The Insult of Being Called an Amateur Writer

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Amongst writers it is a well-known fact that the majority of us can’t earn enough just from our writing to give up all other forms of employment. There are a lucky few but not nearly as many as those of us wanting to join those few would like. It doesn’t mean we give up on writing. It just means we supplement our incomes with other work like editing, teaching and more often than not jobs that have absolutely no link to what it is we’d much rather be doing.

In 2014, I was lucky enough to be able to begin three years in which I spent the majority of my time writing my own work full-time. During the times I wasn’t writing my own work, I was employed as a writer writing for others (six months here, six weeks there but for less than a year of those three years). Prior to that, I spent six-and-a-half years as a corporate writer and before that, I was a textbook editor for three years. I even have two postgraduate writing degrees.

And in the past five years, I’ve published three books, written two more, ghost-written another, written and published over 400 blog posts, and written and published about two dozen articles, one of which had over 10,000 views on LinkedIn. I was even shortlisted for the 2016 Text Prize for my upcoming novel, Black Spot, and it was a point of pride for me when one of Text Publishing’s employees told me my book wouldn’t need an editor because I’d done such a good job.

So imagine my surprise when, as I sat right beside him, my father told a group of his friends and acquaintances that I was an “amateur writer”. Continue reading

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Why I Sometimes Don’t Want to Tell People I’m a Writer

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Imagine this scenario:

“Hi, I’m Rachel.”
“Hi, Rachel. I’m John. What do you do?”
“I’m a receptionist.”
“So you just sit around talking on the phone all day?”
“It’s a bit more involved than that.”
“Where do you work?”
“At a small family company.”
“Oh. That’s a shame. Any chance you might be able to move on to a big corporate?”
“I’m happy where I am.”
“Are you a good receptionist?”
“I haven’t been asked to do it differently so I guess I am.”
“How many calls do you take a day?”
“Um, well, I’m not sure…”
“How much do you earn?”
“That’s not really any of your business.”
“But how will I know for sure if you’re a good receptionist?”
“Call the main switch and I’ll make sure I transfer you to the right person.”
“But that won’t tell me if others think you’re a good receptionist.”
“I like what I do. I don’t really care if others think I’m a good receptionist. And I really don’t care what you think.”
“That’s a pretty poor attitude for a receptionist to have.”
“Stop talking to me.”

Okay, so it seems like John is a special kind of asshat. But imagine now an almost identical conversation with just a couple of small changes: Continue reading

The A to Z of Writing

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Just because everybody loves a good listicle (so I hope it qualifies), here’s the A to Z of writing.

A is for Authenticity – you don’t have to know what you’re talking about. Write what you know, write what you don’t know but just make sure you sound like you know what you’re talking about. If you write about the police force and someone actually in the police force reads your book lacking in accuracy or verisimilitude (the ring of truth), then that person won’t hesitate to tell the world. And you’ll just come off as someone who couldn’t be bothered doing a little bit of research.

B is for Brainstorming – it’s one thing to have an idea but to bring it to life with all the little details that give it depth, you’ll have to do a lot of brainstorming. If you want to write about a man who kills his father, great (maybe not for your father, who might wonder why). But it becomes two very different stories depending on whether the son had a happy upbringing or an abusive one. And only brainstorming will get you to the point where the story makes meaningful sense. Continue reading

When You Don’t Want to Write Anymore

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I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a child. There were some casual flirtations with other career options during my teenage years: lawyer (I did work experience at a suburban law firm), political operative (I studied Australian and international politics as part of my Bachelor of Arts degree when I was 17, 18 and 19) and strangely even a hairdresser when I was in primary school (I think there may have been some peer pressure involved with this one).

But most writers don’t earn enough to just write so even after finishing my Bachelor of Arts and going on to finish a two-year writing and editing qualification and start a master’s degree in writing, I forged a career elsewhere. I started in administration (isn’t that where everyone starts?) to get some office-based experience and wrote in my spare time. I moved into an editing role in the same industry that I gained my administration experience and continued writing in my spare time.

And then finally I got my first writing job. A corporate job in a sales and marketing department in a new industry, writing tender responses and sales proposals for corporate clients as well as a variety of other types of content aimed at convincing people to hand over fistfuls of money. And I stopped writing in my spare time. Continue reading

The Fundamental Misunderstanding About Full-Time Writers

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At the end of February 2015, I finished a six-month contract and decided not to look for another full-time job straight away. Instead, I was going to write. I was going to devote all my available time to writing.

I had the savings to be able to do it. It was financially irresponsible in the long term but important to my sanity and the amount of writing I was able to do in the short term. So I did it.

In the first few months, people were supportive. “Good for you!” “You look so relaxed.” “God, I’d love to be able to do the same thing.” After a few months, people were concerned: “When are you going to start looking for a job?” “Are you okay for money?” “Don’t you get bored?” Now, after more than six months, people are disapproving: “You’re still unemployed?”

And this is where the fundamental misunderstanding referred to in the heading rears its ugly head. I am not unemployed. I am a writer. I am financially supporting myself. And I work a full-time job just like anybody else. Continue reading

Exposure Versus Exploitation: Should You Work for Free?

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You’re starting your career or perhaps embarking on a new one and while you have the theoretical knowledge, you don’t have the experience (the first of many ‘e’ words that will dominate this article). So should you take on some unpaid work for the exposure (there’s another) or is this just yet another form of exploitation (and a third, for those of you playing the home game) of the employee (four) by the employer (okay, I’ll stop now)? Continue reading