How My Bachelor’s in Writing Didn’t Prepare Me for Writerhood

“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty.”

~Henry Ford

In December 1999, I graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree in English/Writing and thought I knew everything I needed to know about writing books.

Why, yes — I am waiting for your laughter to subside.

Okay, okay, calm yourselves, please. What do you think this is, a late-night comedy club?



Idealist Writer Changes World — Details at 11

So. Here I am, 22 years old with all of three-and-a-half years of higher education under my belt. I’m off to former East Germany as soon as possible. I shall change the world one relationship at a time and write books while I do it. I am Tawanda, Queen of the Amazons. Hear me roar.

For my senior project, I’d completed a Monster Epic Fantasy Novel (aka MEFaN), which I’ve previously mentioned here. My profs approved it. Their praise wasn’t exactly glowing, but it was shiny, at least. I thought my novel was ready to shop to publishers.

Um. No.

If you click through, you’ll see that the MEFaN in question was a first draft. I’d heard my creative writing prof mention such hideous things as re-write and edit and multiple drafts

— but I was 22 and brilliant. What need I with multiple drafts?


Ow, My Aching Ego

I learned. I learned that I was good for a 22-year-old straight outta college. I learned that I was not as good as what editing, rewriting, and plain ol’ life experience could make me. I learned that my profs’ shiny-almost-glowing praise was for how far I’d come by then.

But good grades, I finally realized, were not the final measurement of my skills. I realized that my writing degree was my starting point. My writing degree prepared me to begin.

And I’ve spent the last 14 years doing the work.

But here’s what my degree did not prepare me for.

Money, Money, Money

As part of my general education in college, I was required to take an economics class. I ended up in a course called Free Enterprise System.

Sadly, this had nothing to do with liberated starships.

Sadly, I learned exactly two things in this course:

  1. Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin. Booya.
  2. When one member of the project team doesn’t do his job, the economics prof doesn’t care that the rest of the team does theirs. Everybody gets penalized a letter grade because of the one lazy slob.
  3. Yay teamwork! I love teamwork!

Also sadly, I was not required to take any courses in personal finance (i.e. how-to-budget, etc.) or in finances for writers.

So, years later, when the husband and I got into serious trouble over self-employment taxes, my reaction was as follows:







Doing Homework

Let me be clear: I blame no one for this but myself.

I shoulda done my homework. After all, there is such a thing as thinking for oneself.

In the meantime, I’ve figured things out a little. I now understand things about withholding. I now understand that calculating my taxes myself is a rather dumb thing for me to do (especially when my info conflicts with that of the IRS). I now know to keep track of expenses like the ones listed in this article.

The business-sensible thing for me to do with this post would be to provide you with a list of such resources as that one. But I’m not writing this to be business-sensible.

I’m writing this to emphasize that even after getting our educations — whether that’s at the collegiate level or simply through life experience and trial-and-error — we writers still have to do our homework.

Yeah, we gotta research stuff for our writing. We read novels, articles, and papers. We drive to remote locations to get the feel and flavor of a place or to take pictures for cover art. We interview people. We visit museums. We sit in coffee shops, pondering and muttering to ourselves.

But we also have to research for our business.

It might be the most important thing I’ve learned about writing since graduation:

Writing is a business.

And the writer is CEO, VP, treasurer, secretary, and go-fer.

And this is every writer. Not just the self-published ones.

Writers, we must learn to think of ourselves this way.

If somebody had taught me this in college and forced me to sit down and learn the non-creative, non-artsy, non-inspiring, soul-sucking side of writing, it could’ve saved me a lot of trouble. And a lot of heartache.

So, do your homework, writers. Nobody’s gonna make you learn this stuff. You’ve gotta take responsibility (do as I say, not as I do) and do your research.

And for the love of all that’s good, true, and writerly in this world, keep track of your gas mileage.


What financial education did you get along the way?

What’s been your experience with self-employment?

What’s been your experience thinking of yourself as a business — or not thinking of yourself that way?

