The Writing Life: Writing as a Business
By Sonja Hegman
When we’re children we dream of being artists, cowboys, astronauts, and princesses, but we never follow through with those things. We’re told they’re foolish goals. We’re told that artists starve and that you must be a royal to become a princess. (But now there’s Kate Middleton who’s given a new generation some hope.) Regardless, we’re told to find “real” careers.
So what is a “real” career? To my family, writing was always the thing I’d do until I figured out my life plan. When they learned I was contemplating law, they couldn’t have been happier. “That’s a good, solid career right there,” they said. And yes, in college I did have a brief moment where I pursued media law, but writing still called to me.
I graduated with a degree in journalism and proceeded to work in the news world for the better part of a decade. When that world began to implode, I high-tailed it out of there. I figured it was as good a time as any to pursue my dream of writing a book. The problem: no one knew who the hell I was, so making money right away wasn’t going to happen. I started freelancing.
I wrote stories about theater, fabric, environmental issues, and tents, but none of it was fulfilling. I knew to make a living as a writer I wouldn’t always get to write enthralling pieces. Talking to someone about tent lighting for an hour was not on the top of my dream list. It paid the bills, at least for a while.
I struggled for many years as a freelancer. My main goal was to pay my rent instead of thinking long-term, instead of creating something of value that would last. My determination prevented me from succumbing to the call of a cubicle job until I had $20 left in my bank account. I started to think of myself as a failure. Cube work would not be my fate and it made me think there had to be a way to make decent money at writing. I learned I was right.
Three years ago while attending a business event in New York City, it was brought to my attention that writing is a business. Let that seep in for a minute: writing is a business. For most, it’s probably not something you’ve ever thought about. I was right there with you.
Business brings all kinds of boring things to mind, right? Flow charts and quarterly reports and stocks that you don’t understand. The biggest bore for me in life is numbers and, to me, that’s all business was. Words are my thing and anything remotely related to numbers will make my eyes glaze over. Still, for some reason, writing as a business resonated with me.
It made sense, not only because it explained why I wasn’t super successful as a freelancer, but also because, if done right, you can make serious cash as a writer. From a business perspective, I thought about other things I could write besides books or freelance articles about fabric swatches.
Writing is a necessary skill in most businesses. Every business now needs a web presence so my first line of attack was to get cozy with web designers who needed awesomely written web pages. From there, I expanded to ghostwriting and ghost-tweeting. Most business owners don’t have the time to write blog posts or maintain social media. And so, my business was born.
The scariest part about starting a business is taking the leap. I was terrified. I thought I could write on the side and still create a viable business. It can’t be done. When I gave my writing and my business the attention they truly deserved, that’s when things started to happen. I found my moneymaking path as a writer and it’s the happiest I’ve ever been. My childhood dream of becoming a successful artist has come true. Now, what are you going to do?
Learn how Sonja separates the business side of writing from the creative side, in regards to handling criticism, in her next guest post in this series coming soon!
Sonja Hegman is a reporter turned business owner turned author, who’s learned so much from her mistakes as a virgin in business that she wrote a book about it. Trials of an Entrepreneurial Virgin: How to create a successful writing business, will be out in October. You can also catch her in real time every Thursday at noon CST for her #WritersChatStew Twitter chat where she talks even more about treating writing like a business. Follow her at @ChiefWordsmith. For more information visit http://www.entrepreneurialvirginbook.com/