Thursday, February 11, 2021

Dear O'Abby: Can I make a living as a writer?

 Dear O'Abby,

Is it possible to make a living as a writer?  What should I do to make this happen?



Dear Directionless,

Short answer, yes.  It is possible to make a living as a writer.  But...

It really depends on what you want to write.  Very few writers make a living writing novels or picture books or even non-fiction books.  So if that's what you're talking about, I'd say probably not.  And certainly not right away.  If you're lucky enough to write a book that's a runaway smash hit and shoots to the top of the best-seller list, then you may be able to make a living writing books.  At least for a while.

If you're willing to consider other kinds of writing, there are certainly ways to make a living.  You could freelance and write stories for newspapers and magazines and other publications.  It's not always easy to get hired for these things, but if you're eager and persevere, you may be able to get enough work to get by and if you're good, you may get offered a regular column or feature in one or more of these publications.

You could also consider technical writing - writing manuals or guides or webpages.  If you have some specialist knowledge in a certain area, this could be something you can put to use.  But even if you don't, if you can analyse and understand concepts and put them into words clearly, you can probably work in this area.  Some companies will need in-house people to do this work which could be a full-time position, whereas others will hire freelancers when and where they need them.

Advertising agencies need writers to come up with the perfect words to sell products.  If you're good at coming up with pithy one-liners or catchy phrases that stick in the brain for days, copy writing for an advertising agency could suit you.

And of course there's writing for film, television and theater too.  Screenwriting and playwriting are quite different skills to writing prose, but good writing is is good writing, regardless. And a compelling story or character is compelling on screen, on stage or on the page.  If you are thinking about trying out something in this arena, my advice (as someone who works in the screen industry) would be to remember that these are visual mediums.  Think about how you might tell a story visually.  That whole show vs tell tell thing becomes way more critical when the story is going to play out in front of the audience. 

With social media being such a crucial tool for engagement these days, there are also opportunities for those who can write smart, succinct, engaging social media posts across platforms.  So if you're glued to your phone and spend much of your time on Instagram and Twitter and Snapchat, there may be a role for you writing this type of content.

If you have an eye for detail and excellent knowledge of grammar, spelling and punctuation, there may be opportunities for you to work as a proof reader or editor.  Again, this could be a full-time, in-house position at some companies, or something you do on a freelance basis.  It's not actually writing, but you will use the skills and knowledge you have developed through writing to improve the writing of others.

And that's just a handful of the opportunities that may be available to you if you want to make a living as a writer. Even if that's not exactly what you had in mind, and your dream is to write best-selling novel after best-selling novel, doing other types of writing will only help hone your skills. I write for a living in my day job, creating web content, newsletters, press releases and corporate documents, and proof-reading and editing other documents. It all helps me become a better writer.

Good luck!  I hope you this was helpful.

X O'Abby

1 comment:

  1. +1 to the last paragraph here. I write both professionally (digital comms for political campaigns) and personally, and the cross-pollination between the two has been quite something. The only downside is sometimes at the end of the week, I have nothing left in the creative tank. But the trade-off is well worth it in my opinion.


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