Six Months of Relentlessly Writing Web Content...
… Has changed me as a writer. I don't mean the buzzwords, the keywords and the SEO articles – nor do I mean in vocabulary – I mean in style.
I always had my heart set on the little twisted stories. Growing up I loved R L Stine and TV shows like 'The Twilight Zone'. If it was odd, supernatural or unexplained I was profoundly interested in it. Two years ago, when I decided to focus on becoming a professional writer, I had my heart set on horror, sci-fi and dystopian fiction – even while knowing that the dystopian market is saturated to the point of overspill. Somebody told me very early in my life that I should write what I loved. What I loved was twisted, so that's what I wrote.
After two years of being paid in 'exposure' I'd had enough. I released the Dark Science Series and realised it was the only money I had ever made out of writing. The feeling was ambiguous; at once painful (as someone in their early thirties who first picked up a pen at 14) and inspiring. I decided that if I was going to make it in my chosen industry then I was going to have to make some sacrifices. Out of the hour every day that I spent writing the novels, I devoted increasingly more time to sourcing new clients and building up an online presence. I released Valerian: Dark Science, part two, and realised the profits didn't match what I was making in web content. I despaired.
I have read a lot about this now. Many young writers have the love of their craft quashed when they sell their souls and start making money from actual paying companies – but not me, I'm a third of the way through my fourth book, the third is with the proof reader, I'm guest editing two different projects and I spend an hour or two a day writing SEO and web content that other people find good enough to put on their pages. Don't get me wrong – I still work a day job. I still have to endure the slog of going to work for someone else. I think that the point I'm trying to make is similar to a quote I once read (one that I would have included here but couldn't find.) It said that the difference between a professional writer and an amateur one is very simple: the professional was an amateur who was too stubborn to give up.
This is how the writing industry is. You can write the most prophetic piece of your whole life and it might go largely unnoticed simply because nobody knows who you are. Then when it does get noticed that's brilliant – but who is paying you for it? This is not an industry where people will hang on your every word, this is not an industry where some publisher is going to see you writing on a train and buy your book. It is a cold, hard and unforgiving industry, even for those who are at the top of their game. Worse: whether or not you succeed depends not one jot on your skill level – but almost entirely upon your willingness to work for pittance and your absolute refusal to let it go.
I suppose what I am getting at is that being a writer isn't like most jobs. You have to live it. You have to throw yourself into it and never stop trying no matter how many rejections you get. You have to double up your time if you want to write novels as well as make money – you have to commit. You have to throw yourself into it a hundred percent and – every so often – you have to write things you don't enjoy, in a style you don't like or for a client you suspect has questionable motives. That's just the business. If you want to keep electric in the meter you have to alter your standards and be too stubborn to give up. And that, my friends, is all it takes.
On that note I would like to finish this blog entry on a lighter tone. There is a very famous quote from the Master of Horror himself that goes a little something like this:
“If you wrote something for which someone sent you a cheque, if you cashed the cheque and it didn't bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented.”
Let me modify it only slightly... If you wrote something and someone paid you for it – then I consider you a professional writer. Congratulations – I think. Welcome to the relentless world of competitive literature. Let's just hope we all make it out of here alive.