There are some careers that provoke imagination, and the writing profession is one of them. I’m not speaking of the writer’s imagination, but the curiosity of others. People wonder what it’s really like to be a writer—how a writer spends their day and how their mind works. I’m a career-writer. I’ve been writing for publication for over forty years—articles for magazines, mostly. Those of you who are old enough to remember when magazines were popular, might be familiar with some of them—Woman’s World, Country Woman, Cat Fancy, Cats, Writers Digest, Entrepreneur, Catholic Digest, The Toastmaster, Vibrant Life, Pet Age and many others. (Some of these are actually still being published.)
For a change of pace over the years, uI also wrote books now and then. These were all nonfiction books on a variety of topics: how to present a Hawaiian luau on the mainland, youth mentoring, long-distance grandparenting, how to choose and care for a horse, journaling, and I wrote a lot of books focused on the business side of writing. I was among the early authors to produce books for other writers—how to break into the article-writing business, get your book published, promote your book, etc. I spent fifteen years teaching what I’d learned about the writing and publishing field through my books, hundreds of articles, and the many workshops I presented at conferences throughout the US.
I can tell you that, for me, writing is a passion. It’s something I can’t not do. When I realized this, back in the 1960s, I began studying the writing field. I practiced writing—letters, little stories for my three young daughters, poetry, personalized messages for family and friends in greeting cards… And I dreamed of writing articles for some of the magazines I read—in particular Writer’s Digest, horse-related magazines and women’s magazines. The day finally came when I had the time and space to launch my writing career. I wrote my first article in 1973 in the corner of my bedroom on a manual typewriter. Boy was I thrilled when the editor accepted my piece and even used my submitted photo on the cover of the magazine.
Because I’d been studying the article-writing business, I knew something that many new writers don’t. In order to succeed, you must take charge. It’s rare that an editor comes to you for a piece—at least in the beginning. The freelancer must know what the particular magazine editor needs/wants. She must come up with the idea, flesh it out so that it resonates with the editor, and present it in a professional manner. This is also true for writers interested in landing a publisher for their book manuscript. If you want to be published, you cannot be passive. You have to be well-informed as to each editor’s or publisher’s desires and present a polished proposal. It’s a lot of work and it also results in a lot of rejection. This business is not for the meek.
Fast forward several years and I’m able to respond to the questions some of you have posed. How does a writer spend her day? By writing! By establishing good work habits. And by keeping her eye on her goal—which, for me, was to earn a living through my writing. How else could I justify spending all of that time in such an enjoyable pursuit?
I also came to terms with what goes on in my mind. How does a writer see the world differently than most people do? What I learned is that no matter what type of writing one does, in order to be successful, it requires keen observation skills. I don’t think I was even aware of the shift in my brain as I pursued my career—but I soon realized that I look at the world differently than some others. I see potential stories in nearly everything that happens around me, that I hear reported through the media, that I see in a movie or a commercial, that someone tells me about, etc. Little did I know how valuable that trait of observation would be as my career evolved.
And evolve, it did! After nearly forty years writing nonfiction—nothing but give-me-the-facts-ma’am stuff—I decided to try my hand at fiction. And I’ve come to realize that I still adhere to the skills and habits I established in order to eke out a living writing nonfiction. These skills and habits have propelled my career in a fabulously fun and profitable new direction as the author of the Klepto Cat Mystery series—cozy mysteries with cats.
I’m still extremely disciplined because I know that one secret to success in this business is, butt in chair—fingers on keyboard. I’ve also learned it’s beneficial for a writer to take breaks, to spend time with people, and to pursue other areas of creativity (for me—at the moment—it’s photography). And my keen observation and research skills are still paying off big time in coming up with story ideas for my fiction and making sure they ring true. There’s another part of my being that seems to help formulate my cozy mystery stories—visualization. It’s one of my strengths. I write what I see in my head and, for the most part, it’s fairly lucid and connected. One thing fans love about my books is that they’re easy-reading and I think that’s because of my ability to move the story along logically.
So what’s the difference between someone who writes and a career writer? I think it boils down to passion, a wide-open mind, and a business sense. I’ve met a lot of writers with plenty of passion, but with unrealistic expectations. Without a willingness to stretch, grow, learn, and maybe even make a few sacrifices, a would-be author may never reach his goals. We must remember that a goal without a plan won’t be realized. And the first step to creating a plan is to understand what it actually takes to get from point A (a desire) to point B (the goal).
Five years ago I set a new goal for myself. I would establish a cozy mystery series. I figured that by now (2017) my series might be five books strong. That would bring me up to 47 published books. Quite a feat! Instead, I’ve produced 24 Klepto Cat Mysteries and can boast 66 published books to my credit. To my own amazement, I’m publishing 6 books per year and cozy mystery fans are eating them up!
Can someone earn a living as a writer without lucking out and hitting it big with a best seller? Absolutely. Can a writer shift from one genre to another successfully? I’m happy to say, YES! Do the skills and work habits essential for one type of professional writing spill over to another? Totally. Can anyone become a successful author? Yes. How? Study this blog post again and take it seriously.
Patricia Fry is the author of the Klepto Cat Mystery series—cozy mysteries featuring an ordinary cat with some extraordinary habits. He can’t keep his paws off other people’s things. Sometimes the things he finds help to solve a crime or a mystery.
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