When people asked me what I did for a living, I learned to avoid telling them I was a writer because it seemed that every taxi driver, dentist, person sitting next to me on flight, whoever, wherever, was a frustrated writer. Admitting my profession meant I would face interrogations, not about my writing but about their writing – how do they get published, how do they find agents, how do they write a best seller, how do they get a break writing television scripts? And if I couldn’t let them in on the secrets of my success, I was soon on the receiving end of their resentment – after all how was I, a kid in my 20s, writing for the most successful TV show in my native Scotland – was I sleeping with the producer?
The secret about any writing success is that it’s good to start with natural talent and ability. Then it helps if you have people around who give you sound advice on techniques and improving your style. But the key ingredient is the huge chunk of good fortune that brings you to the right place at the right time, with your work coming to the attention of the right people.
Winning a playwriting competition in my last year of university catapulted me into a successful theatre production, which in turn was seen by some television producers, and before I knew it, I was on my way to writing more than 300 broadcast hours worth of television drama in the fifteen years that followed. The dream got even better when I met and married a fellow writer and we were able to collaborate and work together. Life and work came together; we had success, awards, great viewing figures, and more money than time to spend it. What could possibly be the downside of this?
Well, the work seemed so important at the time, that when location filming took us away from home and family for half the year, it seemed like a sacrifice worth making. That is, until in an awful sequence leading up to the year 2000, we lost both pairs of our parents; because of our work, we hadn’t been there for them. The sense of loss and feelings of guilt were almost unbearable and a reality check inevitably followed.
Something about the new millennium made us re-assess our priorities. Writing was in our blood, it was our profession, but creating television fiction seemed to come at the expense of living in the real world and making the most of our real – all too short – lives.
We took the risk and changed our lifstyles completely. We quit television and moved to live in France, our favourite vacation destination. We love the food, the wine, the weather,but above all the pace of life deep in the heart of countryside, where some things haven’t changed for centuries and quality of life is the priority. We’d had a second home in France since the late 80s. We sold it and bought a bigger place for full-time living and my husband (Peter May http://www.petermay.co.uk ) returned to his first love, writing books.
It was harder for me to make a breakthrough into other forms of writing. The internet became my means of finding a way of staying in work as a writer. With a high-speed connection, it made no difference to anyone if I was in France, the UK or the USA. At first I busied myself supporting Peter’s writing, learning how to create websites and finding out about online promotion. I organised his book signing tours in the USA connecting with bookstore owners all over America by E-mail and using the internet to make all the flight and hotel bookings.
I wrote some fiction and non-fiction, but no matter how much experience I had as a screenwriter, I had no name in books, so it was hard for me to break through in those fields. I started to look at opportunities for writing online and that’s when I discovered Suite101.com.
Suite101 offered all the help I needed to learn about web writing. Their tutorials add up to the best writing course available online for people that want to understand how writing for the web should be formatted and composed for ease of reading, successful coverage and Search Engine Optimization. Its statistical analysis of articles and hits helps you to come to grips with what works on the web and what doesn’t. Real editors guide you with personal advice on how to make your writing better. And their payment system delivers rewards in a way that means that no article is ever “dead.” Every article continues working and earning.
But perhaps the biggest reward I got from joining Suite101 came from the community of writers there. The advice shared openly among the writers in the forums, helped me to learn the real secrets of earning a living in this still growing online writing world. I found markets that I never knew existed – in ghostwriting, web copy, E-books – and have found many lucrative writing gigs, which have stretched my talents, and have been a lot of fun.
Now, as Suite101′s Feature Writer for the Freelance Writing section (http://www.suite101.com/profile.cfm/jhally ) I can happily admit to anyone that I’m a writer, because if they want advice, I can tell them I’m busy creating a step-by-step guide in the form of articles, sharing the secrets of how to break into the world of freelance writing and make a success of it ( http://www.suite101.com/blog/jhally/freelance_writing_the_basics ).
There is no need nowadays for any taxi driver or dentist to be a frustrated writer… whoever you are, wherever you are, the opportunities are there for you to get online and see your name in a byline!
Note: Janice is from Scotland and I left her British spelling alone.
Image from http://www.sxc.hu