Yesterday I had an awkward experience where a young man done up in his military blues asked me what I’m working on at school. When I told him my major was “Writing”, he looked at me as if I’d said, “I’m going to write my first book and it will sell like Harry Potter”. Come on. I’m ambitious, not delusional.
He also told me, and these are his own words, “You can’t do anything with that.” I’ll admit I was a tad defensive at first. I almost uttered, “excuse me if I don’t consider a brain-washed meat-head to be the expert on what I can or cannot do with an English Degree,” but that would have been rude. Instead I said, “Oh, so how many English Degrees do you have?” which was way less sarcastic. I got over it pretty quickly though.
There are two reasons I took this long to get to school. The first was money, which became more accessible through Financial Aid when I turned 25. The second was that I just couldn’t bring myself to major in anything besides writing. From the year I graduated High School I knew that was what I wanted, but I just didn’t think it was possible to make money as a writer. That was for the lucky ones. The celebrities. I’ve learned since then.
Some people may be getting tired of my Brandon Sanderson story, so I’ll keep it short. I met him at a signing at Barnes and Noble. At that point, I hadn’t really read any of his books. I had heard about him, however, and there wasn’t really a line for him at this signing – he was not as well-sung then. So Ian and I struck up a conversation. This was my first time getting to really chat with someone who made a living as an author, and for fear of misquoting him, I’ll boil down the message he left with us into basic points:
- You can make a living doing this if you love it.
- Your first book probably won’t be publishable.
- You should write that book in order to improve as a writer, then move on and write more books.
- Writing won’t make you rich.
Since then I’ve read all of Brandon’s published works, and I’m probably his #3,567th fan. While reading his blog later on down the road, I stumbled upon a podcast called “Writing Excuses” that he runs with two of his professional writer friends, Dan Wells and Howard Taylor. What this podcast did for me was keep writing present in the mind. At the time life was crazy, and it was hard enough to get by on normal things let alone try to tackle all the fears and doubts I had built up for myself about writing professionally. Writing Excuses offered both sound advice and constant reminders of that passion, that goal I had deep inside. With all the experiences and advice related by not just the hosts but a lot of guest authors as well, an idea began to sprout and gain purchase. A dangerous idea, one I had never considered before.
The idea that I could have a career as a writer.
These people are pretty much just like me, except they are further along in the process. They’ve been writing long enough so that they’ve finished a few books. They grew as writers and as business people, and were eventually published (multiple times).
To quote some advice from Barbara Sher, “Write at least thirty minutes every day. If you can’t do that, write at least ten minutes every day. If you can’t do that, write for five. And if you can’t do that, just pick up your manuscript and walk around with it for a little while.” The idea is to keep the thing you are passionate about present in your mind. Don’t let yourself put it aside just because life got crazy. “Isolation is the Dream Killer” (Sher), it will slowly siphon your energy to devote to what you love. And if you love writing, you’ve probably felt this before.
That’s what Writing Excuses helped me to fight – every Sunday night or Monday morning I can load it on my Ipod before I take off to school, and start my week with writing in mind, no matter how crazy life got last week.
So here’s the rub; the goals are Major in Professional Writing, experience in Web Site Design and Intermediate-Level Japanese. Off the top of my head I can already name you a big-name, successful health product company that is located here in Idaho, needs professional writers for content writing on websites and they deal in quite a few languages (And yes, that includes Japanese).
That’s just in this area, and we’re probably going to be willing to move by the time I get out. And that’s off the top of my head, just in local results. What I mean is, if my writing is good enough to speak for itself, there’s no reason I can’t put food on the table with my writing, in a full-time capacity, with health benefits. Yes, I do want to be a novelist, and that is something I won’t stop working on until I get published – but my future family’s well-being comes first… and even if I were single, I would work full-time while writing part-time. It’s just the smart way to go.
It’s not really a problem of whether or not I’ll publish. It’s about what I enjoy doing, and how I want to spend my life. It’s about not expecting my first book to go anywhere, but to be realistic about my goals. It’s about knowing that I will be happier having written 50 books that went nowhere than I would if I never wrote anything and just regretted my inaction.