Earning money from writing can be tough, and if you’re a fiction writer, you might think that your only option is to work your day job and write in your downtime – at least until you make it big! It can take a while to earn a full-time income writing fiction, and nobody wants to be known as the stereotypical ‘struggling writer’. The trouble is, there aren’t many jobs out there that will enable you to earn a living as a writer and get paid to write fiction. So what are you supposed to do, while you’re scribbling away behind the scenes, building your skillsets and polishing your manuscript?
There’s an area that fiction writers (especially those still making a name in the publishing industry) tend to avoid, thinking that perhaps they’re underqualified, or it’s too difficult – and that’s book writing! Writing or ghostwriting novels can be an excellent way of writing for money while developing your craft. But where does one start?
One way to make a living writing fiction is to hone your skills and have the right attitude. Here are some things that I wish I’d known before sitting down to write my first book.
10 Tips for Improving Your Fiction Writing Pay
- Read widely and voraciously
You don’t need a fancy degree to be a writer. But what you should have is a fierce love and appreciation for storytelling and communication in lots of different forms. Of course it’s important to familiarise yourself with your chosen genre, but you should also read extensively outside of your niche, in order to understand exactly what differentiates this particular niche from other types of writing. Doing so will not only broaden your horizons, it will make you a better writer.
Fiction authors read fiction. Fiction authors read non-fiction. Fiction authors read news articles, tweets, book reviews, critical theory, and the backs of shampoo bottles. Fiction authors read travel writing. Fiction authors read philosophy. Fiction authors read plays and poetry. Fiction authors check out audiobooks, and attend spoken-word open-mic nights at out-of-the-way dive bars. Only by absorbing a multitude of voices and styles will you discover and sharpen your own.
- Write what you know…and research what you don’t
Emerging fiction writers often mistake the meaning of the oft-touted aphorism “Write what you know.” They think it means their writing must be limited to their exact lived experience. But if this was the case, how would we have rich, sweeping Fantasy and Sci-Fi epics of imaginary lands and technologies? How would we have stories whose characters blur the lines across the paranormal, robot, animal, and human?
Taking this phrase too literally can limit a writer’s scope. Instead, abide by the spirit, and not the letter, of this lesson: write from your own emotional core – your memories, pain, trauma, joy, and love – but don’t be afraid to communicate those feelings through the lens of another setting, gender, race, sexuality, or age-group, with the important caveat that you do your research, and tell these stories in respectful and accurate ways. In other words, gain wisdom from books, from the internet, and from the lived experience of those around you. Then assimilate that knowledge into a story only you can tell.
- Discover your method
There’s no one, ‘right’ way to write your book. Nor is there a wrong way. Don’t listen to anybody who tells you that you ‘must’ get up at 4AM, or only write freehand, or write a specific number of words a day in order to be a ‘real’ writer. If you write, you are a real writer. Period. Granted, you may not be a published author – yet – but you don’t need to do things a certain way in order to be validated.
Find your method, whether that’s writing in the evenings, using a typewriter, writing in the notes app on your phone while in line at the coffee shop, or writing on napkins in your car between shifts (which is apparently how Stephen King wrote his first novel, Carrie!). There will be a time, setting, and method that unlocks your creativity. Find it, carve it out, and defend it.
- Let go of perfection
So many fiction writers, even those with decades of experience behind them, find themselves paralysed by perfectionism and self-criticism. How many times have you had an idea in your head, only to put off writing it because you don’t feel good enough? Alternatively, how many times have you found yourself with a full draft of a story… and put off editing and rewriting it, because the first draft doesn’t live up to what you had in your head?
While the bad news is that this feeling of inferiority, or imposter syndrome, may never go away, the good news is that you can make the active decision to defy it, and plough on in spite of it. Have you heard it said that perfection is the enemy of good? My writing (and my mental health) improved exponentially when I learned and internalised the magic words, good enough. Of course you should try your best and hold yourself to high standards, but remember that our writing is always as flawed and as human as we are, and it’s still perfectly valid.
- Be disciplined
This tip relates slightly to #3 – Discover your method. Once you find the conditions that enable your creative freedom and best writing, build a structure of discipline around that ritual.
For example, if you have learned that you write best in the morning, when everybody is asleep and before you have to face the responsibilities of the day, be disciplined by setting an alarm, brewing up a hot mug of your favourite caffeine-delivery-system, and sitting in your chosen spot, ready to write, for a set time.
Here’s another example: let’s say you produce your best writing after exercising, with endorphins rushing through your head and your body feeling fit and healthy. Why not be disciplined in taking daily walks, runs, or jogs around the block or local park, and then intentionally setting aside a given window of time to write on your phone, or in a small notebook?
