By Rosemary Twomey
Most writers aren't fortunate enough to be able to do it for a living, or at least not full-time. We often treat our passion as a hobby, but that might be the mistake that sets us back from success! Treat your writing a little bit more like your day job, and you might find that publication appears in the horizon.
I’m a writer. Have I published a book? No. Do I have a day job? Of course I do. Not many writers are fortunate enough to be able to work on their projects for a living, but that hasn't stopped me from dedicating at least 20 hours a week to my writing!
When I left my university writing program and went to business school, I promised myself that I would never let writing become “something I do on the side” - I simply couldn’t let my dream job become something cobwebby in the corner that I only pulled out a few times. I was committed to keeping writing a part of my daily life. Of course, once I started at a new school, and then inevitably got a corporate job at an ad agency, my day became a little too full to spend eight hours a day writing.
Now, two years out of school, I have crafted a routine that enables me to “work smarter, not harder” (pardon the cliché). I love my day job, and I don’t think I would ever leave it in order to write full-time, but I've also come to realize that the majority the things I love about my job are the very same things lacking in the writing-part of my life: tasks, due dates, step-by-step processes for each project, collaboration, a client tell me what they want, a stable paycheck, and, of course, having a manager who can give me direction.
Of course, at a certain level as a writer, you will have other parties supporting you but in the end, you're alone in the stringing of words and creation of worlds. Upon the realization of small luxuries a day job offers, I began incorporating them into my writing life.
Set Goals Appropriate to Your Experience Level
The biggest thing I learned from modelling my writing life after my work life has been to set appropriate goals to your experience level.
In writing, or anything creative, it is easy to set yourself up for disappointment. If I am just getting started with writing, have never been published before, and only write once every few months, it is rather ridiculous to think that I'm in a palce where I can bang out the first draft of a novel that will get selected by an agent within a year. Of course, nothing is impossible, and I certainly don’t want to discourage anyone, but the vast majority of the time, it doesn't happen.
If you've had this thought, do not fret. In the beginning, I did too, and I'm sure most writers have at some point had this idea. When you work in a creative industry it is easy to take the saying “There is no single path” and assume that means there is no path, but that is not true.
If you are an entry-level chef and you tell your manager that in one year, you want to open your own bakery, they'll probably laugh. They'll probably also be completely right to say that you won't be ready, but that's not to say that you wouldn't be able to make a perfect lamented croissant in that one year. Yes, there is the off chance you could open your own bakery and be the best pastry chef ever, but chances are in a few weeks, months, or years you will be even better. This applies to the writing process too, so don’t rush.
Setting level-appropriate goals is a great way to measure your improvement, learn what you do well and what you don’t do well, and protect yourself from unnecessary rejection. There is plenty of it in this industry, and you have no business exposing yourself to any more than necessary.
Create a Management System
When you are a solo writer (meaning you don’t have a guiding hand like an agent managing your work) it is so easy to slip into your feelings. Said feelings could be - but aren’t limited to - discomfort, lack of motivation, imposter syndrome, and feeling overwhelmed with the path ahead.
I enjoy planning and having a task list. Whether you use a physical notebook, the notes app in your phone, or another application, it is a wonderful way to keep your work engaging and organized.
My notion page template is designed to keep me accountable and organize the array of writing resources I’ve collected and submissions I’ve sent. You will notice that I organized my template into five sections:
To be written
And useful links
In addition, I have a running to-do list, a list of agents, and agent applications that I have sent. Using this organization method, I am able to keep track of all of my work and store useful information like journals open for submissions, contests, and resources.
One of my favourite resources for keeping track of lit mags and journals accepting work is Chillsubs! They have a website with a repository of over 1,000 publications that you can filter through to find the perfect home for your work.
Deadlines are of utmost importance, especially when you’re submitting to lit mags and journals that have themes (which most do). The last thing you want is to create a themed piece, only to realize that the deadline has passed.
Ahead of a season, I like to pick out a common theme amongst a few journals (e.g. seasons) and set a deadline for when I need to complete it by. I tend to set myself deadlines one month out, which is just long enough for me to share and receive edits from others who also have busy schedules. If you set deadlines that are too far in advance you give yourself time to forget about the task at hand or lose motivation. Journals will typically also release the future themes more than a month in advance, which gives you time to crank out your 2500-word piece, edit it, and send it.
Participating in writing contests is also a great way to hold yourself to a timeline.
Working With Others
This one is probably the hardest, but most important. You need to allow others to critique your work in real time and give feedback. It’s always hard subjecting your work to criticism, but if the audience is the right one, you will learn so much.
At the beginning of my career, the thought of presenting, meeting with clients, or even just reviewing my projects with my boss was fear-inducing. I would be nervous for hours before. Participating in working sessions and letting your work breathe will help you improve.
I signed up for a workshop at The Writers Circle Workshops while listening to a podcast where a writer recommended it. I took the plunge because I knew that my anxiety would stop me if I waited too long.
Read my last article about finding an editing group here!
Reading widely is the greatest professional development you can do. Besides that, there are plenty of business developments you also need to consider.
It can be difficult to listen to someone tell you all of the things you're doing wrong, or that you're not doing at all. But just like any career, you should plan out long-term growth. Below are some great resources to learn more about writing and the publishing business!
It can be daunting to show up to a writing event solo, and it’s awkward walking into a room of people and they all seem to know each other. Been there, done that. Still, I have learned so many important lessons from engaging with the writing community in my city! Having a community of writers cheering you on is important, especially when submissions are sizzling in the back of your mind.
One of the best events to attend if you’re rolling solo is local author book launches! Typically the author will speak and do a reading for an hour and then you will get a chance to meet them, get a book signed, and mingle. Local writers love to support authors in their community, and you are sure to meet a slew of other writers if you attend.
After incorporating all of these resources and habits into my work week, I have created a schedule where writing feels like a regular part of my life. I can easily dedicate time to my craft and feel like I am on a sustainable trajectory.
About the Writer:
Rosemary Twomey is a writer based out of Montreal, Canada. She fell in love with character writing and development during her time studying professional writing at the University of Toronto. She can often be found reading with a cup of tea in front of a sunny window.
You can find her on Instagram: @rosemary.twomey.writes