Remember grammar school? Most of the material was pretty basic, but I’m guessing you can easily pinpoint the subject that caused you the most angst. For me, it was geography. I found myself amused that The United States resembled a decapitated Thanksgiving turkey lying on its side, but ask me what was inside its borders and I seemed to fall right into a post-turkey tryptophan daze. I hoped I’d never need to know where Dallas, Seattle, or Boston was, and it turns out I didn’t — Google has helped me to navigate that gobbler.
However, there are some scholarly lessons that I’ve found to be indispensable. If you’re contemplating a career as a freelance writer or a ghostwriter, there are a few that you’ll need to draw upon. Before you quit your job to work as a full-time writer, grade yourself in these three subjects:
1. Reading: You cannot be a writer unless you are a reader. For obvious reasons, sure. But maybe less obviously, unless you have a seething passion for the way a sentence feels as it winds around your frontal lobe, you’re not going to be able to sustain an interest in writing. At first it might give you quite a charge and you might feel empowered by pajama day in the middle of the week, but it won’t last. Pretty soon, you’ll get that same feeling you got when your boss dropped a plateau of paperwork on your desk. You’ll feel like a tiger in a cage. The quick test is this: if you’ve been confronted for loitering at the library or if your favorite rock stars are book authors, you’ve got a writer’s underpinnings.
2. Writing: This is one of those old Talent vs. Toil arguments, but I’m not sure there should be a disagreement at all. I truly believe that a healthy helping of each is necessary for quitting your day job and going for that lifelong writing gig. Mechanical knowledge isn’t enough — you can’t really teach yourself an affinity for language. Just like musicians hear a piece differently than the average listener, a person with inherent writing skills immediately recognizes good writing and its musical quality. As for the toil: talent is a gift that can be squandered as easily as a cash prize. In order to develop that gift, your toil must turn to tumult and eventually to mild torture. But in the end, you’ll be a writer.
3. ‘Rithmatic: As is the reality for most people who abandon their regular jobs for the notepad in the sky, you must ensure that you can support yourself with the money you’ll make. This can be difficult, since freelancing is French for feast-or-famine. Be willing to re-budget or take a part-time job at the drive-thru, prepare to think of 31 ways to use peanut butter, or give your willing supporter a great big kiss. Unless you can find ways to reduce your wants, you may never make it past the rusty, rickety writer’s starting gate.
If you’re ready for the reading, writing, and ‘rithmatic, you might be ready to plunge into the wordy world that I thrash around in every day. It’s a tremendous decision to have to make — it should not be taken lightly. Still on the fence? Send any questions via a comment and I’ll answer your ghostwriting, book writing, and freelance writing questions.