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Tips from The House That Sat Down: Traditional vs Non-traditional routes for building a writing career.

The Dream

I always wanted to be a writer.

Ever since I was a little girl and discovered books, I could think of nothing more awesome than to be a writer. I was always writing stories and illustrating them. They weren't very good, but I thought that I could learn and that, by the time I was a grown up, I would be able to make a career of it.

That was my dream, to be a full time writer.

The Wake Up Call:

When I was choosing my GCSE subjects, my art teacher told me that I was incredibly bad at art and shouldn't even think of a creative career.

I believed her.

I thought that meant that I couldn't write either.

So, I stopped.

Instead of taking English A-level and then doing a creative writing degree, I studied science and spent the next twenty years working as a NHS GP surgery manager.

But the dream didn't die.

I spent decades secretly wishing I could be a writer. Things only changed when my house fell down. (Yes, if you're reading my blog for the very first time, my house really did fall down - check out my website or The House That Sat Down Trilogy, by Alice May, on Amazon, if you want to know more about that.)

My whole life got turned upside down at that point and everything got redefined.

I learned that if I wanted something badly enough, then I could jolly well get off my backside and make it happen.

And that's what I did.

The dream became my reality.

Remarkably, I now have that full time writing career. I followed a very round about route, but I got here in the end. I spend my time mainly writing, sometimes illustrating, and always talking about writing and/or illustrating. It has been an incredible (and fun) journey.

Some different Routes into Writing

I thought it might be interesting to look at some of the different routes that could be taken in to a writing career. This is, of course, informed by my personal opinion and experience only and does not pretend to be an exhaustive list of options by any stretch of the imagination.

There are sure to be other ways forward too.

Traditional routes into a writing career

You can follow a path that includes any of the folllowing:

  • A Creative Writing Degree/MA

  • A degree/career in Journalism 

  • A degree/career in publishing

As far as I am aware, all of the above will teach you about the writing and publishing world and should help you to create the sorts of knowledge and contacts that are incredibly useful for a writing career.

Non-traditional routes into a writing career

If, like me, you don't have any of the above, there are a whole host of other routes you could consider. What you need is determination, a willingness to try new things and the ability to adapt. You may well need an income from another job along the way, too.

When I decided to begin this journey, I knew that I was playing a long game.

I left the NHS and took a job as a part time school librarian. It was a significant drop in salary, but I earned enough to cover my essential bills. The big change was that the library job gave me time to both write and pursue writing related opportunities.

You could consider doing any of the following:

  • Go on a writing course

    • Since Covid, there are so many writing courses available on line and in person that suit a wide range of budgets. It pays to learn not only how to write, but also about the writing world, and how agents and publishers operate and what they are looking for. There are even free blogs/Youtube/TikTok posts giving valuable hints and tips from both writers and industry professionals. You will make useful writing contacts from every course/class you do.

    • BUT - beware the temptation to become a serial writing course attendee. You can get stuck in a loop constantly going on courses and not believing in your writing enough to start getting it out there. If you are happy writing for your own pleasure, doing courses is fine. However, if you genuinely want to get work published and build an audience, you need to steel your nerves and take a leap of faith at some point.

  • Check out free-lance writing jobs

    • There is nothing to stop you from simply starting to write. You can google free-lance writing jobs, or pitch to magazines. (See previous blog posts.) Think about where your strengths lie, what you are interested in, and what you can write about with authority. Then start building your writing profile. You should start to make contacts very quickly.

  • Write a short story, self publish it and look into online marketing options.

    • I would recommend researching self-publishing as an option in greater detail, before you do this.

    • It is a good idea to work with an editor and cover designer too so that you are presenting a professional product. (I plan to blog on this soon.)

  • Develop a hybrid portfolio of useful skills

    • Try to come at building your portfolio from as many angles as you have at your disposal.

    • I built my career slowly from different directions with the aim of creating a solid base that gave me options. I started writing a memoir and self-published it. The House That Sat Down was surprisingly successful for a novice writer. (To my surprise it is still selling well, eight years on.) But I wanted more. I wanted to write fiction. I didn't know how to do that, which led me to taking those writing course I mentioned above.

    • In the meantime, I wrote non-fiction for magazines. This brought in enough money to pay for some more writing courses, editorial reports and a writing festival ticket. I was off and running by then. I made contacts. I learned about the industry. Slowly, my plan came together.

    • At the same time, I also wrote non-fiction How-To-Draw books.

    • As my writing income started to grow, I was able to leave the school library. Instead I started teaching art as a casual tutor for the Hampshire Libraries Learning in Libraries programme which gives me even more time to write.

  • Think outside the box

    • Finally, once I had written and self-published my first book in The House That Sat Down Trilogy, I started speaking in public at events about it. Something I never thought I would ever do. (I was terrified - but I made myself learn how to do it.) This enabled me to connect with readers, build my profile as an author, and sell books.

    • Then, I wrote a book on public speaking for authors. It is full of all the things I wish I'd known when I started out and is available on Amazon.

That's basically how I did it. Did I know it would work? Absolutely not, but it has been great fun.

In Conclusion: If you want to write, get writing...

I could go on and on (and frequently do) but the main advice I have is this: if you are trying to get into writing, there are a huge number of options out there.

Find what chimes with you.

What do you like? What do you want to write about.

I guarantee there will be an audience out there. You simply have find them.

Think of it as a journey and take it one step at a time.

Be open to opportunities. Find a way in. Once you have a foot in the door, you can build from there.

If one route doesn't work, try another one.

Adapt. Grow.

Don't give up.

You will get there.

I wish you the best of luck.


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