As a professional writer, your goal is to make money. Okay, so I didn’t say anything all that profound there, but if you’re like me, chances are anything with numbers or dollar signs can make your head spin. (Lucky for me my husband is a CPA so I can outsource some of the details to him.)
However, whether I like it or not, when it comes to being a professional writer there are still things I need to do. For instance, I need to be tracking what assignments I have, how much am I charging, what am I spending on and make sure I get compensated for my work.
Assuming that you are already submitting your work and being paid, here are some things to keep in mind. (And just FYI, I have been guilty of not doing at least one of these on a regular basis):
1. Record all your work -- I record all articles assigned and the track when they were submitted, whether they have run or not.
2. Send out invoices in a timely manner.
3. Record all payments.
To keep track of my assignments, invoices and payments I use a spreadsheet in Excel. Every time I get a new assignment I add it to an Excel doc I call “Assignments.” (I know it’s a very clever title!) I also keep separate excel files with individual tabs along with story assignments and payment lists for my regular clients. (Yes, these lists will overlap and as far as I’m concerned that’s a good thing. I’d rather double-up then accidentally miss something!)
BTW, if the idea of spreadsheets is too complicated (and believe me I know where you are coming from!!) you can accomplish the same thing in a notebook or binder that you customize to fit your needs.
If you are just starting out and maybe not yet generating income, it’s still a good idea for you to get in the habit of recording everything. That new box of pens you bought to help with editing your work, it’s a business expense -- go ahead and record it as such. Traveled into the city to meet a prospective client? Yep, it’s a business expense, write it down.
It may take a while to get the hang of all of this, but the more you do it, the more conscious you will become of how much revenue you are bringing in, how much you spending and you may gain some insight into what you need to do to make your writing business profitable.
EXERCISE: Take a piece of paper and divide it into columns -- ideas for columns include assignment name, the editor you are working with, deadline due, fee and whether you have filed the story or not. Other columns may include hourly rate, whether the story ran, if you have billed and the check number of any payments received. Then on the left side of the page list all the stories you’ve had for the last few weeks or months and fill the columns accordingly.
COMING TOMORROW: STEP NUMBER 5!
There are reasons that people believe the common misconception about writers not really “work” for a living. Part of it is because people learned to “write” in grade school, they think they are technically writers. Then there’s the other half of it -- the would-be writer who never puts a single word down on paper because he or she is waiting for inspiration to strike.
Both of these things may be, on some level true, but they are not indicative of real writers.
To be a real, working writer, you must be professional. That means you act professionally when dealing with others (no emojis when pitching an editor), you are committed to your craft and you are setting job goals just as you would in any other field.
A writer’s goals will vary depending on where you are in your career. If you are just starting out and want to write novels you may set a goal of writing 3 pages a day for yourself. On the other hand, if you have been toiling away at a very small community paper your goal may be to pitch a large feature to a magazine with a larger circulation.
Successful businesspeople take risks and as a professional writer looking to be successful you need to put into practice the same dedication and devotion to your work as other do to theirs. No one became a doctor simply because they held a stethoscope in their hands and no one becomes a writer simply because they pick up a pen or wrote an essay in high school.
Exercise: Look back at a few correspondents you have had with editors. Check the language and tone. Do you come across as a professional? When you are working are you setting a schedule and goals for yourself? Are you growing as a writer? All of these things are hallmarks of a professional writer.
UPS & DOWNS
Ideally you want to be a working writer because you enjoy playing with words and crafting stories or sharing a message. But as in any other profession there are days when the work is tough, the words don’t come and when the word “no” is heard far too often. Don’t let these days get you down.
Celebrate you successes and plan for the “down" time -- have “busy work” to keep you engaged while focusing on a different, but related, business task.
Exercise: Brainstorm ideas of things you can do when the writing gets a bit tough or you got an unexpected rejection. Maybe you’ll want to work on a list of blog ideas or take a walk outside or grab a coffee and vent to a friend. Whatever it is that will work for you, go ahead and try it and then get right back to work!
Keep Learning -- Maybe you think you already know everything about writing -- and after years of schooling where writing, spelling and grammar are stressed it’s easy to understand why you think so -- but as with any profession there are always new things to learn. Perhaps, you want to broaden your editing skills so that you can add copy editing to your repetoire or maybe you need to learn some basic graphic skills so you can better discuss art for your stories. Always learning, always striving to know more and do more are hallmarks of a good writer and dedicated professional.
Exercise: Think about a skill that you could use a boost in. Perhaps it’s populating your won blog or dealing with clients, whatever it is set a goal and start learning how you can be more successful.
Given the number of writers who work from home on their own, the number of would-be writers out there and the number of people who think writing is, well, super easy, I thought it was time to talk about what it means to be a working writer. (Emphasis on the word “work.”)
Each day this week, Monday to Friday, we’ll examine one step “working writers” should be doing to grow their skills, their business and their word count.
Each day’s “tip” will include an exercise designed to get you motivated and on your way to being a working writer.
SHOW UP ON TIME
You may not have to punch a time clock or log into your computer at exactly 9am every day, but you should have set hours when you are working. Ideally, they should be the same hours everyday (at least when starting out) so you can get in the habit of writing regularly. Being a working writer is like having an other “job” and takes the same dedication you would if you were working as a doctor on a rotation or a server at a restaurant.
EXERCISE: Take out your planner or daily calendar and find a half-hour time slot where you can write at least three times this week. Try to up the number of days you are writing as you get more and more used to having a set writing schedule.
Like many novelists I have a ton of manuscripts that I wrote as I was learning the process that probably should never see the light of day -- or the eyes of other readers. They were my writing training wheels, once I got to take them off my bike (or my writing, in this case) I shouldn’t have to go back and use them again.
I think those stories represent the best that I could do at that time, and for many reasons most of those stories and the characters that lived in them no longer work for me.
There are, however, one or two novels that were written not too early in my career, but that definitely have potential to appeal to some readers. The dilemma I now face is do I revise those old works and make them reader-friendly? Do I use the writing and editing skills that I spent years honing to see if I can re-establish the magic I felt when I wrote those initial books? Or should spend my writing hours continuing to create new pieces and leave the past in the past ...
What do you think? Are there some manuscripts that deserve a second chance at a readership?
Writer, Editor and Author of the Achdus Club novels for girls.