What Does It Mean to Be A Working Writer? (IWSG Post)

Insecure Writers Support Group October 2020 Post

This month’s question: When you think of the term working writer, what does that look like to you? What do you think it is supposed to look like? Do you see yourself as a working writer or aspiring or hobbyist, and if latter two, what does that look like?

In 2019, I entered the realm of indie publishing with my book Tangled Roots. It was the culmination of a journey toward publishing that began in 2008, when I finished graduate school and began writing furiously.

There were struggles: a couple of serious health diagnoses that upended my world for a time and forced me to rethink my path—and take a few detours. (Note: Neither was life-threatening, and both are now well-managed.) Add in massive disruptions in the publishing industry, combined with the ever-shifting landscape of publishing trends. You know. The usual.

By 2019, I was in my mid-thirties, newly diagnosed with a chronic pain disorder that, while not progressive or life-threatening, changed the way I moved about the world. I am grateful that a combination of lifestyle management and medical treatments keep the worst of the symptoms in check—and even more grateful that, while the condition is lifelong and the symptoms will ebb and flow, it won’t worsen over time.

So, in 2019, I hung up my librarian’s cardigan and set out on the path of working writer. Before, I had been “aspiring to be published/yet to be published/not yet published.” But with the publication of my first full-length work of romantic fantasy, I was on the path. I was a working writer.

I’m not sure what that means other than that, basically every day, I show up at the page to wrestle with words, wrangling them into forms both pleasing and engaging, crafting worlds of magic and romance out of scribbles and scratches of ink.

Looking back, I see that I was sick of waiting. I’m not sure what I was waiting for. Permission? Permission from the world, from some publishing somebody, to wave me through the gates?

That’s ridiculous, of course. Because in the early 2010s, authors like Amanda Hocking, Hugh Howey, and others had already flung the gates wide open.

Maybe it was self-doubt, feeling like I wasn’t good enough. Yes, that.

Ultimately, I was tired of letting fear stop me. I had so many stories inside of me, yearning to be shared, and I knew I wasn’t content to live my life with a hard drive full of unpublished manuscripts that just needed “one more polish.”

I jumped in. Today, the normal day in my working writer’s life is a mix of writing, responding to emails, troubleshooting random things, learning and experimenting with aspects of writing/publishing/marketing/advertising/etc., more writing.

As I write this, it’s a Sunday afternoon. My day has basically been:

  • Morning coffee while listening to Dar Williams
  • A long walk in the woods with hubby and our dog, cool autumn air against my skin
  • Pausing to watch a YouTube video of a DIY cabin cost breakdown, because hubby and I are dreaming of building a cabin on a piece of land in the mountains
  • Drinking green tea while plotting and planning the third novelette in my Faerie Spells Series, The Midnight Path
  • Checking in with my writing accountability partner and chatting about our projects and processes
  • Doing laundry
  • Penning and scheduling this blog post
  • Trying to meet a writing goal of getting 1,000-1,200 words on the page in The Midnight Path today.
  • A brief pause to look at land listings in a nearby county because, well, dreaming
  • Forgetting to make dinner and then running downstairs to search the pantry for ingredients
  • Making a quick and easy dinner
  • Eating dinner while hubby and I watch an episode of Community
  • More words The Midnight Path (today’s word count goal met and exceeded!)
  • Folding laundry
  • Reading and kitty snuggles until I’m thoroughly exhausted

That’s a long, rambling rundown of today. Weekdays are different, and I try to keep them more structured, but I’m sort of like a hummingbird, flitting from flower to flower in search of nectar, and I like to move around to keep the fibromyalgia pain at bay.

So, what’s different now that I’m a working writer?

Accountability. I have two books out in a series, which motivates me to get more books in the series out. When you’re unpublished, you can bounce from one project to another, but being published requires more of a set schedule. I do have an editorial schedule for projects. Once I start publishing a series, I want to keep going at a sustainable pace and get the book out there for readers who want to know what happens next in the series.

