Thursday, September 18, 2014

Writing 101: Is It 'Worth It?'

Is it really worth it to be a writer? The romantic answer is a resounding yes. And if you're the type of person who likes insecurity, criticism, instability and exhaustion, then it's definitely something you ought to pursue. But if you enjoy getting holidays off and want to have some sort of extra time on the weekends, you've got some hard thinking to do.

Being a writer means paying a ton of money in taxes -- much more than you would if you had a "real job" -- and it means working much longer hours than the 9-to-5 guys who get the luxury of being on the clock just 40 hours a week. It also means being disregarded by everyone you know, because they'll assume it's easy for you to be flexible when it comes to your work. After all, to some of them what you do isn't even going to be real work. So before you pursue the goal of working as a full-time writer, make sure it's really worth it to you...because I promise, you're going to have to give up a lot to make it work.

Everybody Hurts...Sometimes

Do you like instability? That's what you will get if you want to make all of your income, at at least most of it, from being a writer. As an author of books, you're subject to the whims and fancies of fate. You're a slave to the market. And if you freelance, you're subject to that. You'll get jobs and you'll lose them. You'll do work and you won't get paid for it. You'll try, and you will fail. Of course, there will also be times that you will succeed. But there is one truth about this career that cannot be disputed:

It will never be steady. It will never be stable. Things will not be exactly the same from one day to the next, and there will be times you when you honestly have no idea how much money you're going to have tomorrow, or next week. And no matter how much money you do or do not make as an independent contractor, because that is what you are if you are a full-time writer or author, you will have to pay more taxes than anyone else (if you live in the United States, that is, but we haven't got time to go into the tax codes of every country and ruminate about the differences therein).

Are you emotional? If you're an author, you understand something that no one but another author could ever understand. When you're a writer, you have to be able to step outside of yourself and into another world. You have to focus on that world, on another character's problems -- and you have to forget about your own. There are going to be times when finding that focus is impossible, because you just can't get outside of yourself.

No one around you will understand. No one around you will really know the struggle, and there will be times when no one will make it easier for you. Sometimes, in fact, they will only make it harder. And it won't matter. It won't matter if you're crying so hard you can't stop. It won't matter if you're so physically ill you can barely stop throwing up. There will be times when you have to write anyway. I can distinctly remember a time when I was so hazy I could barely speak, and so sick to my stomach I couldn't even have a glass of water. And I still laid flat on my back and worked, upside-down, using my tablet. I was too sick to sit up. There is no such thing as being too sick to write. 

Are you lonely? It's only going to get worse. If you are a full-time writer, you will be treated like you are a person who has fun all day. You will be treated like this even after you have to work through Christmas and skip taking a vacation for four years in a row. You will be treated like this even if you work 12 hours a day and sleep for 4 hours a night and you have trouble simply standing up. People think that being a writer is fun or relaxed or somehow enjoyable because you're sitting at home. What they don't realize is that you're sitting at home typing all day, and you're not even in this world anymore. You're in another world entirely, a world that is something harsh and unforgiving and emotionally exhausting. People think it's awesome that you are your own boss. What they don't know is that it isn't true. When you're a writer, everyone is your boss. Every reviewer. Every editor. Every comment you get. Every Tweet you have to answer. The entire world is your boss, because you have to answer to the world. No one will ever attempt to work with your schedule because they do not believe that you have to follow one. No one's watching you punch a clock, so what difference does it make? 

That's the attitude that you'll face, and I'm not talking about strangers on the Internet. I'm talking about people in your own family. Every word you write, every decision you make about your life, everything that you do as a writer is subject to criticism from every single person on the planet. That's the life.

Being a full-time author or writer very often means fitting yourself in around the fringes, if you can even find time for yourself anymore. You will be criticized. You will be disregarded. You will be discarded. You will get exhausted and overlooked. You will get treated like your life is a big picnic when it's anything but. You will be exhausted. And you will be, in many respects, completely alone. 

So it almost seems silly to ask if it's "worth it" or not. And maybe the craziest thing of all is the answer I'm going to give you: yes. Don't get me wrong. My advice to anyone and everyone is don't be a writer. Don't follow this path, because it's hell. But if all you can do is write, if all you think about is writing, if words live inside you and you have to put them on the page, then you may not have another option. And the day you get an email or a comment from someone who says "I like this," a lot of that hurt will go away. You will get hurt again, this much is certain, but maybe you'll get fan mail again as well. Is it worth it? That's something you'll have to decide on your own. Consider all that you'll be giving up, and all that you'll gain in return, and decide how much the words mean to you.

[+/-] Show Full Post...


  1. Great post Jade - you hit a lot of truths here which people don't see from the outside.

  2. Thanks for your comment! So glad you liked the post.

  3. People from the outside don't understand that we cannot take a holiday or truly leave work completely like 'normal' people do :) I wish you could do long posts more often. :)