Today’s guest post is something I’ve been looking forward to sharing since December. M.S. Wordsmith is one of the writers in my small writing accountability group. I chat with her almost on a daily basis as there we share our daily successes and struggles.
She’s also an editor. We’ve compared notes many times about the process and have found we are very much kindred spirits. (In fact, we have a deal signed in blood…er, I mean red ink, to be reciprocal beta readers on our own novels.)
Needless to say, her message is one that I want to share on this blog. In fact, we have a whole series of posts lined up and you can expect a follow-up on the first Friday of each month until April. As that is the 6th of April and not the 1st, I promise it will not be about the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
Mariëlle, over to you!
But who am I? And how did I get from being regular old M.S. Smith to being M.S. Wordsmith?
Being the child of a Scottish expat father and a Dutch mother, I have always been intrigued by language and how it works: how is meaning created and what becomes lost in translation? As a child, I was either writing stories or reading them—I always wanted to borrow more books in one go than the library allowed—and often carried around a heavy dictionary to translate Dutch songs into English or vice versa. I excelled in English at secondary school level, and my love for this language brought me to the University of Utrecht, where I studied English Language and Culture, with minors in Gender, Post-Colonial, and Conflict Studies, followed by a Research Masters in Gender and Ethnicity.
Throughout my studies, teachers, professors, and anonymous peer-reviewers from academic journals complimented the quality and clarity of my writing. The moment my professors started asking me to translate and edit their work, I realised I needed to start using this skill to help others. Originally starting out as an academic editor, the rekindling of my passion for creative writing inspired me to expand my services to include the mentoring of creative writers and the editing and critiquing of their work.
Next to being M.S. Wordsmith, I am also editor-in-chief of the bilingual journal Tijdschrift voor Genderstudies (Journal of Gender Studies). In between these jobs, I call myself a writer of fiction.
On being a prolific writer I – What is YOUR goal?
If you want to become a writer and make a living as a writer, it is important to write more than one book. It’s also considered an absolute necessity to write these books at a certain interval, so that your readers don’t forget about your very existence. I bet this doesn’t come as a surprise.
However, if you’re new to the playing field and go online, searching for keywords such as ‘how to become a writer?’, ‘writing tips and tricks’, and ‘how to make a living as a writer?’, you might notice (actually, it’s quite hard not to notice) how much emphasis there is these days on being prolific—especially so if you find yourself in the world of self- or indie publishing. The best way to market yourself is simply through publishing that next book.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve fallen in love with indie publishing a long time ago and there’s no community I’d rather be in, but that doesn’t take away the fact that there is enormous emphasis on how many words you write each day, how many novels you intend to publish in the next year, whether you made it through NaNoWriMo without a scratch, and so on.
You want to make a living as a writer? Great! Publish at least a novel a year and the odds are entirely in your favor! Can you produce more? Excellent! The more you publish, the sooner you can quit that day job of yours!
The thing is, these voices aren’t wrong. If your story telling abilities are good enough, and you are able to publish at great speed, you probably won’t have any trouble becoming an ‘authorpreneur’. There’s a reason why there are so many articles, books, podcasts, competitions, and more that focus on making you a faster writer: they increase your chances of becoming a full-time writer.
But, amidst the friendly competitiveness that comes with this sense of always having to write and publish more, those writers who don’t have the ability to set apart large portions of their days to write might feel absolutely overwhelmed. Those writers working in the more demanding genres—genres that need loads of research and/or world-building, such as fantasy or historical fiction—might feel even more pressure: imagine being short for time AND having to build a world from scratch or get the details and facts as right as possible.
I remember how I felt when I first happened upon the field: I was constantly worried I wasn’t doing enough, and convinced I would never ever make it as a writer because I didn’t know how to find the time to write 5000 words a day, let alone write that many words AND do all the research and world-building (I’m working on a YA fantasy series at the moment). What’s more, I became close to feeling blocked: if I couldn’t do it the way I should, why try at all?
As a writing mentor, or coach, I speak to a lot of writers who are, like I’ve been, overwhelmed by all this. So, what do I tell them? I tell them there is no one way of doing this, this becoming a writer. I tell them they need to figure out for themselves what becoming a writer means to them, and go from there. There are a few questions involved here, and I will address each of them in a separate post.
Figure out YOUR personal goal
I have yet to come across a book that isn’t written for those who want to become full-time writers. There are often a few words on ‘hobby writers’ or what have you, but, in general, the audience targeted are those who want to quit their jobs rather sooner than later. As if making a living writing automatically means making ALL of your living writing.
One of the first questions I ask my clients when trying to figure out what becoming a writer means to them is ‘Where do you want your writing to take you?’
You’d be surprised to find how many people haven’t thought the answer to that question through. There’s so much focus on those who want to write full-time, it almost seems the only option available. I know enough people who do want to write full-time, and I’m not saying they shouldn’t (by all means, follow it if it’s truly your dream). However, the moment you reach that point in your life you realise you want to take your writing more seriously, it wouldn’t hurt to ask yourself what taking it more seriously entails exactly.
What does becoming a writer entail?
What does it mean to you to become a writer?
- Does it mean you can quit your day job(s) within the next 5 years? Or 10 years?
- Does it mean you want to make enough of a living with your writing to, at the least, start working part-time?
- Does it mean you just want a particular story out of your system?
- Does it mean you want to start entering competitions just to see where you end up?
- Does it mean you finally have an outlet for your thoughts, your frustrations, your whatever?
If it’s your personal goal to quit your day job(s) within the next 5 years, by all means, read those books, articles, what-nots, and get cracking! Stop reading this post and get your ass-to-seat!
If it’s your personal goal to make enough money with writing so you can start working part-time and devote the rest of it to writing, take a good, deep breath. If it means you want to get a story out, enter into competitions, have an outlet, take a good, deep breath as well. There’s no need for you to get caught up in the being prolific frenzy. Different goals come with different paths and different time frames.
If you do want to get caught up in the frenzy, please do. Some writers thrive under that constant pressure, are better writers because of that constant pressure. Just make sure you make that decision consciously and not because you feel there’s no other way. And if, after trying, you find it isn’t for you after all, accept that it isn’t and continue in a slower pace.
There are no universal goals
I got caught up in it once, the idea that I needed to write more so I could quit the work I was doing and become a writer full-time within the next 10 years. It wasn’t until I remembered I absolutely love the work I was doing—writing, editing, mentoring, teaching—that I stopped hitting myself over the head because I wasn’t writing a book a year. I realised I didn’t want to imagine a life without any of these jobs—even though combining these jobs and making time to write is a daily struggle—but that I needed to find a way to balance these in such a way that I have enough time left for writing. This is when I changed my goal from ‘becoming a full-time writer in the next 10 years’ to ‘having reached a balance between writing, teaching, mentoring, and editing in the next 10 years’.
There is no universal goal when it comes to writing. There are only personal goals. What is yours?
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