Remember a few years ago when a big hooplah was raised after Mattel put out the talking Barbie who said “Math is hard?” Well, if she had said “Writing is hard” I imagine many writers would have been clambering for this doll who finally understood them.
Because writing is hard. No, strike that. Writing is easy, a writing career is hard. Most anyone on an endeavor to make money from their own creativity can probably agree.
For people who don’t write, a writing life probably seems glamorous, relaxing, simple. As if I sit around all day in the garden on my chaise lounge sipping a glass of chardonnay while words magically transport themselves from my head to the computer, convert themselves into dollars and whisk away to my bank account. Or, when the weather forces me indoors, I’m at a perfectly comfortable writing desk situated in front of a roaring fire with a cup of Earl Grey as I look out on a Currier & Ives wintery scene.
Well, at least the Earl Grey part is right.
Writing as a livelihood is not glamorous, it’s not exciting and it can be very difficult. And also uncomfortable if you can’t find a good chair (which I never can).
As a full-time writer you don’t have a boss. Many people see this as a bonus, which it mostly is. I don’t have someone telling me what to do when. I love this and it works for me, but for people prone to procrastination, this can be a huge pitfall. Also, without a boss, you aren’t going to get yearly or quarterly progress reports telling you how great a job you’re doing. The next time your boss tells you “Good job” while you’re working on a project think of the boost that gives you. Now imagine not having that feeling. Ever.
Sure book reviews (if you can get people to leave them) can give you a slight boost. But these only come after the book is done and on the shelf (digital or physical). While working on a book, you have only yourself to say you’re doing well, but much of the time doubts creep in of whether you’re working hard enough, is the chapter you’re writing good enough and will anyone buy what you’re pouring your heart into. And it is hard to push past those creeping doubts and keep pen to paper.
Also, as a writer, you are alone in your work. Yes, you can join discussion groups, but in truth your pets are your only co-workers, co-workers that don’t talk back when you talk to them (again, good and bad) and co-workers whose poop you have to clean up. They also won’t go make you a cup of earl Grey. Bastards.
If you’re going to say you’re a writer, a day-job-quitting writer, you must treat it as a full time job. This means, setting a work schedule and sticking to it, which leads to a bit of strife with others. I often hear scoffs of derision when I tell people I’m working and can’t go out. It’s hard not to feel pretentious when I say this, but if I was still in a “real job” I couldn’t piss off for a couple hours to go hang out. So, I force myself to ignore the snide “Oh, I suppose you’re working,” grab my cuppa and get back to the notepad.
And then there’s the guilt. Unless you’re independently wealthy or are already well-known and selling books by the truckload, you’re probably not bringing in the money you did when you had a “real job.” You’re going to have to depend on a spouse, partner or mysterious wealthy patron for money and this, unless you’re a heartless moocher, brings a nice heaping helping of guilt.
Yes, I bring in money each month that goes toward our vacation fund, health insurance and investments, but Mr. Husband is the one paying the “real” bills: mortgage, utilities, and groceries. So, every month that goes by that I don’t release the world’s best-selling novel of all time, I feel odd that he’s the one keeping a roof over my writing space and electricity coming to my computer. And for every box of Earl Grey that I polish off, comes a feeling of guilt….and a nice caffeine buzz.
So, is it worth it? It can be. Making a sale is a huge mood booster. But staying upbeat can be hard. When something goes wrong outside of your writing world, it can truly bog you down and climbing out of that bog can be a struggle.
But ironically, writing can also help. When “real world” things aren’t going great, writing is a great escape. There’s nothing better than getting lost in creating that perfect scene, trying to translate the movie-like images in your head to paper, getting your characters into a believable dialogue. Those moments, especially when other aspects of your life aren’t going great, are better than meditation, a good progress report or a fat paycheck…okay, maybe not a fat paycheck.
Now, I need to fix a cuppa Earl Grey and get to work.