Create the Writing Life You Want

By Marg McAlister

Ah, writing. For those of us who love to play with words, it's like standing in front of a smorgasbord, agonising over which delicacies to try. You can potter about with your writing as a thoroughly delightful hobby - writing wedding speeches, penning dreadful doggerel for people's birthdays, or writing stories to entertain your children. Or you can work at it, hour after hour, determined that your book is going to be the next bestseller. You can choose the writing life that's perfect for you now, then change direction later, as your circumstances change and your experience grows.


I'm going to work on an assumption here - that you actually like writing. (I can't imagine any other reason you'd be reading this article. If you don't like to write, why are you being such a masochist? There are thousands of other jobs out there that will suit you better. Stop reading this and go find one.) So, given that you like to write, you should now ask yourself: 'Do I like writing enough to do it full time, or do I want to keep it as a hobby?'

If you just want to keep it as a hobby, then you are relieved of a number of 'duties' already. Since it's a hobby, you don't have to earn money. You don't have to please editors. You don't have to be published. You can scribble in faint grey pencil on a table napkin if you want - nobody else has to read it. And best of all, you don't ever have to write anything except what you want to write!


Most of us are not in that situation. We either want to write as a paid hobby (which might also be known as 'part time writing') or we want to work towards a full time career. Let's look at 'part time writing' first, and assume that you wouldn't mind being paid for what you do. (At least in kind - a free book or meal in exchange for your carefully produced text.) If you want to be paid, then you are faced with a certain set of responsibilities. You have to make sure that the person paying you can read your work, so faint grey pencil is out. In fact, it's very likely that good clear word processing is in.

Hmmm... this is beginning to sound expensive. Suddenly it's taking money to make money. You have to invest in your career - in the form of hardware and software and consumables. You have to think about GST and that means a business name. Your part time writing career might take up more time, and cost more money, than you had expected.


But wait... you have more decisions to make. Are you going to concentrate on just one kind of writing (say, writing short stories for popular magazines) or are you going to peddle your words in any way that will bring in cash?

There are lots of people out there who require writers. They need wordsmiths to write their 21st birthday party speeches, or to put together smart resumes and application letters, or to create snappy promotional material for their business flyers. If you're happy enough to do all of these things and more, then you can certainly generate a part-time (or even full-time) income. Of course, you may have to advertise, and obtain business cards, and that costs more money... but don't worry: the better you become at what you do, the more your clients will do your advertising for you. ("Oh, you must get so and so to do your flyer; she's really good...")


Time to move on to the Serious Writer. Serious Writers come in two flavours: the ones who want to write the Great Australian Novel (or win one of the major literary awards for novels) and disdain networking, marketing, self-promotion and all those mundane things.

They are passionately committed to writing literary fiction, and if it takes twenty or forty years of living off relatives or typing at night after their day job, then so be it. Some of these Serious Writers can write like angels and will undoubtedly achieve what they want. Others never mix with anybody else and have no idea that their work is substandard or boring until they get their first rejection. (They may not realise even when they get their hundredth rejection.)


The other kind of Serious Writer is the one who is determined to make a success of writing, investing as much time, energy and cash as is needed. He is happy to network and talk to clients or editors and other writers. Sometimes this becomes a broad-based writing career - this person just loves words and crafting finished pieces of writing, whether it's fiction, non-fiction or promotional material. He is happy to be writing - any kind of writing!

Not everyone is happy to write whatever puts bread on the table. Some writers are content to do an assortment of fiction (mainstream, romances, or romantic intrigue, for example) or to target one specific genre - say speculative fiction - in both short and long formats. They spend time tracking down other aspiring writers in these genres, swap stories of near-misses and 'good and bad' rejections, and share the jubilation of finally getting a 'yes'. If you are determined to write only what you want to write, then don't give up your day job in a hurry - it might take a while and a few 'practice books' to get your first acceptance.

What you can do, right now, is determine the writing life you want-and start working towards it. Begin by asking yourself the ten questions below.


  1. Would I rather do any kind of writing than do other work? (If the answer is 'yes', and you know you handle words with creativity whether you're writing a short story or a letter to the bank, then a multi-faceted writing career might suit you.)
  2. Can I identify a range of writing that I would be happy to attempt? Is there a need for this writing? Can I provide a special service, or target a niche market?
  3. What kind of books do I like to read? Are these the kinds of books I'd enjoy writing?
  4. How much money do I need to spend on equipment or resources to start a writing business? If I haven't got this money, how long will it take me to save it or obtain it?
  5. How many hours can I devote to writing?
  6. Do I need a separate office and phone line, or can I share a computer with the family?
  7. What other commitments do I have? What other demands are there on my time?
  8. If I could choose any kind of writing at all to do, what would it be? Can I work towards this, even if I can't spend all my time on it now?
  9. Do I have a network of supportive people - friends, family and other writers - to help me achieve what I want? If I don't, can I find these people?
  10. What can I do RIGHT NOW to set my writing career in motion, or to start moving in the direction I really want?

(c) Copyright Marg McAlister

Marg McAlister has published magazine articles, short stories, books for children, ezines, promotional material, sales letters and web content. She has written 5 distance education courses on writing, and her online help for writers is popular all over the world. Sign up for her regular writers' tipsheet at

Five Steps to Starting a Freelance Writing Career

Chris Bibey

The number of people who aspire to become freelance writers is astonishing. Unfortunately, most of these people never take the time to chase their dream. Instead, they work their 9 to 5 office job, take orders from a crabby boss, and get paid less than what they are worth. If you want to be a freelance writer and are tired of any of the issues above, it is time to make a move. The more you procrastinate the more time you are losing.

