How to make a living as a writer

Think bigger

You use words. You use words to evoke emotion, tell stories, record concepts, sell ideas or services or products, engage a following. Whichever of those you do, think bigger.

People are always asking me if I specialise in a particular type of writing. When I explain that I’m a writer, they want to know what KIND of writing. Novels? Website copy?

My answer is always the same now, and it’s clear:

If you need to use words to get something done, I can help you do it!

I know SO MANY AMAZING WRITERS. They’re all working as teachers or librarians or truck drivers or caregivers. Because they have a kind of writing they want to do, and they don’t know how to monetise that.

Think BIGGER.

Write everything. Write anything.

Create

Call it a portfolio if you like. A body of work. I don’t care. But create some evidence.

SHOW people you know how to write stuff, BY WRITING STUFF.

Yes, a blog, whatever. But a blog with no readers isn’t very helpful. Find a blog where they post guest authors’ work. Write for them.

Approach

Approach companies, small businesses, marketing agencies, and ask if you can write 1 or 2 things for them for free.

This will achieve 2 things for you:

  • you can now show work you’ve written for ‘clients’
  • if they like what you do, they might offer you some paid work.

Publish

Publish poetry, short stories, essays. Enter competitions and submit to publications.

A body of work with variety can have a lot of weight.

What did my body of work consist of when I started charging people thousands of dollars for my writing?

Do you know how many of those things I got paid to do?  Let’s see…  About NONE.

Brand yourself, and build a website

Do you know one of the easiest and fastest ways to establish credibility as a professional anything? A brand and a website!

So that if people search for you, they find you. And what they find needs to be THE SHIT. It needs to scream I KNOW MY STUFF. I know what I’m doing. Been there, done that. It needs to be very confident and matter of fact – here’s what I do. Here’s who I’ve done it for. Here’s where you can see what I do. And here’s what I charge.

I’m not saying once you build a website the work will start pouring in. There’s more to do – SEO, advertising, developing brand recognition.

But the FIRST, FASTEST, and EASIEST thing you can do to start establishing yourself as a freelancer is to make sure that once people hear about you, when they search for you online (because they will), that what they find reinforces EVERYTHING about your ability, experience, and professionalism.

One last piece of advice

(Oh and that website? You know how you’re a writer and you love words? Don’t write too much on your website. Make it short and punchy. Because you’re not writing this thing for you. You’re writing it for potential clients. And they’re busy. Don’t write too much on the website, duh!)

If you have something to say

If you have something to say, just SAY IT!

I need you to know this.

There are no new ideas. There are no new things to say. There is nothing to say that hasn’t been said before. If you’re waiting to have something NEW to say, you’re shit outta luck.

I can’t even tell you how many people I talk to who haven’t written that book yet, or want to blog, or something, but they say they haven’t got anything new to say.

So here’s what I want you to know

NO ONE, not anyone on the planet, has your unique combination of experience, education, history, character, personality, values, filters, psychology, even chemistry.

Not anyone else.

You might be able to group yourself in with other Virgos, or ENTJs, or air monkeys, or ambiverts, or youngest children, or divorced widows, or ANYTHING, but no other individuals in those groups have the exact same makeup as you.

It’s impossible.

And?

That means:

  • no one else will look at things quite like you.
  • no one else will express your ideas quite like you.
  • no one else can say the things you want to say, in just the same way.

So if you have something to say, for the love of all that is good and interesting and worth being said,

JUST SAY IT.

We want to hear from you.

(Love you!)

PS: Oprah’s right! #noceilingsallowed

Heeey superwoman! How’s your cape?

I did the best I could.

I tried my hardest.

I couldn’t have done more.

I used to feel guilty every time I thought or said any one of those statements. I thought they were lies.

The superwoman days

You see, I have these days every now and then that I call my superwoman days.

On those days, I get up ridiculously early, stay up ridiculously late, and accomplish a super-human amount of stuff. I go and go and go and push and push and push.

I produce, I meet milestones and deadlines and demands, all in between client meetings and calls, maybe travelling between cities, and all while wearing heels and makeup. And maybe cooking dinner and hugging a child or two.

Fuck. I’m tired even thinking about it.

Beware the lies we tell ourselves

But here’s where the lying comes in: Since I do have superwoman days, I saw those as me being my best, trying my hardest, and only those days.

Every other day I counted as me being less than. Less than my best. Less than trying my hardest.

So on difficult days, on days when I was feeling low or everything turned to shit, or all the cats didn’t get herded, or clients got let down or my feet were just too fucking sore for heels, and I tried to be kind to myself and say, I did the best I could, I didn’t believe it. I thought I could do better.

I mean, I can be superwoman! I have proof! And on this day I hadn’t. So I clearly hadn’t done my best.

I lived this way for a long, long time (hello, antidepressants).

Mindset makeover required

Until I realised that my superwoman days were just that: SUPERHUMAN.

More than my best. They were anomalies. Exceptions to the norm. Really fucking impressive and exciting, but exceptions nevertheless.

I had to acknowledge that no one can be superwoman every day. That’s not my best! It’s BEYOND MY BEST.

