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Things You Should Know About Being A Writer: Part 2:

Again, not all of this may apply to you, but it makes sense to me and it has been borne out of my own experience. Feel free to comment on anything whether you agree or not. For those who came in late, this is a list of the advice I think any writer should know and I am posting it in parts of five points/items/tips because I do want to explain some of it. Check the related posts list for the first part. Feel free to send in any tips of your own as well.

  • YOU MUST LOVE IT:
    Like I mentioned before, love it. There is often very little money in just writing for magazines and publications. It can be hard to get work and often you will have to do a lot of free work till somebody offers to pay you or to learn a particular style. It is not very likely that you will hit the bestseller lists – you have to write something, get it published and get it marketed effectively for that to happen. If your book sells for $24.95 AUD, you usually get $2.49 of that.
    Do it because you love it. By all means, believe in the fact that your book may become a bestseller but primarily love what you do. No matter what happens then, you have never wasted your time and you have had fun and when it is tiring and stressful, you do not notice and it doesn’t bother you. Instead it can often spur you on and work in your favour. So please please love what you do whatever career/job it is. Sometimes you have to go through crap and the only thing that keeps you going is the fact that you genuinely love what you do. You need to be motivated to persevere.
    When you love what you do, it shows. It turns up in your writing and gives it that WOW factor. My thesis ended up being a big bore at the end and my articles for the Sunday Leader often read much better than it does simply because my heart is in what I write for the column. Unfortunately, it wasn’t in my thesis except in little tiny pieces which is a shame. One day I will rewrite it so that it glows. One day.
  • WRITE WHAT YOU NEED TO WRITE:
    Again, if you love writing and you write about what you absolutely are dying to say, it shows and it glows. If you want to say something so much that it gets to the point where you absolutely need to say it, then write about it. It will be your best work to date. Sure, sometimes you have to write about things that don’t interest you and this may occur quite often. Always keep a creative writing option on the side for yourself, your novel or silly little scenes or try to find writing work in a niche you enjoy writing about. I write about anything but I write about my life in Perth and I work on a novel and I write about writing. I enjoy all three though I admit making myself sit down to work on the novel is often a daunting task. One of my friends writes about self help books she has read and her experiences. In fact, look for such a weblog in the near future. Moving on …
  • FEEDBACK:
    Find people who will tell you the truth – hopefully in a nice way – and nag them silly till they grudgingly accept the duty of reading your work. Whether it be novels/articles/poetry/ what have you, bully them into reading it and giving you constructive feedback. What you need to hear is not “I like/dislike it.” but rather “I didn’t like this part because …” . It doesn’t matter who these people are as long as you trust them and they aren’t an immediate family member. With family members you may know they are honest but you never know if they are biased because they are trying to be supportive. You can give them other things to do to help you out anyway. It is important that they get back to you and tell you what they thought, sometimes coordinating this among friends doesn’t always work out, sometimes people prefer writing groups.
    If you cannot handle criticism, don’t be a writer. You need it. These people catch the mistakes you don’t catch because you cannot be objective enough with your own work. Someone once caught a mistake in a character’s vocabulary that I would have never noticed otherwise.
  • RESEARCH:
    It doesn’t matter what genre you are writing it, do the required research. Always have a sheet/page set aside for any research questions that may pop up. The point is that your characters are working against a backdrop that is supposed to be the reality of their world whether it is a historical novel, a science fiction/fantasy novel or a slice of life novel. However far removed it is from present day reality, you need to make it believable to the reader and so you need to make it seem logical in the context of the story you are writing. Do the research. If you write pulp fiction set in the 1920’s, you cannot for instance write about submachine guns or pencil skirts. If you create a city in a sci fi novel, you need to ask yourself, what the inhabitants eat, why, how they grow it and so on.
    And of course, if you write articles, you need to do the research. I wrote a thesis not because I cared very terribly about the subject of my thesis (yes I should have heeded my own advice there) but because I wanted to learn more and practice my research skills so that I could be a better writer. Turns out that I am wonderful at doing the research but no so wonderful at maintaining an interest in something I don’t fully love or that I have become completely turned off to.
  • GET THE RELEVANT LICENSE(S):
    If you want to be a writer even part time, most of the time you will be technically self employed. IF you are freelancing or self employed, depending on the law where you are located, you may need to get a business license or number. If in doubt, call up your branch of the Editors’ Society.
    The reason I think you need this is because it makes it easy for other people to pay you and in Australia, at least it doesn’t pose much of a problem come tax time if you are a sole trader.
    In Australia, you get an Australian Business Number or an ABN. It’s free to apply for one and if it is just you, you apply as a sole trader. You then keep track of your income and enter it under your personal tax file number (TFN or social security number). You don’t need to fill out a separate form and it can be done without the services of an accountant, if you are sufficiently organised.
    Having an ABN entitles you to deduct business expenses. Needed a new printer? It’s a business expense. Needed to get new cartridges, stationery and pens? It’s a business expense. Having an ABN makes it easier for companies to bill you for work and gives you a sense of legitimacy. Else, they have to put you down as a subcontractor or a hobbyist or a temporary employee. More paperwork for them.
    I found this out completely by accident and it was the impetus for writing this list because I think this is important. Even when I read the article that contained this advice, it was not very straightforward as to whether it was absolutely vital to have an ABN or not. I think it would depend on individual circumstances. If you are absolutely serious and this is not a one off novel or a hobby, get one. It’s free and doesn’t cost you anything. Consult your local branch of the Editors’ Society or IPEd. Someone there must know whether what you are attempting to do in terms of writing requires an ABN or not.

Keep an eye out for the next part. In the meantime, feel free to add your comments, insights or information.

Cheers, Marisa.

Marisa is a globetrotting freelance writer, journalist and editor with cat for hire (her, not the cat). She is currently based in Melbourne.

3 Comments

  • James

    Good point about operating as a sole trader. I think this is something that a lot of aspiring/upstart writers might overlook, but in terms of coming across to a prospective employer as being serious about your work, it is essential.

  • Marisa

    Thanks James. I was rather annoyed that no one had mentioned that point that it would be useful to me if I wanted to get paid and pay taxes. If you don’t have an ABN you have to get a separate form from the tax office and fill it out every single time you have to invoice or bill someone for your work. I would find that very annoying on both the employer and the employee ends. So since it is free in Australia at least, I think it is better safe than sorry to get one if writers can.

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