FIVE THINGS TO ASK YOURSELF BEFORE YOU BEGIN A CAREER AS A WRITER
Many people who aren’t writers or who aspire to one day write the “NEXT BEST THING” have absolutely no idea what a writing life entails. It is because of their skewed and/or misguided ideas on what being a writer is about that they often suffer from severe delusions of granduer. It is the intent of this particular post to dispell the erroneous notions many have about the writing life and what it means to be a writer.
I’ve had people actually ask me when I got my book deal, “So now that you’re published I suppose you’re going to quit your job and move to a big house in the hills?”
I was astonished at first…did they know something I didn’t? Don’t get me wrong, every writer wants to reap the rewards of their work, but extreme changes in lifestyle, affluence and riches are not in the cards for the vast majority of us. The fact is that only 1% or less of (fiction) writers are able to live off of the revenue generated from the sales of their writing endeavors. This is further compounded by the fact that an even smaller group of that meager 1% are well off, let alone wealthy.
Some folks think that all published writers own some measure of noteriety and I suppose that’s true to some extent. However, very rarely does it result in an easy, carefree lifestyle like the allusions created in the minds of those who don’t know any better. Even those wealthy writers like Stephen King, James Patterson, Danielle Steel or JK Rowling, didn’t get their rewards overnight. Sure, there are a miniscule number of virtually overnight success stories, but believe me when I say those are very far and few in between and it didn’t exactly happen overnight.
The following is a favorite quote of mine from best selling fantasy author RA Salvatore and it happens to be in my opinion the best advice for an aspiring writer to consider when contemplating a career as a writer.
There’s way too much pain in this business (writing) for anyone who doesn’t have to write. I always tell beginning writers, “If you can quit, then quit. If you can’t quit, you’re a writer.”
~ R.A. Salvatore
Five questions to ask yourself before embarking on a career as a writer.
1) Do you like to write?
I know that this seems like a given, but surprisingly there are a number of people who don’t like to write and still aspire to do so. These folks may have an idea that they think is great (and it might just be), but have absolutely NO PASSION for the craft. While I’m not one to discourage anyone from their dreams and/or goals, I think that folks who answer no or even “not really” to this question, should think long and hard about perhaps finding something more fulfilling and rewarding to do with their lives.
2) Can you quit writing?
This question is very much tied to the Salvatore quote and is a very legitimate question to ask yourself before pursuing a writing career. If you can go days, weeks, months, years without writing or at least thinking about it, then perhaps you should find a more attention grabbing and fulfilling vocation. But if you can’t (and you answered yes to question #1), then by all means I encourage you to proceed.
3) Do you want to write because you want an easy, carefree lifestyle with wealth and adoration aplenty?
If you answer “yes” to this question, PLEASE don’t continue to pursue a career as a writer…YOU WILL BE VERY DISAPPOINTED! Again I will acknowledge those rare overnight success stories, but the odds of becoming one of those fortunate few are very slim to none. Even if that sort of success eventually finds you, that shouldn’t be what drives your writing. This is a prime example of those delusions of grandeur I mentioned earlier.
4) Are you a storyteller?
For a fiction writer, this is essential. If you aren’t a storyteller then regardless of what your answers to the above questions are, it is my opinon that you might want to find something else to do with your life. The very essence of fiction writing is to convey a story and if you don’t have stories to tell, then what’s the point? Many people enter into writing (or at least attempt to do so) and have not one story to tell. They’re under the impression that stringing a few sentences into paragraphs and putting together some dialogue constitutes a story. Well, the sobering truth is that it takes a lot more than that to make a story, let alone a good one. Stories generally start with an idea, but an idea alone does not a story make!
5) Can you write only when inspired or in the mood?
Some may argue that it’s still possible to be a writer who writes only when inspired to do so and I’d have to respectfully disagree. I can assure you that if I only wrote when inspired, I’d never finish a damned thing! Being a writer (especially a novelist) is about writing whether you’re inspired or in the mood, because deadlines are deadlines and the story WILL NOT write itself. The following quote from successful, best selling author Neil Gaiman, I think says it all.
“If you only write when you’re inspired you may be a fairly decent poet, but you’ll never be a novelist because you’re going to have to make your word count today and those words aren’t going to wait for you whether you’re inspired or not.
You …have to write when you’re not inspired. And you have to write the scenes that don’t inspire you. And the weird thing is that six months later, a year later, you’ll look back at them and you can’t remember which scenes you wrote when you were inspired and which scenes you just wrote because they had to be written next.
The process of writing can be magical. Mostly it’s a process of putting one word after another.” ~ Neil Gaiman in conversation with Chris Hardwick. (via terribleminds)
In closing, I want it to be clear that in writing this post I am not attempting to dash the dreams and goals of new and aspiring writers. My intent is to merely dispell the very problematic and misguided ideals that some pepole pursuing a career as a writer might have. I’m the first to be very encouraging to new and aspiring writers, but please consider the questions I’ve posed and answer them truthfully before you devote yourself to the writing life.
© 2013 John F. Allen
These are some very serious questions, and reading them and thinking about my answers makes me wonder if I’m truly cut out for this business. I’ve devoted so much time and effort to “being a writer,” I’ve even gone so far to get my masters degree in writing. However, the question that always stops me dead in my tracks is “Do you like to write?” Sometimes I think I hate it. Actually, most of the time I hate it, especially If I’m trying to write when I’m NOT inspired.
What I love is the finished product. After all the hard work has been completed, and I have a story (or poem) that I’m proud of, only then do I like to write. Strange isn’t it?
Still, I must be a writer, because I just cant get away from it. I’ve held other jobs… but I get bored, and get inspired to write something and that’s all I feel like doing. When I’m inspired I enjoy writing a bit more.
This is a great post, and I definitely think you’ve captured what is required to be a writer! 🙂
Thanks Talia! I salute you in your preserverance and I think that there are times when all writers aren’t exuberated about the prospect of writing (as an act), but I think that what holds all of that together is the overall sense of love, awe, wonder and respect for the craft. I think that the fact that you CAN’T quit speaks volumes! I’d be lying if I said that there weren’t days I question myself as a writer and struggle to continue…in fact, I believe that all of us (writers) experience this from time to time and/or at least at some point in our career. It is our willingness and drive to continue that is most important. Writing is HARD WORK and not for the faint of heart.
Great post. People should read this first before writing their first work.
Writing is like so many artistic endeavors–you don’t choose it. It chooses you.
I agree RJ, it is a calling. However, it is up to the individual to heed that call. Some do, others don’t and knowing the difference between a calling and a misguided desire is exactly the point of this post! =D