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#AWP16 and the writer hustle

Hustling isn’t something I really equated with my writing life. With my editing life, yes, sure — how else am I going to get clients? I put tweets out, I connect with writers, I give advice and answer questions. If I didn’t hustle, I’d get no clients. I’d get nowhere.

But when it comes to my writing life, hustling didn’t even cross my mind. If you dip your toes into Twitter you can see writers happily working on their projects, pitching during events, but hustling? Like being on submission, hustling is another rule of Writing Fight Club. You don’t talk about it. If you know it exists it’s because someone told you. Or you’re doing it, fighting with yourself and your mediocre, catalogue-ordered life. You beat the shit out of yourself in front of your boss. You make soap with the fat that you trim from your manuscript. You set fire to the beaches you create in your dreams, put a bullet through the head of your darlings. You destroy everything beautiful because you know you have to in order to make your writing better, make you better.

One of my favorite panels this weekend was “The Odd Couple: Literature and Commerce,” a panel comprised of Manjula Martin, Kima Jones, Ayesha Pande, and Karolina Waclawiak. The panel guide on AWP’s website said that it was supposed to be about authors navigating the work/writing life balance and how to create a sustainable career. It sounded intriguing enough and since I’m a big Kima Jones fan I thought I’d go just to be in the presence of someone I look up to.

The thing is, there are so many beautiful myths about the publishing industry. Myths that were perpetuated by other panels I sat in on. We writers would love to go back to a time where making a living just off of our traditionally published books alone was a viable dream. We would love to go back to a time where we only had to focus on the art of our writing instead of everything that comes after it too.

But guess what. That’s not the case. Not even close.

The first question right off the bat was addressing the elephant in the room: is writing a sustainable career? The resounding answer was no — not without sponsors, living with parents, etc. Kima Jones said she’s been given between $400 – $1000 for individual pieces that get published, but that’s nowhere near enough to sustain her or to keep her in an economic place that feels comfortable. Ayesha Pande of Pande Literary said that, of her 50+ clients, they all have day jobs. Aside from earning money from their books, Karolina spoke to the fact that there just not that many writing jobs–sustainable writing jobs–anymore. Day jobs are really what will support you as you follow your passion and, if you can, finding a day job that doesn’t take that much brain power will not only help you be financially stable but you’ll still be able to come home and write after work.

The thing is, guarding personal writing time is important. Every panelist echoed this sentiment and it was something I, personally, needed to hear from women in publishing that I look up to. Weekends, nights, an hour in the morning — it doesn’t matter what you do, but you need to put it in your schedule and guard it with your life.

Writing is about sacrifice. You sacrifice yourself, your time, your sleep in order to pour your heart and soul into a final project that may or may not see the light of day. But you still have to get that story out of you, no matter what the outcome. That’s why you sacrifice family time, friend time, going out and partying, going to the gym, going anywhere you can’t take your computer or that doesn’t have free WiFi. But what writing isn’t about, is making money. If you’re writing books thinking that it’s going to be an easy way to make money, you’re doing it wrong.

But you can’t succeed in obtaining your writing goals without hustling. Without putting yourself out there, creating your organic online presence, cultivating fans in a way that doesn’t feel fake. Agents and editors can, and will, Google you. They want to see your name out there – on social media, on a personal blog, in short personal essays on websites like BuzzFeed, HelloGiggles, Slate, Salon. Your name, and your brand, should already be established before you even start to query. But once you have your agent and your book deal the work isn’t done. Because guess what: your publisher isn’t going to hustle for you. You are your own best advocate.

Hustling is something that’s part of the job of the writer now. You need to put yourself out there because no one else is going to. Sure, maybe your book gets some buzz the first month it’s out but you need to be thinking long term about your book. You need to be thinking long term about your career as a writer and what your definition of success is going to be.

So think about it. Think about what you want to do and what you can do realistically. Maybe your writing routine is the twenty minutes before you pass out, or the half hour you have because you set your alarm early in the morning. Maybe you have to jot down ideas and notes when you have time at your day job. Whatever it is, you have to put yourself out there and do it. Otherwise, someone else is going to do what you want to do. They’re going to write the book you wanted to write and they’re going to put themselves in a place where they are getting agent or editor interest.

So hustle. Get out there. Get your writing routine down. Check your expectations of what it means to be a writer.

Do it before someone else does.

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