Deciding what kind of writer you want to be is important, but it’s not something most fiction writers think too deeply about.
I’m not talking about deciding whether you want to write novels over short stories, or if you want to dedicate yourself to a particular genre. No, instead I’m talking about deciding what kind of writing life you want to lead.
Once you’ve figured out what a satisfying writing life looks like to you, so many decisions about how to navigate through the writing world will fall into place.
Because there are so many choices to make about how to be a writer.
- Should you write to a daily word count goal or to a timer?
- Should you create a strict writing schedule or write when inspiration strikes?
- Should you type your manuscript or dictate it using voice-to-text software?
- Should you write several manuscripts before thinking about how to get published?
- Should you self-publish or follow the traditional publishing route?
- Should you get an agent?
- Should you pay for professional editing services?
- And if so, which ones?
- Should you create a website?
- Should you start a newsletter?
- Should you build an author brand?
- Should you follow writing trends?
- Should you write three books a year or one book every few years?
- Should you meticulously plot or should you go with the flow?
- Should you ask beta readers for help?
- Should you take part in NaNoWriMo?
Should you, should you, should you …?
Argh! Trying to figure out how you should act as a writer can be so frustrating that you start to seriously consider buying a typewriter and moving to a cabin in the woods so it can be just you and your words.
Actually, that sounds pretty good.
Most of you, though, will have families and bills tethering you to reality, so you can’t just do a Henry David Thoreau. Oh, and you probably want your words to actually be read at some point, too. I imagine it’s pretty hard to interact with the wider publishing world via carrier pigeon.
But I digress. The way I see it, there are four categories most writers fall into. Confusion and unhappiness arise when you try to be more than one kind of writer at a time – often because the internet tells you how you should be doing things.
The four kinds of fiction writer
This writer has a burning desire to create something original, powerful and authentic. Though they might harbour a secret desire for fame and fortune, they’ll never chase this at the expense of their vision. Because of this, they usually support themselves financially independently of their writing. They would rather win a literary award than be a number-one bestseller. They’d rather write one amazing book than five average books. Their books are often divisive because some people connect deeply with their work while others don’t understand it at all.
The artist-writer is more likely to follow the traditional route to publication so they can draw on the expertise of others to produce high-quality books. They also prefer to pass the responsibility of production and marketing to others, allowing them to focus on their next writing project. Traditional publication also gives the artist-writer a sense of prestige. It helps that traditionally published works are much more likely to be nominated for literary awards.
Alternatively, the artist-writer might be so dedicated to the integrity of their work that they don’t want others to influence it and so decide to self-publish in order to retain complete creative control.
This writer earns their living from their creative work. Because it’s extremely difficult to earn enough to live on from writing alone, they probably also teach writing in some way to supplement their income. A career-writer will create a large body of work in their lifetime. They usually work with agents and publishers, who will expect or contract frequent work from them.
For the career-writer, it’s important that they are well-known and sell a lot of books. Because of this, they must be dedicated to producing a lot of new writing, and they must also spend time and effort marketing. They understand that not all their work will be their best work because they simply don’t have the time or resources to make that happen, and they’re okay with that. At the end of the day, they’re making a living doing what they love.
This writer is slightly different to the career-writer. Whereas the career-writer spends most of their time focused on writing (and paid activities directly related to the craft of writing), the entrepreneurial writer must spend a lot of time doing tasks related to business management. Career-writers generally work for others (publishers, universities, etc.) whereas entrepreneurial-writers works for themselves – and they love the freedom this gives them.
Entrepreneurial-writers are responsible for the writing, production and marketing of either all or some of their books. They will be either self-publishers or hybrid authors (authors who have some works published traditionally and some works self-published).
Entrepreneurial-writers might also supplement their income through teaching and similar activities, and will often create their own opportunities instead of being hired by external companies. They might host a writing event or webinar, for example – but again the responsibility of managing the event will fall to them. Their writing and publishing ventures might make up a side business, or they might be full-time entrepreneurial writers.
Last but by absolutely no means least, there’s the hobbyist-writer. This kind of writer writes for fun, for the love of telling stories. They support themselves financially outside of their writing, and may have a career in a completely different industry. For them, writing is a great way to channel their creativity in their spare time. They might be interested in developing their craft through books and writing courses, or they might prefer to simply write.
The hobbyist-writer might get caught up in all the publishing chatter online and then feel guilty that they’re not taking their writing ‘seriously’ enough. In reality, though, they’re happy to keep their writing to themselves (or share it with friends and family). Perhaps one day they’ll publish something, but this isn’t their main goal. They just enjoy writing, and like doing it whenever they feel the urge.
How it helps to know what kind of writer you want to be
Knowing what kind of writer you want to be will help you make decisions about your writing life. If you feel aligned with one of the writer-types I’ve just outlined, take another look at that long list of questions at the start of this post. Do you feel any more confident answering the questions asked?
If you feel more like an artist-writer, for instance, don’t beat yourself up for not knocking out five thousand words a day. If you feel more like a career-writer, it might feel good if you let all the books and posts and podcasts advocating self-publishing pass you by. If you feel more like an entrepreneurial-writer, yes, you should definitely plan to set up a website and mailing list. And if you feel more like a hobbyist-writer, enjoy writing your heart out!
Don’t feel like you have to shove yourself into a box, though. It’s totally possible to be more than one kind of writer, if that’s what you want. You could be an entrepreneurial-writer who makes a full-time living writing copious amounts of erotica under a pen-name while also working on your literary masterpiece in your spare time. Clarity around what you’re doing and why will stop you feeling overwhelmed, though.
Writing can be a hobby, a side-job or a career. You can be one type of writer or a mixture. None of these options are better than the other. There’s no wrong way to be a writer.
But once you know what you want, it’s so much easier to work out how to get it.