There’s also a balancing act. Writing, editing, getting books to beta readers and proofreaders, taking part in group promos, bookkeeping, website maintenance, tracking sales/income/expenses, and doing marketing and promotions.

But mostly, structure. I find that being a working writer offers a sense of structure that was lacking when I didn’t have a clear direction. I’m an entrepreneur, running a business now, and that means showing up at the page, finishing the projects I start, meeting the deadlines I set, and learning to set realistic deadlines.

So, if I were asked if being a published writer is different from being a yet-to-be-published writer? I’d say emotionally, no. If you struggled with doubt before, you’ll still have those moments of doubt. If you had a fear of failure before, it will still be there. You’re still the same person, after all.

What changes is the day-to-day structure. I can’t tinker with a book for three years like I did before. At some point, it goes from manuscript to book, and then it’s in the hands of readers, and I’m moving on to the next thing. There’s a great deal of psychological satisfaction in that—in knowing that a book is finished, and I can move on with that sense of satisfaction to the next thing.

But I’m also thinking about that story differently. I think about how to help readers who love that type of story discover it. I think about whether to work with a narrator to create an audiobook. I think about series arcs and dream about spinoffs and then decide which dreams become goals and how to make plans that lead to those goals being accomplished.

How I think differently as a working writer:

  • Once I start publishing a series, I want to commit to consistently putting books in that series out. So, I can’t project-hop like I did before. I have an editorial schedule.
  • I’m juggling other aspects of the process—publishing, promotion, and business in addition to writing.
  • I’ve let go of the myth of endless revision. (And am much happier as a result!)
  • I learn new aspects of the business of publishing daily.
  • My goals are more tangible, which, for me personally, motivates me to be more consistent and disciplined in my work.
  • I use more strategy in how I manage my time and the types of projects I take on.
  • I experiment with different things, but with clear ways of analyzing whether an experiment succeeded or failed (posting flash fiction on my website went well—good engagement and click-through to my books, but my Goodreads giveaway was a flop).

Overall, as a working writer, I get to use my analytical side more—that side of me that values practicality and things like metrics and data. But at the end of the day, a lot of what I do involves green tea with honey, an open laptop, fingers flying furiously over the keys, and the magic of storytelling.

And I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Insecure Writers Support Group offers a home for writers of all stages to encourage and support one another. Join the monthly blog hop here!

Fantasy & paranormal romance author. Witch. Tarot reader. Possibly a woodland faerie. Witches, magic, & romance await in the pages of my stories.


    • denisedyoungbooks

      Thanks for stopping by, Natalie!

      I try. There are days when I’m crossing things off my to-do list left and right, or when I get in the flow with a story and the magic of the story carries me away. I feel like I need to write a follow-up post about the days when the writing doesn’t flow. I don’t always feel disciplined. More like, determined, which is maybe a type of disciplined. I have clear goals, and that helps.

      And with that, you’ve just inspired at least 2 more blog posts. 🙂

    • denisedyoungbooks

      Exactly! Some part of me imagined I would magically overcome negative thought patterns, bad habits, etc., once I started publishing. The reality is, those things still trip me up plenty. One thing that has gotten easier is dealing with imposter syndrome. Because I’m in the arena, doing this, putting my work out there, so with each book, it’s easier to let go. But yes, more work, faster pace definitely describes the life of a working writer! Thanks for visiting, Melissa!

  • Steph W

    I look forward to the day that I can leave my day job behind. I am stuck working one project at a time because of time shortage. It sounds like you have made a great transition and are finding success in the routines. I also get stuck on those land websites. We have been trying to find land for months now, plans and contractor waiting. Good luck with your search and your writing! Blessed Be.

  • Suzanne Furness

    The magic of storytelling, it’s wonderful when the words flow isn’t it? It was interesting to read about your writing journey to date. It seems that you have created some routines that help to keep you moving forward. Best wishes.

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