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Write your way into the career of your dreams

Dr Jodi McAlister’s first book was two pages long. Inspired by Enid Blyton it was called The Mystery of the Advent Calendar. She was six years old and already set on being a writer. ‘It’s always been my dream to see my name on the spine of a book.’

Flash forward to 2017. A few days before the launch of her first novel she walks into a bookstore and sees a big stack of books sitting on the floor waiting to be shelved. They’re her books. Her novel. ‘I stood and stared at them for about 10 minutes,’ she says. Eventually a store person asked if she was all right.

‘I just pointed to the stack and said, “Mine. I sign?”’ She laughs. ‘I lost all sense of how to form a sentence, despite the fact that I’m a professional writer and have a PhD in English!’ The staff worked out that she was the author and happily accepted her offer to sign the books.

Highs and lows

‘Nothing will ever compare to that moment,’ Dr McAlister says. Dr Briohny Doyle agrees, ‘It’s amazing how it feels when you get that first book published and in your hands.’

But to enjoy the highs, we must endure the lows. And writers have their fair share of challenges when trying to carve out a career.

‘There are two big challenges that any writer faces,’ Dr McAlister says. ‘Time and money.’ Even if you strike gold, there’s sure to be a time at the beginning of your career when you’re struggling to pay the bills and find time to write.

It takes perseverance to turn your passion for creative writing into a career. Here are some tips to help you along the way…

Pinpoint your passion

‘There are different paths for different kinds of writing,’ Dr Doyle says. ‘If your dream is to write the next Australian literary masterpiece, then you need to work on the quality of your writing.’ That means reading, practising your writing and honing your research skills.

‘If your dream is to write recaps of The Bachelor for millions of people to read,’ she says, ‘then you could start by doing your own blog and building a portfolio of online work.’

Be open to anything,’ says Bonnee Crawford. She studied professional and creative writing at Deakin University but soon discovered a flair for editing. She now has her own editing business and works on everything from novellas to resumes, collections of poetry to business reports.

To be the noun, you have to do the verb

The secret to writing, says Dr McAlister, is to write. ‘There’s no hack, no shortcuts. The word “writer” is a noun that comes from a verb. You’ve got to do the verb.’

Writing around a full-time job can be particularly challenging. Dr McAlister wrote two of her novels in early morning bursts before work. She’d roll out of bed at 5.30am and aim to write 1000 words before breakfast. ‘Get up, drink a cup of tea, smash out some words.’ That was her mantra.

Recently Dr Doyle set herself a similar challenge. ‘I’ve been making myself write for at least two hours every day. If it’s working then I go on to write for a full working day. If it’s not I just let myself be proud of the work I’ve done and move on.’

'There’s no hack, no shortcuts. The word “writer” is a noun that comes from a verb. You’ve got to do the verb.'

Dr Jodi McAlister,
School of Communication and Creative Arts, Deakin University

Find your habit

Every writer has a different practice. ‘A friend of mine says I’m like a squid,’ Dr McAlister says, ‘because I spill a lot of ink to work out where I need to go!’ She says it’s also true of her academic writing – lots of drafts. ‘I work out what I’m thinking on the page.’

She encourages her students to work in the way that’s most useful to them. ‘If you’re an early morning writer, write then. If you’re a late night writer, write then. If planning meticulously before you sit down and write is your thing, do it. If flying by the seat of your pants is for you, do that.’

Find your tribe

‘Make connections with other writers,’ Dr Doyle advises. Writing courses are perfect for this. ‘(Your peers) will become editors and published writers. They become your creative community.’

This community is invaluable for giving you feedback, Dr McAlister says. And later you may be able to help each other with opportunities as you progress your careers.

Publish your work

‘Publish as much as you can,’ Dr Doyle recommends. There are literary magazines and anthologies, sure, but also blogs and other online spaces. Now more than ever you can make your own opportunities.

‘The most important thing about writing isn’t talent,’ Dr McAlister says. ‘It’s discipline. If you can’t sit down and do the work, you won’t get anywhere. Sometimes you feel like you’re smashing your head against the wall, everything you write is garbage, but you’ve got to persevere. Eventually you’ll find a way through.’

Bonnee agrees, ‘It’s mostly about discipline. I set myself deadlines for what needs to be done and work that around my day job.’

‘Writing is the challenge and the reward,’ says Dr Doyle. ‘The challenge is persevering because you could stop at any moment. The reward is that you get the writing done.’

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Dr Jodi McAlister
Dr Jodi McAlister

Lecturer in Writing and Literature, School of Communication and Creative Arts, Deakin University

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Dr Briohny Doyle
Dr Briohny Doyle

Lecturer in Creative Practice (Writing and Literature), School of Communication and Creative Arts, Deakin University

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