Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Reader Request: The Business of Writing

It's been a while since I've done a Reader Request - apologies to anyone who's still waiting on a post, I will get to all of them, I promise!

The 'business' of writing. Ack. The decidedly not-fun part. In her email, blog reader Clara asked me about this side of the process. More specifically, she asked me what new or hopeful writers should bear in mind if they want to make a career out of it.

Like taxes (also known as That Big Fat Black Hole in Your Bank Account).  If, like me, you've never been self-employed in any capacity before, taxes will come as something of a shock to you.

They're a nuisance to sort out. You need to keep accounts of all your outgoings and incomings if you're making money off of your writing. It doesn't have to be a complicated spreadsheet like the one in the photo (my personal nightmare!), but it can be tedious and hard to figure out at first. And don’t even get me started on trying to understand VAT.

Taxes are also emotionally traumatic. At least to me. With most jobs you see your money after tax. So while you know you're paying taxes, I guess psychologically you don't feel the pinch as hard. You definitely feel every pinch when you're self-employed. You have to physically, manually account for taxes; you have to put away and save some of your money because you'll have to pay it up at the end of the tax year. Which does not end in December.

Oh, and if you sell foreign rights, you will also have the unparalleled delights of international tax laws and tax exemptions to deal with.

Then there's the fact that the work never stops. I love what I do. But it's not all joy. When you're employed by someone else (most of the time, but obviously this doesn't apply to everyone), you generally leave your work at work and go home. As a writer, I can't do that. I might be able to forget about it for a while, but I am always a writer. Things to do, jobs to tick off, ideas, they're always rushing around my brain.

And let's not forget you're not alone anymore. When you write purely for fun, you can stop when you like. You can pick it up again when you like. It's you and only you. When writing is your job, you have to do it even when you don't want to.

When you're published, or working with an agent, it's not just you anymore. There are other people to consider: their opinions, their thoughts, their advice. You have deadlines. You may have to do tough things to your precious, bloody, sweaty, teary manuscript. You may have to get your hands stuck in stuff you don't enjoy, like taxes, and sending angry emails to your web host because your website's not working properly, and self-promotion even if you're shy.

You have to treat it like a job or it's going to fall apart.

I will admit I don't always treat my work as professionally as I should. I have whims. Frenzies. Dry spells. Sometimes I'll work for twelve hours in a day, sometimes for less than an hour. It's not as disciplined as I'd like to be. But I try to find a balance. I try to make sure all the boxes on my To Do list are ticked.

And I guess that's what I'd leave you with. If you want to make a career out of writing, you have to treat it like any other career. And adjust your expectations accordingly. It won't be all fun. It can't be. It will involve a lot of work. You'll have to do things you find boring, or painful, or irksome. And only you can know if it's worth it.

It is for me.


  1. This is SO true. I think treating my writing like a career has been difficult for me to do mainly because of my own hindrances and the perception from other people in my life. I get pretty annoyed when people don't realize that writing can be a full time, serious career but I've learned that it doesn't matter how they feel. You've got a lot of discipline, lady! You're published and only on your way to more achievements. SO proud of you!

  2. There's pretty much nothing I'd rather do. :) I love writing and the love only grows. It's pretty amazing. :) I'm looking forward to the work, in a way. It would mean that it's not a daydream anymore. It's reality. :)

  3. I think you covered a lot of the surprises. Especially the one that the work never stops.

  4. It's rather helpful having a post like this one. It's so great having the writing and publishing part occur, but it's still a business...something many of us need a reminder of.

  5. Interesting post. I think it's great that you are able to write full time!

  6. Ack, taxes, taxes! Spreadsheets! You just hit on a few things currently doing my head in at the moment. I think I've got this current year sorted, but last year... not so much. ARGH!

  7. You mean once I'm published I don't automatically get someone who can handle all that complicated businessy stuff for me? Darn. ;)

    Thanks for the insight on the other side of writing. I know it will be aggravating, but I just hope to be in that position one day.