If you’re more into the business side than the creative writing side, what one thing do you think writers need to be aware of?

13 thoughts on “How My Bachelor’s in Writing Didn’t Prepare Me for Writerhood

  1. Anna Gilliland says:

    I don’t have any experience at all about the business side of writing. I researched a little about the finances involved in it, but not much showed up online when I searched 2 years ago. Even the governmental websites gave me no clue on what to do or where to start, and I constantly gave up on it.

    So, thank you so much for the link that explains about simple bookkeeping for writers. I guess that with the recent boom in ebooks there is more information out there, finally. One thing I was delighted to discover, recently, is that Smashwords and Amazon handles a little bit concerning withholding for taxes. It’s really encouraging that it’s becoming easier for writers to get this figured out.

    Also, thank you for sharing your experiences in this. I really enjoy learning from you here.

  2. Pamela Davis says:

    That is an awesome link about what things writers need to know. Thanks for the info, Court. I am guilty of not thinking about my writing as a business at all. Guess it’s time to grow up.

  3. Julee Adams says:

    When I was “downsized” from the State of Indiana in Feb. of 2010, I went down to apply for unemployment insurance. Funny how the state is still paying my salary. I used the opporturnity to work on the novels I’d been writing since 2006 (the rest of the story and previous time this happened at
    Luckily, my husband has the soul of an accountant and we were able to downscale with a minimum of pain. We had Federal taxes taken out of the benefit, but there was nothing about taking out State taxes. Kinda silly, paying from one pocket to another, right? When I called, I was informed that yes, indeed, we were responsible for paying $200+ on my unemployment benefits. The guy did apologize that there wasn’t a way to make that a deduction, but they were working on it. Oh and also I got in trouble with listing “Writer” as my current job on the resume posting on the State website. I chose different words to make it sound like I was exploring my options, so I wasn’t technically lying. *sigh*
    So, I share your pain, sister and best wishes for all.

  4. Joshua Unruh says:

    Luckily I’ve been sorta contract/commission sales and then was self employed before becoming a writer as a job. These two things meant I already was well aware of the stuff that could be considered a write-off (love that word even more now) and that I was responsible for holding out enough to pay my taxes later.

    But all that was definitely on-the-job (or on-the-life) training combined with being lucky enough to find an accountant I knew I could trust and who really knew that side of his business.

  5. Heather Sutherlin says:

    Great post! The article you linked was eye-opening! One of the reasons I haven’t pursued writing more seriously is that I didn’t think I should sink money into something that may not pay right now. I have passed on Writer’s groups and conferences in particular because of this. This may change everything!

  6. Anna, thank *you*! It’s a huge encouragement to hear that my writings are helpful. I appreciate that feedback very much. : )

    And I think you’re right that there’s more information available online for writers now than there used to be. I know that when I was in college, I wouldn’t have been able to research the Internet at all about such things; I had to rely on what we were taught in class. Which, as I mentioned, wasn’t a whole lot concerning the financial aspect!

  7. Pam, I think “grow up!” at myself all the time. On the other hand, I enjoy being Peter Pan. I think part of maturity is for maturity to be a sporadic thing. ; )

  8. Julee, thanks for sharing your story, and you have my sympathies on the stressful job situation! I can relate to the downscaling. My husband left a job last year that paid well but was sucking away his soul. He took a 40% pay cut. It’s been rough staying on our feet, but we’re managing. I’d rather not have to, of course — but this is a good exercise in patience and self-control.

    Yay for character building. ; )

  9. Josh, what you’re saying about an accountant really hits home to me. I used to think I could do it all myself…and I am still convinced that I *could* — if I wanted to take the time to learn it all.

    But I don’t want to take the time to learn it all. I want to be writing! Hiring someone to do it for me doesn’t mean I’m not smart enough to figure it out. It just means I know what my priorities are.

    Finally. ; )

  10. Heather, until I read that article, I didn’t know about those pre-publication deductions, either! It’s exciting to know that there are more doors open to us writers than we thought. I’m glad this article was as helpful to you as it is to me.