If you’re more traditional, and prefer to write on your laptop, at your desk, make a daily appointment with yourself and your muse, and keep it as strictly as you would any other business meeting or important social event. Some writers find it helpful to set themselves daily, weekly, or monthly wordcount targets, while others find this intimidating and oppressive.
Utilise whatever works for you, and create a strict routine around it.
- Know the nuts and bolts
Do you know your three and five act structures? Your prologues from your epilogues? Your tenses and points of view? Do you know the difference between a comma, a hyphen, a colon, and a semi-colon? What about an em dash and an en dash? (If so, please tell me, because I still haven’t mastered that one!) Can you strike a balance between suspenseful, forward-moving exposition, and info dumping?
While there are no hard and fast laws when it comes to writing (nobody will arrest you for a comma splice or misplaced apostrophe), there are accepted conventions that expedite and facilitate good storytelling. They can also trip up your reader and break immersion if you misuse or aren’t aware of them. Luckily, there are limitless (and often free!) resources out there about the craft of writing, from classes to books to videos to podcasts – even articles like this one!
- Learn the rules… in order to break them well
When it comes to writing, if you’re going to defy convention or subvert expectations, you must first know what those conventions and expectations are, and what you hope to achieve by going against the grain. Romance, for example, has story beats and plot points that audiences know to expect when they pick up the book, such as the ‘dark night of the soul’, in which it seems all is lost for the central couple, and the eventual reconciliation and HEA (happily ever after). A book without these beats might be romantic, or include romance as a theme, but it would not be A Romance by traditional publishing standards.
Similarly, if I were to write a by-the-book Whodunnit, my audience would be very frustrated if, at the end, I didn’t reveal the killer’s identity. However, I might still choose to do this in order to make a specific artistic statement, or to align with a specific theme, but I would have to be aware that in doing so, I would risk putting off agents, publishers, or readers with preconceived notions of what will sell, and what they expected to read. That’s why I added the word “well” at the end of this tip: it’s easy to defy convention for the sake of defiance alone: to do so with skill, intention, and impact is a different matter.
- Wear different hats
Fiction ghostwriters these days need to wear lots of different hats. You need to be a researcher, a writer, an editor, and a marketer or spokesperson for your book at different times. The trick can be knowing when to inhabit each identity, and refusing to allow them to encroach upon one another. When you’re writing a new draft, you don’t want your ‘editor’ persona inhibiting your creative process, slowing you down by pointing out tiny grammatical errors. Similarly, you don’t want your marketing brain throttling your ideas by telling you your ninja romance or museum-based murder mystery isn’t a marketable premise.
However, when you’re done with the writing itself, you don’t want your creative brain getting in the way of the ruthless edits and rewrites you’ll need to make. This is where the phrase “kill your darlings” originates. Further, there comes a point – after the writing – when you’re writing cover letters, queries, and marketing copy, that you become more of a salesperson than a creative, and need to start treating your book like a product, instead of your baby.
- Find your people
In order to grow as a writer, it’s good to find beta readers, writing groups, or other creatives who will understand you and support you on your journey towards publication and beyond. Nourish in particular those relationships with people you trust to give honest and useful critiques, because they are invaluable – and if they’re also fiction writers, make sure you return the favour!
But you should also be aware that not all criticism is created equal – some of it originates in spite, ignorance, or misguided attempts to mould your work to the critic’s own personal tastes. Learn to separate the wheat from the chaff. I don’t mean that you should only accept positive feedback – doing so would not improve your writing, and it could in fact harm it – I just mean that you should be mindful when taking constructive feedback on board.
- Remember why you write
Finally, remember why it is that you got into writing. I’m guessing it’s because you love storytelling, right? You have characters and tales you’d like to share with the world? When you’re feeling beaten down by yet another rejection (we all get them), or some feedback that stings, or even a lack of responses to your current submissions and queries, remember that we do this because we love it. Because we don’t feel we have any other option. Because we live and breathe stories. Hold onto the magic that first inspired you. Your relationship with writing, like any good relationship, needs consistent effort and nourishment to thrive.
Paid Fiction Writing Opportunities Available!
If you’re a fiction writer hoping to earn a full-time income, you might be wondering: what are the best ways to make money writing? Relay Publishing has a wide range of remote fiction writer jobs that will allow you to make money (and possibly earn a full-time income!) writing from the comfort of your own home. There are also editorial, marketing, and translation roles available. However, if you’re still unsure how to make money writing, or already earn a full-time income, but could use a little extra cash (who couldn’t?), Relay offers a $200 referral bonus for anybody who connects them with the right author – no writing required!