The lovely Mr BC has tagged me (mainly because I asked him to, I've never quite got the hang of these 'meme' things) to answer the burning question: 'What revelations have you had since taking up your writing career?'
The reason I wanted to do this one is that I'm aware that quite a few of you are, like me, toiling at the unglamorous end of the writing industry, with no prospect of ever being asked to write anything about dragons, or ninjas, or unfeasibly attractive and scantily-clad Liverpudlian teenagers.
BUT WE HAVE FEELINGS TOO, DAMMIT!
So now I am going to impart some wisdom, and then I will tag some more of you to impart your own wisdom, and maybe together we can create a beautiful primer of everything that anyone might want to know about how to be a 'professional writer'.
Here we go then, some revelations I have had since I took up my writing career - or rather 'accidentally fell into' my writing career - nine years ago:
1. Being a freelance writer is brilliant. You get to work at home, have coffee whenever you like, look out of the window whenever you like and (usually) organise your working day however you like. Now there's the internet, and laptops, you can theoretically work from anywhere, which is how I didn't have to give up my job to go and look after my mum when she was ill, for which I am profoundly grateful.
2. Those adverts ('Make A Living From Writing!') that you see in the back of Sunday supplements are deeply misleading. Unless you're extraordinarily good, extraordinarily lucky or extraordinarily well-connected, you're never going to make a decent living as a freelance journalist, novelist or screenwriter. (Obviously this doesn't mean you shouldn't try, especially not if you're a naturally gifted creative writer, but just be aware that it's highly unlikely to make you unbelievably rich.)
3. This doesn't mean you can't make a decent living as a writer, though. You can. If you get enough work, and if you work hard enough at it, you can even earn the equivalent of a six-figure salary*. To do that, you need to be in the private sector. And not just any old part of the private sector - you need to be in an industry that's awash with cash. And not just any old industry that's awash with cash - you need to be in one whose products are complicated and obscure, and therefore need careful and precise explaining. It helps if it's an industry in which not many people know how to write about the products in a way that laypeople understand. Technology is one. Finance is another**. Pharmaceuticals is probably another one.
4. Once you get into one of these industries, and demonstrate that you can write beautiful, limpid prose that not only educates the target market about what the product does but also makes them REALLY WANT TO BUY IT, you'll be amazed at a) how much people are prepared to pay for your services and b) the kind of things they ask you to write. On more than one occasion, I've been paid to write an internal memo. Amazingly, there are people who have so little confidence in their own writing skills that they'd rather pay someone to write their emails for them. In some ways, I find this a sad reflection on an education system that has clearly failed a lot of people. In other ways, I'm eternally thankful that so many people feel unable to string two words together, because otherwise there'd be no work for me.
5. There's a received wisdom in the world of marketing that no writing is any good unless it's 'punchy', which means 'extremely short', 'devoid of verbs' and 'bereft of all meaning'. Many clients don't seem to care what the text actually says, as long as it meets these criteria. (This post of Matt's sums up the attitude nicely.) This means that I quite often spend all day writing meaningless 'punchy' stuff, which is why I like to be quite long-winded on this blog. Sorry about that.
Now then, let's hear it from fellow writers Great She Elephant, Bête de Jour and Rach. And of course anyone else who feels like joining in.
UPDATE: You can read Rach's very fine answer here.
* For the record, I don't have a six-figure salary, but I came within spitting distance of one during the dotcom boom. The dotcom boom was brilliant.
** I'm aware that the finance industry is currently emphatically not awash with cash, but give it six months and it'll probably recover.