What I do every other day, every day when I get up and am kind to people and get shit done, and get dressed or don’t, and work or don’t, and cry or don’t, that is me doing my best. That is me trying my hardest.

Because we all fucking do the best we can, every fucking day.

Put the cape away.

Really.

Put it away.

Pull it out on special occasions.

But recognise that it’s not everyday-wear.

You’re NOT actually superwoman.

Let’s talk truths and confirmation bias

The complexities of truth

I’m really intrigued by the concept of truth.

It’s probably because one of my core values is integrity, and so truth is part of that.

What I’m interested in, though, is the complexities around truth. As an indigenous woman, for example, I have a clear position that we each have our own truth, and no one has the right to say that their truth is more true than mine. It’s one of the reasons I don’t ever get involved in a whakapapa (genealogy) debate.

I know my whakapapa because it’s what my grandparents taught me. And they knew because theirs taught them. I have no reason to doubt the truth of their knowledge and their teachings to me.

I assume you gained your knowledge of your whakapapa in a similar way. If what you know is different to what I know, I’m never going to claim that what got handed down through the generations to you is any more or less true than what got handed down to me.

We both have our truth. I can live with that.

My whāngai (adopted) daughter has a truth that families aren’t safe.

That is not my truth. In fact my truth is the exact opposite – that family is my safe place to land. It’s my absolute security. It’s a guaranteed place where all is well. I don’t know how long it will be for her to develop a new truth about that, but I believe it’s possible.

I believe that one day her truth will be: I was raised in a family that wasn’t safe. I now know family can and should be a safe place.

Carver boy has a truth that humans often can’t be trusted.  It’s that you can usually expect the worst of people, and you won’t often be disappointed.

Again, my truth is the opposite – people are good. They’re all trying to do their best and be good humans, and if I trust them, I’m rarely disappointed.

ended my second marriage ultimately because my husband couldn’t be honest with himself. He wasn’t actually lying to me and those around us, because he believed the truth that he had constructed for himself to make his narcissistic universe a place he could live with.  It was a universe where he could never be to blame for the things that went wrong. It drove me crazy – me, with my core value of integrity – to watch him construct a reality that was in conflict with the evidence around us. He wasn’t a dishonest man – he built a truth (and believed it wholeheartedly) that wasn’t my truth and I couldn’t make it my truth.

Challenging our truths

On the other hand, I’d like to think I challenge my own truths regularly.

I once got a haircut that I loved, but people were staring at me. After a week I was ready to grow it out, even though I loved the haircut. I couldn’t handle the ‘truth’ that people were staring because they thought I looked weird or dumb or bad or attention-seeking or something.

But then I asked myself if my ‘truth’ was based on evidence or assumption.

I had NO WAY of knowing why they were staring (unless I asked, and I wasn’t going to do that!).

So I decided to do an experiment:

what if,

when I caught someone looking at me, I told myself they were staring because they loved my hair?  Just LOVED IT? What if I chose to believe it was an awesome hairstyle, and that other people agreed, and that catching them staring was evidence to support that?

I started walking with my head held higher. I started smiling at the people glancing my way. I’ve kept that hairstyle for YEARS. People tell me all the time how much they love it.

I built a truth that helped me feel good. Did I construct that truth for myself? Yes. And it’s a resourceful truth, and I’m keeping it.

So what?

So, confirmation bias

I guess I’m thinking about confirmation bias.

That phenomenon where we believe something is true, so we seek confirmation of it.

My daughter seeks confirmation that families aren’t safe, and finds it. Carver boy seeks confirmation that people can’t be trusted, and finds it. I sought confirmation that my hair was cool, and I found it.

So maybe you could check in on your truths occasionally.

  1. What is your truth?
  2. Is it a truth which is resourceful and helpful to you?
  3. If not, what would be a more resourceful truth? What evidence would confirm that for you? And can you start seeking it out?

What can you accomplish today?

Living with depression

I’ve lived with depression officially for 15 years but in truth probably closer to 20.

I’m all good with that. It’s part of me. We manage. I know how it works and what to watch for and what to do about it.

And when I’m having a low day/week/time, everything feels like too much.

Everywhere I look, there are things. Things I need to do. That I feel like I can’t do.

It makes me want to cry, sleep, eat and or drink myself sick. None of which are helpful, but some of which I still do sometimes.

The POWER to do ONE THING!

When I have the presence of mind, what I tell myself is to pick one thing.

Just one.

I’ll shower. That’s all I need to do. Or I’ll do the dishes. That’s all I need to do. Or I’ll pick up that thing off the floor that’s taunting me. Or I’ll drive to the supermarket and just get milk. Cos even though we really need a full grocery excursion, we can’t do without milk right now, so I’ll just get that. I don’t even need to put on a bra.

Just go.

Cos who the fuck cares what I look like? Only me.

These are the mind games I play with myself to survive the low times.

Pick. One. Thing.

Because one thing almost always leads to one more thing. And before you know it, you’ve adulted for a time. And the day passes. And tomorrow’s a new day.

So even if you’re not depressed, what’s one thing you can accomplish today? One simple thing? One thing you’ll be able to look back on as you go to sleep and pat yourself on the back and say, go you, you did that thing?

What can you accomplish today?