7.5.2 WRITING AS A CAREER: ALEXANDRA SHEPPARD
It’s tricky to talk about writing as a career without sounding negative. But the truth is, many writers do not earn their income solely from writing alone. Once I discovered this, it made me feel a lot less pressure to do the same.
There’s a conversation to be had about why so few authors can survive solely on writing jobs, but that’s not what this piece is about. Instead, I want to show you how, with foresight, organisation and a little bit of luck, many of us can turn the dream of a writing career into reality.
If you take just two words away from this guide, it should be this: Be flexible. Making a living as a writer is hard but it isn’t impossible. Be prepared for the fact that your career may not look how you imagined it to look. And that’s okay. I make money from school visits, mentoring, journalism, workshops and festivals alongside writing books – all of which count as part of a writing career, in my eyes. Whether I’m writing books, engaging with readers or sharing my expertise, it all counts.
So, where to begin? If you have an agent, start with them by discussing your career aspirations. Where do you see yourself in five years? What kind of work do you want to produce? Most writers, myself included, don’t think about their career beyond getting their debut book published. But that’s just the start! Having a clear idea of what you want from your career is better than aimlessly floundering from one opportunity to the next.
Once you’ve established what you want your career to look like, it’s time to get proactive. Below are a few popular side hustles for writers. Beware, though. As tempting as it is to try everything, make sure they don’t take time away from the most important job of all: your writing.
- School visits. Promote your work, inspire brilliant kids and get paid for it – what’s not to love? I wrote a guide to organising school visits last year (pre-pandemic).
- Freelance writing. Pitch your favourite publications or find paid gigs in the brilliant Freelance Writing Jobs weekly newsletter.
- Creative writing workshops. You’ve no doubt amassed a tonne of knowledge during your writing career, so why not teach virtual workshops to other aspiring writers? Set up your own or offer your skills to existing teaching organisations.
- Manuscript critiques. Many authors offer a range of editing services including sensitivity reads and whole manuscript edits.
And a few tips to help manage your workload:
- Be organised
The more jobs you take on, the more admin is involved. It’s a time-suck and dreary as hell, but it doesn’t need to take over your working day. Use an app like Wave to keep track of and automate invoices (including reminders when they’re late) and create a spreadsheet to keep track of deadlines.
- Promote yourself
Get a website (a basic free one is absolutely fine) and dedicate a webpage to your services. Shout about what you do on social media if you have it. Make sure your email address is visible and easy to find – make it easy for potential clients to get in touch with you.
Reach out to organisations you want to work with. I secured several school visits simply by DMing their Twitter accounts. Most schools were thrilled to hear from an author, so don’t be shy.
- Don’t say yes to everything
There’s a temptation to accept every work offer that comes your way. After all, what if the opportunity never arises again? But overburdening yourself leads to stress and burnout. Know your limitations.
- Get to know other writers
Being part of a writing community is one of the best things about being a writer. If you’re lucky enough to secure more work than you can take on, recommend another writer instead or share the opportunity with your community.
Alexandra Sheppard is an author and freelance social media strategist. Her debut novel OH MY GODS is published by Scholastic and has been featured in The Guardian, Buzzfeed and Refinery29. She lives in London and tweets at @alexsheppard.
Alex also tutors for our YA WriteMaster course and is a Spark Mentor.