fact, writers should be called Wolverines instead, because writing requires adamantium-plated skin. If you can’t handle rejection, edits, or constructive criticism, rough seas are ahead.
See, writing is deeply personal. Even if you’re writing about how to operate a waffle maker or the science behind how paint dries—if someone rips apart your work, you’re going to feel a way about it.
I don’t care if you're the most prolific writer since William Shakespeare or Agatha Christie, you will get rejected. And if you’re published, your work will have edits. And if 80 percent of the world loves you, the other 20 won’t. And it’s the 20 percent that seem to have the loudest voice (even if you're the only one hearing it).
So, how do you pursue your dream of becoming a writer without going all redrum like Jack Nicholson in The Shining?
#1: Believe in Yourself
Sure, it's the cliché of all clichés, but it bears repeating. If you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will either. Repeat “I’m a kick-ass writer” 20 times in front of the mirror, three times a day if you have to. Do whatever Jedi mind trick on yourself you need to, until you convince yourself you have what it takes.
#2: Don’t Be Afraid
Fear prevents many of us from becoming who we were truly meant to be. Even if you've mastered #1, fear can come through and snatch away that belief in yourself quicker than a peregrine falcon diving for its prey.
Did you know that at the start of his career, Harrison Ford was told by a movie exec that he’d never make it in the business? Instead of listening to this, he believed in himself and didn’t let fear prevent him from pursuing acting as a career. For someone who didn't have what it takes, he sure has an impressive list of IMDb credits.
What about rapper Jay-Z? He was turned down by every record label he approached. Ouch. If he’d been afraid to put his own record out, do you think he’d be worth more than $800 million today?
And how about Stephen King, who happens to be one my favorite authors. Apparently, he tossed out his manuscript of Carrie after being rejected 30 times. It’s a good thing his wife goes through the trash!
So write fearlessly—what do you really have to lose?
#3: Remember that No One Is Perfect
When reading a great piece of content or something from an author you admire, it’s easy to forget the writer isn’t perfect. Always keep in mind that most writers are part of a team. There’s a process, and this process helps turn good writers into rock stars.
As the saying goes, it takes a village. When you enter the realm of professional writing, you’re also almost always entering into some form of collaboration.
Even if you're flying solo in the writing game, cut yourself some slack. We all make mistakes. Learn from them and be willing to learn from others.
#4: Be Yourself
There is nothing wrong with getting inspiration from others. For that matter, no idea is truly original. If you thought it, rest assured someone else in the world has too. Take this post for example—I'm certainly not the first person to write about being a writer. The important thing is to be yourself. Personality drives content, so capitalize on your quirks.
Of course, different writing jobs may require specific approaches. Learn to embrace this, too. That’s what makes writing fun and interesting. You can learn a lot from stepping out of your zone. And besides, if you wrote it, there’s still a piece of you in it.
#5: Read and Write Frequently
This popular Stephen King quote says it all when it comes to writing: "If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that." So, read, baby, read!
I’ve come to realize the more you write, the easier writing comes to you. And, if you don’t write consistently, you can’t improve your craft. Never settle at your current skill level—always aim higher. The greatest of the greats from sports to music, to corporate law or dog training, aren't great because of their raw, natural talent. It’s because they nurtured and grew their craft.
Writing is no different.
#6: Keep Your Feelings in Check
Remember earlier when I mentioned writers need to have adamantium-plated skin—this was no exaggeration.
I’ve worked with many writers and editors over the years. Some writers take edits and criticism with ease, others respond in all caps and act like the world is ending. Never take it personal. Contrary to popular belief, editors are not out to get you. Most times, if you keep your personal feelings out of it, you can learn something.
At the very least, it can help make you into a Wolverine writer. So, when someone is "attacking" your writing, your regenerative powers kick in and you bounce back quickly. No crying in a dark closet or eating ice cream while sobbing and watching Gilmore Girls or Braveheart for you!
#7: Celebrate the Wins
All too often we focus on what's wrong instead of what's right or what didn't happen instead of what did. The key is to be open-minded enough to recognize your weaknesses, but confident enough to realize your strengths.
When things go well, don’t be afraid to pat yourself on the back. When you knock it out of the park, enjoy it. Celebrate that win. This will help you from falling off the cliff of despair and frustration. Look at your setbacks and disappointments as opportunities to grow, it'll only make you a better writer.
Besides, if you learn to turn a loss into a win, you’ll never really lose. And that’s definitely something to celebrate.
#8: Follow Eminem’s Advice
Okay, speaking as an Eminem fan, for this one, be very selective. But if there’s one thing this emcee has said in his rhymes that should resonate with all writers everywhere, it’s this: “… Lose yourself in the music [replace music with writing], the moment you own it, you better never let it go.”
Whether it’s a piece about stock trades, web hosting, credit cards, or science fiction, if you lose yourself in your writing, you’re sure to produce something amazing. You’re bound to improve your skills, and you’re almost certain to enjoy it. Not only that, but you’ll be able keep going in the face of adversity—just like B-Rabbit in 8 Mile.
So, there you have it. Whether you’re already a writer or you aspire to be one, keeping these simple things in mind will help you remain sane while on your journey.