Peggy Bechko: Life Lessons for Writers…and Others

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by Peggy Bechko

Having been a writer over the course of years, I’ve learned many lessons. So, I thought I’d share some of them with fellow writers and at the same time give readers a glimpse into the writer’s life.

Here’s the thing. A writing life is a great life. BUT, some additional planning needs to go in to it above and beyond what working at say an office or a store or another profession might require. I mean, stuff happens.

And, when it happens, you’re a self-employed indie with few resources other than the ones you’ve prepared and planned on. If you’re ‘laid off’, i.e. can’t get a writing gig at the moment, you don’t have unemployment. You also no doubt don’t have health insurance. Some writers take the route of having an outside job for money as well as benefits, but if you are exclusively an Indie, welllll….. you need to plan for the down times.

Save as much as you can. This can be tough because many Indie writers whether published by major houses or self-published, live pretty much on subsistence level income. Keep a file on resources that can help such as organizations you might belong to that offer assistance for artists/writers in distress. Those same organizations such as The Freelancer’sUnion, The Author’s Guild (if you live in the right state and qualify to be in the Guild), Romance Writers of America and other writers’ and independent workers’ associations offer avenues to pursue health insurance at a cost you might actually be able to afford because in our country we don’t have the good sense to have universal health care available. Of course there are usually membership dues that have to be met, but not always.

Do you have family that might help out in an emergency? I wouldn’t make a habit of that, but in extremis, it’s good to know.

Take your writing and yourself seriously. You’re not just a creative, you’re a business person. You’re going to have to learn to read contracts, negotiate and generally keep track of what’s going on in the industry (aka writing/publishing world). Yes you can have an agent who negotiates contracts for you, but I hope you aren’t reading those things blind and are actually taking time to understand the language. And that’s IF you have an agent. If you’re Indie to the bone, doing it all yourself, then you’re going to have to learn or you’re really going to get shafted somewhere along the road.

Another lesson I’ve learned is never throw any of my creative work away. Rewriting a story written years earlier, one you just didn’t have the skill to do justice to at that time, can be an unexpected boon. And that doesn’t count cannibalization. Maybe that old story stinks, but some of the characters were great or the setting was perfect for a new story idea. Think about it, work with it. Don’t throw past work away, especially now that it can be saved on disc!

Yet another lesson. Give your readers something to think about. Don’t give them all the answers. Now, by that I don’t mean leave your story hanging, but rather leave a little something behind that gets them to ask questions that might not have occurred before. Something to remember you by. Something that niggles enough that they want to read what you write next.