  11. […] regularly read me both here and at my blog, so I know some of you are familiar with my recent post How My Bachelors in Writing Didn’t Prepare Me for Writerhood. In that post, I say something that’s Very Important and which All Writers Must Live By: […]

  12. WheredoIbelong says:

    I have a question which is not really related to the topic, but I can tell that you’re more experienced in writing as a career than I

    I’m 21 years of age, I was doing a bachelor degree in business administration, I dropped my degree because I really never liked it and the reason I started my BA in the major was because I never figured what I really wanted to do, and now that I have started studying all these business related subjects I felt that I don’t want to go on with something that I’m sure I don’t want to be doing for the rest of my life, I don’t want to have any regrets in the future although everyone taught I’m an idiot still I didn’t bothered!

    I started a degree in Law but I actually wanted to go for a degree in Literature in English to become a writer unfortunately my parents wouldn’t allow me nor support me, they say it’s a though road to go into and you’ll never make the same amount of money unless you’re a brilliant writer on the other hand they believe even if I am not that of a good lawyer I can still do very well (MONEY MONEY MONEY) After my first semester I felt that it’s not really my thing at all, not that I’m bad at it, but I don’t want to waste three years of my life reading and memorising cases, names of judges and acts!!! I can use my time doing things that I actually enjoy such as “researching about anything that I find interesting instead”.

    So now I’m reallllly confused! Should I drop my course again? and go ahead, be on my own and start a degree in creative writing or English Literature?

    About me, I’ll give you an idea of the very person I am and that will make it easier for you to judge and help me make a decision!

    I’m actually the sort of a person who can imagine creative “ideas”, I already have 3 stories and it’s all me thinking, not related to anything that I have read! Personally I believe the stories that I have created are really great, they all could turn out to be great novels or even movies!

    Once I have an idea, it’s really easy for me to go on and create events and details and I can go on more and more in creative writing making it a longer story not just in depth of details but with afar view and new ideas which are very related to the story making it really good…

    My English is not so great as it’s my second language, but I have been in an English school studying in English for the past 10 years with an average rated teachers, as a child I never read anything I was interested in video games and music! But now I like to read, but I don’t like the depth of novels I feel it’s too much at times and it could get very boring so instead I enjoy searching about interesting facts and reading for hours and getting a lot of informative informations, however I once forced my self to finish 4 novels in 2 days and I did. 🙂 I also love watching movies which has a lot of drama or an interesting story!

    Sorry for bothering you with this unrelated looong comment, any help is appreciated and needed!

    • Greetings! I’m sorry I’ve taken so long to respond to your comment. I haven’t had much time to spend with my blog during the last few months.

      Honestly, I can’t tell you what you should do. No matter how much you tell me about your situation, it wouldn’t be right for me to point you in one direction or another. You know your life and your situation much better than I do. If I tell you what you should do, that might turn out very wrong!

      I can tell you that a degree in writing or literature would be enjoyable…but you wouldn’t be qualified for very many jobs once you graduate. No, money isn’t everything, and an intense focus on money isn’t something I personally advocate. However, you do need to eat and pay rent and have transportation. Money isn’t everything, but it’s a necessity. You need to be able to support yourself.

      Sadly, a writing career won’t necessarily provide the income you’ll need. I didn’t start writing fulltime until 8 or 9 years after I’d left the university. I’ve now been writing fulltime for five years, and I still don’t earn more than pocketchange from my novels. It’s so rare for a new writer to “make it big,” it’s barely even worth mentioning. To make writing a fulltime career, you have to put in years of hard work. Sometimes decades.

      In the meantime, you need a job that will let you earn money so you can spend your free time on writing. This should not be a job that you hate; if at all possible, get in a field that you enjoy and stay in it, even if it’s not the “creative writing dream.” The job that earns you money is simply another tool in your writer’s toolbox. It enables you to pursue writing without having to starve. That’s a pretty valuable asset.

      I hope this helps. Much success to you!

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