The path I took to become a full-time writer, I don’t think, is all that unique. But one of the biggest things that helped me was reading posts like this from authors who were where I wanted to be. I’ve mentioned it before in tons of my craft articles, but I used other authors’ careers as a guide map.
I had always been a writer but had been told by so many people there was no point in me trying to be a full-time author because that just didn’t happen. Writing teachers even said choosing writing as a career path was a fool-hearted thing to do, and I would most likely end up teaching and not writing. So, I didn’t pursue writing as a job or career. I just wrote for fun and enjoyment, but then I stopped writing for about a year when I was 19 because I really wanted to be a writer, and if I couldn’t do it as a career, then I didn’t want to do it at all.
It wasn’t a healthy mindset, but I was young.
After that year of no writing, I speed-wrote a novel and worked on it for a few months until it was as good as I could get it. When it was done, I even sent it out. But doubt came and ate away at me again, so I deleted the manuscript after hearing nothing for a couple of months. I didn’t know that was normal in the publishing world and instead took it as me not being good enough. A few months later, I got a full request from one of the publishers I had sent the manuscript to, but of course, it was too late.
Well, it was at least too late for the manuscript. Not for me. That glimmer of hope showed me that I had at least some talent to turn writing into a career. I turned back to my passion and started spending time developing my craft and learning what I could about story. I focused on creative writing in college, which got me thinking about craft in a totally different way than I ever had.
I was also working multiple jobs trying to support myself, so I had very little time to spend on actually writing. So, I just focused on learning. A couple of my jobs when I was in my early twenties were working in the book department of a donation store and as a bookseller at Barnes and Noble.
Using those places as a way to digest tons of books for free, I tried to go through at least a book or two a day. I didn’t just read writing craft books, though. I explored business, design, and entrepreneurial books — really anything that was going to help me level up my writing, editing, and business game in any way. When authors would come in to do book signings, I’d always offer to help them. If I got the chance, I’d dare a question about how I could make writing a career.
I got a lot of information, but most of it surmounted to figuring out what I wanted to write, getting good at it, and doing that. Pretty easy, huh? I spent a couple years nailing down what type of stuff I wanted to write, and in that time, I noticed that many authors had writing day jobs. Some of them were creative writing teachers, but other authors were editors, agents, freelancers, creative directors, game writers, artists of other sorts, and copywriters.
Those full-time writers were able to transfer their creative writing skills to other jobs. I wanted to learn how to do that, so I studied copywriting, game writing, design, course creation, and leadership. This was all while I was still working my retail jobs, so I had to get smart about planning my writing time.
What worked for me was getting a separate planner and using it to create a mock full-time writer’s schedule. I included tasks like writing, editing, pitching, submitting, publishing, studying, researching, and networking. I’d write a new piece, sometimes based on a fake editor’s prompt, then I’d pretend to send it in and wait for editorial remarks before editing the piece again. For submitting, I’d focus on learning publications I wanted to write for and build that into my networking work.
I worked like that for years. It got to the point where I was technically working three jobs. Two in retail and one as a writer. But it built up my time management skills and gave me a lot of fire to make the free time I had count. I started moving away from my learning and spending more time writing. I built a back catalog of stories, poems, and articles. Most of which I have trunked, but some are still making the submission rounds, and some are even getting picked up.
While juggling retail work and writing, I started realizing that it wasn’t sustainable. I needed to dedicate my time to writing, and spending 60 hours or more in a store wasn’t helping that. My plunge to full-time writing work went slow. First, I moved down to just one retail job I only did for 20 hours a week. The rest of my time I spent working on writing jobs and doing random freelance projects that helped me build out my writing resume. When I felt like I had enough work coming in to move away fully from retail work, I did.
It was scary and bumpy for a few months, but things ended up smoothing out, and it was one of the best decisions I made for my career and well-being. The joy I feel waking up now knowing my working day is filled with writing or editing is wayyyyyy better than waking up and having to spend my hours in a retail space. Don’t get me wrong, retail will always hold a special place in my heart, but it doesn’t feed my heart like writing.
I took almost any job that came my way when I first started out, and it helped until it hurt. When it started to hurt, I reached out to professional writers and editors and got advice on how to work in a sustainable way. What stuck with me was saying no to every project or job I wasn’t absolutely wowed by. Even if they were promising me all the money in the world, if I wasn’t charmed by the job, I should say no and only take jobs that fit my intention.
It’s an extremely privileged view of freelancing, but I had enough funds to say no to jobs and not be so gig hungry. As I started saying no more, jobs I was actually in love with started coming my way. Community and getting to know other writers and editors were also a big help in getting my name in front of the right people. Things began picking up pretty quickly after about a year, and I haven’t looked back since.
If you write full-time or part-time, I’d love to know how you got into writing as a career! Or, if you have any questions about how I made my transition to full-time writing work, please feel free to drop them in the comments.
One thought on “How I Write: What I Did to Become a Full-Time Writer”
Oh boy do I relate to you being in the retail and service industries for quite a few years.
One thing that stood out to me was that you don’t take on any projects that don’t sing to you, no matter the pay. That’s what I tend to do too. But there were also a couple of jobs I thought would suck which turned out to be okay in the end.
I’m currently stuck in limbo though, between not wanting to be a typical content mill writer, and needing a sufficient income to start a family and build a future with a partner. So yeah. It’s been a long while since I’ve found myself questioning what I want to do with my writing.
Anyway, thanks for sharing your lovely history!