Even though it will take time to build a successful freelance writing career, the steps to actually getting started are simple. No, these steps do not guarantee loads of money, but they will put you on the right path to earning a solid income sometime in the future.

Here are five steps to starting a freelance writing career.

1. Sooner rather than later, you need to build up enough courage to ditch your current job. Many people are afraid of making the change, and there is nothing wrong with that. Changing jobs can be difficult enough, and doing so to a career that is as unstable as freelance writing can be downright scary. But if you never suck it up and decide to take the chance, you will go on working the same old job, day in and day out.

To combat some of the fear of a sudden change, you may want to consider a part-time career in freelance writing for the time being. In other words, keep your day job and moonlight as a freelance writer. This will allow you to get your feet wet without having to give up your regular earnings. Is this going to be a lot of work? Sure is! But when you finally have enough clients to go into freelance writing full-time, you will realize that the work was well worth it.

2. Determine what area of freelance writing you want to get into. Some people think that all writing is the same, but find out soon enough that this is a myth. Many writers concentrate on web content, whereas others would rather write for print magazines. It does not matter what area of concentration you choose, as long as you choose one. Trying to be everything to everyone can quickly bog you down.

3. Do you have any freelance writing samples? If not, you need to put together a portfolio right away. When you approach clients or bid on jobs, one of the first things that you will be asked for is samples. If you have samples relevant to the potential client, make sure that you offer those first. They will give you the best chance of landing the job. But even if you only have general samples, they are better than nothing.

When writing samples, make sure that they are your best work. After all, you do not want to show potential clients sub par work. Additionally, when putting together your portfolio, add several different types of projects. This could include everything from a sales letter to a feature article and much more. The more samples in your portfolio, the better chance you have of supplying a relevant piece.

4. Do not jump ahead of yourself. There is nothing wrong with being ambitious and wanting your freelance writing career to take off from the onset. But if you get too far ahead of your capabilities, you could find yourself tied down with work that you are not sure about. Consider every job offer that you receive, and use your best judgment when deciding how to move forward.

5. Setting rates is one of the most difficult tasks for a freelance writer. This is especially true for beginners who do not know anything about industry averages, or what most clients are willing to pay. Do yourself a favor and research what other writers are charging. From there, adjust your rates to suit your experience and potential client base. Remember, freelance writing rates are not written in stone. After you gain more experience you can adjust your rates accordingly.

If you want to start a freelance writing career, you now how five steps that can guide you from day one. While working through these steps, you may find that you have to make changes to suit your lifestyle and career path. But for the most part, all five of these steps will have to be conquered sooner or later.

After several years in the corporate world, I put my college degree to good use by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Three months later, my income level had reached that of my previous sales job. Within a year, I was consistently earning $5k/month.

You can do it too.

(For more articles by this author, check out

How to Write an Article in 20 Minutes

Jim Estill

Believe it or not, it only takes me 20 minutes to write a 400-500 word article. This article (which I wrote in 20 minutes) explains some of the tricks I use to accomplish this.

Blogging gives me a daily deadline, and I don’t really want to spend more than 20 minutes each day on blogging. Many of my blog entries are actually less than 500 words so take me less time.

Taking up blogging got me to start thinking seriously about writing quickly, and you may be facing a blogging time-crunch as well. So here are my 8 tips for writing an article in 20 minutes or less.

  1. I start with a list of ideas and concepts I want to cover. Usually I write this list in point form. For me, I do this the old fashioned way, with a pen and paper.
  2. I often “incubate” an article for a few days (this does not count in the 20 minutes). What I do is start roughing out some topic ideas then leave it. Because I have thought about it, ideas tend to come to me that I frequently add to my points. Of course I always carry a notebook for ideas.
  3. I often need to reduce the number of ideas that I cover. Sometimes they do not fit with the angle of the article or do not flow with the other ideas. Sometimes I have to give up a point to write a good article.
  4. Never save a good idea. When I know I have many article deadlines to meet, it is tempting to “save” a few good ideas for later. New ideas will always come so always give your best ideas.
  5. Develop tricks to get past writers block. One way I do this is ”warm up” writing. I just sit down and write for 5 minutes. This tends to help subsequent writing to flow. Another way I do this is to go for a walk, cycle or a run (although sometimes I think I might use this to procrastinate a bit too). Another trick I use is to make a game out of the deadline – say I will do it by X o’ clock. Perhaps I am simple but this motivates me.
  6. Come back to it later. My best articles are written partly, revisited a few times, then finished. I spend the same 20 minutes, though only 5-7 minutes per session. Of course if the ideas are flowing well, I do keep writing.
  7. I often write 3-4 articles at the same time. Spending 5 minutes on one, 7 on another etc. When I am really in writing flow, this works well.
  8. One trick is using bullet points or numbered points as in this article. People seem to like this technique and it helps articles flow for me.

So if I can write so quickly, why don’t I write a few articles each day? Apart from the fact that I have a very full time job, writing is the easy part; coming up with the ideas is the tough part.

Ideas anyone?

About the Author: Jim Estill is the CEO of Canadian computer product company SYNNEX and the author of the Time Leadership blog and book.