Starving Writer Syndrome: A Dash of Humor, and Some Tips for Writers

I recently read a humor article by Kathy Poole titled “Starving Writer Syndrome” which had me laughing from the first line. What got me most about the article, though, is how often true humor is. After all, if it weren’t at least a bit true, it wouldn’t be so funny. So if you’re suffering from Starving Writer Syndrome (eating ketchup soup or believing that no sane person will ever pay you for your writing), here’s your cure.

Symptom: Listening to People Who Insist Writers Can’t Prosper Financially

I think that this symptom hits most of us because it’s also one of our biggest fears. How can we pay the bills if we aren’t making any money? It’s the reason that at least 3/4 of the writers in our country struggle at a full-time job and cram bits of writing in when they can.

The truth is that it can be difficult to earn a living off your writing. At least at first, and definitely if you’re concentrating on the one big break – the masterpiece novel that has grown into countless volumes but still isn’t ready yet. There are plenty of other ways to keep bread on the table while you work on that novel, and lots of opportunity for you to laugh at the nay-sayers who believe you can’t do it.

One of the best ways to keep yourself eating and writing is to learn to craft articles. Everything from magazines to newsletters to websites like this one, Associated Content, needs quality articles – and if you have the will to be a great writer, you can write quality articles.

Before you throw in the towel and give in to this Starving Writer Syndrome symptom, take a stab at articles. Sit down and brainstorm 3-5 topics that you know plenty about (this saves a ton of research time). Then, start typing. Shut off the inner critic and give it a shot – you might be pleasantly surprised at what a dedicated writer can earn.

Symptom: Desperate Attempts to Sell Your Writing

I firmly believe that writers are a “type” of person. Somewhere, in some book, I read that a writer is a person who sits back and watches life … while the point this author was making was that writers tend to not participate in life, I’m not focusing on that part. What I mean to say is that writers, when they find each other, seem to find a common ground – that “Oh wow I totally understand you!” feeling. Because of that, if you’re a writer, you probably know a lot of other writers.

Where am I going with this? Okay, so I know a lot of writers. Published authors and really soulful wanna-get-published ones. Over time, the thing that I’ve learned to catch the most quickly is desperation. The writers who are so desperate to get published that they’re willing to submit their work anywhere – iffy poetry contests, websites that display work (but never pay you), and elaborate schemes for getting hundreds of people to pay for the privelege of reading their writing.

The authors I know who have become published (often, and pretty well) haven’t given in to desperation. Instead, they saved their rejection letters – or burned them – and took the time to edit their work and send it in again to another respected publisher.

If you start feeling desperate, that you must sell your writing somewhere, somehow … take a deep breath and repeat after me, “My work is worth something.” If you can honestly say that you have given your writing the very best effort you have, then you’ve got something that is worth being read. The trick is just finding the right place to read it. Refer to the first symptom in this article.

When you’re ready to start submitting your work, check out writer’s guidelines online or in books like the Writer’s Market. Jot down several publishers whose criteria (they’re very clear about what they’re interested in) match your work. Then, start with the publisher you think would be the most likely to reject you. Seriously – not only will you not be so hurt if a rejection letter comes, but you’re also going to look at your work more critically and raise the standards so that you won’t get rejected by the best publishers.

In other words, don’t give in. When you get desperate and start submitting your work everywhere, just to get it “out there”, you’re hurting yourself and your credibility as a writer.

Symptom: Frequently Hearing an Immediate “YES!” When You Quote Your Fee

Fees are one of the scariest things to set. You go through a panic thinking, “No one will pay me that!” and end up asking for much less. You justify the low cost by saying things like, “Well, yes, I’m charging much less … it gives me an edge on the competition.”

Under-cutting the competition is one thing, but if you find that clients are shrieking in delight at how little you charge, you’re seriously killing your pocketbook. And, hard as this is to hear, you’re giving yourself the look of an amateur.

Take some serious time to research the common rates for services that you perform. You can decide to go lower than those common rates, but really consider how much time and effort you’re putting into the writing for the cost you’re charging. How many hours is your computer sucking at your electric bill while you write? It all adds up.

Once you’ve come up with reasonable rates that you can – honestly – live with, put them in writing. Print them out, publish them on your website, do what you’ve got to do to make those rates permanent. Then, when you get the “Can you tell me how much…” call, you’re not tempted to blurt out an obscenely low rate just to get the job. Refer the potential client to your published rates, and assure them that the quality of your writing will make those rates more than worth it.

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