Writing as a “career”

I got an email recently, from a high school student. She was interested in writing for kids, and wanted to ask me questions about college, grad school, and publishing.  I cheered her on with her writing, and warned her of the perils, as one must.

Then she wrote back, asking if I would be willing to  answer a questionaire for a project at school.

I was happy to respond to the questions, but asked her for permission to repost them (and my answers) here. Because I found it so interesting to consider writing as a Job-with-a-big-J.

I don’t think about writing like this very often. I have always written. I will always write. The combination of my childcarelessness and my pathetic salary history, combined with my good fortune selling books, has led  me to this funny place where writing is my Job. But never, in my wildest dreams, did I actually think that would ever be the case.

I wonder– how many of the authors I know thought they’d be able to support themselves with their writing… I wonder how many of them actually do…



1. Describe specifically what knowledge, skills and responsibilities are involved in your job/ career? 

This is a hard thing to explain. The obvious skill is simply writing–paying careful attention to language, thinking a LOT about words and stories.  But also, an author spends a huge amount of time revising, editing, fact-checking, and rewriting. So that’s something every write needs to learn. It takes patience and discipline, and it isn’t fun.  Maybe the hardest thing is that as an author, you’re your own boss, so you have to crack your own whip, make yourself work each day.   The fun part of the job is reading lots of wonderful book, to keep the ideas flowing and help generate new stories…

2. Describe your average daily routine or a typical day at work?

Well, I work from home, and I also have small kids, so I wake up, pack lunches and make breakfast, make beds, get my older son off to school. Then, while my younger son plays, I check emails and address business matters that take a little less concentrations (I’m doing this right now, in fact, as he plays Lego).  After I take him to preschool, I sit down and shut off the internet, and write for 3 hours. Then I go back to school and get him, and we do errands.  Sometimes in the afternoon I have a skype school visit or a phone call with my editor. Once in a while, I have to get a sitter for him, so I can go to a school or library, or because I’ll be out of town at a book festival. Then, at night, I spend several hours reading. That’s my job!

3. Why did you choose this particular career?

Because it was all I ever wanted to do, really. I’ve wanted to be a writer since 4th grade, and went to college and grad school for this.

4. What is the best advice you could give someone who is thinking about going into this line of


Sit still. Turn off the internet and the TV and the phone and the music.  You have to be alone if you really want to write.  You have to listen to silence.  Then be patient.  You will try and fail and try and fail and each time you fail you’ll learn things and grow. It will take years.  If you want to become an author, it won’t work. You actually have to want to write, even if you never get paid for it.  If you don’t love it, it will be too hard.

5. If you could go back and change anything about entering or staying in your career, what would it  be?

I wouldn’t change a thing!  Everything I’ve done has made me who I am!  I’ve waited tables and had books rejected over and over.  I’ve hit low points, and gotten so frustrated I wanted to scream. I use ALL of that.

6. What areas do you like least about your career?

The waiting, I guess. Publishing is a slow business.  And I have trouble with how much authors are required to think about marketing and selling. I don’t exactly mind doing that stuff, but I think it distracts us from the writing itself. And I think sometimes, when authors think about “success” in terms of sales, it inhibits the creative process. It makes our books less risky.

7. What areas do you like most about your career?

I love meeting kids, and hearing about how they felt when they read my books. I love their questions.  I love that I have a flexible job, and can stay home with my own kids. I love meeting other writers. But the best part is either when I have a BRAND NEW IDEA and I just have to go scribble it down, or when I’m at the end of a book, and I can finally see it coming together, after all that work.  There’s a lot of faith involved in writing a novel.  It;s nie, at the end, when the faith is rewarded.

8. What benefits, aside from making money, does your career offer?

I get to do what I love. I get to talk to kids. I get to make up stories. I get to spend a lot of time following my own wildest thoughts to their conclusions. I get to hang out with my heroes! How many people get to say that?

9. What kind of personal qualities, strengths and skills do employers look for in a person being

hired in this career today?

I think  editors look for authors who are willing to work hard, and work well with others.  People sometimes have this idea of the artist/writer as a prima donna, someone who’s hard to work with because they’re a creative genius.  But an author is part of a team. Editors and artisits, designers and sales reps, publishers and marketing directors– an author has a lot of input from other people, and needs to be able to listed, to make deadlines, to be flexible sometimes.

10. What are some other possible related occupations to this career?

Illustrators, obviously, but also editors, researchers, designers, sales reps (who have to be very smart, literate,  and thoughtful, in publishing), marketing and publicity people.  Booksellers.  But also teachers and librarians!  SO many people are part of literature and literacy for kids!

11. What is the best way to acquire an entry-level position and then to advance in this career?

As an author? Write. And then write some more and then write some more, and then read, and then write some more.  That’s it. If you do that enough, you’ll grow and learn and make something awesome.

12. What is the current outlook (the future) for jobs in this profession?
It’s a very hard time to say anything about that. The industry is experiencing massive change right now.  Technology is changing everything.  There will be jobs, but I can’t say what, exactly, those jobs will be.  I do know this: people will always needs stories, they will always need storytellers

2 Responses to “Writing as a “career””

  1. Venessa Ann Schwarz Says:

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot. Your interview validated all my feelings about being a writer. I say it’s a blessing and a curse. Since I have been following your blog I’ve become inspired to write my own blog. I called it REJECTION LETTERS AND SUCH. But writing isn’t all about the rejection. There’s a lot of stuff that happens along the way. Your sentiments to the highschool interviewer demonstrate all thats involved in becoming a writer. It’s so hard sometimes.

    But thank you for being real.

  2. Rachel Says:

    So true about turning of the internet and just writing. I write for a living too, but not fun, creative stuff like you (I do that, but on “my own time”). For sort of eeking together a rent I write little gift books, children’s picture books as a ghostwriter, and design programs for nonprofits. So glad you point out all the hard work and tenacity involved in really getting your stuff out there. I’ve never gotten any of my own stuff (novels, stories, poems) “out there” in any real sense. But I’m inspired, reading your blog. Thanks.

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