Recently the good folks who run the Indies Unlimited website asked me to start contributing a monthly column on the writing profession. They suggested I talk about my experiences and feelings on being a writer. I mentioned that might cause severe depression leading to mass suicide among the site’s followers. But the webmasters don’t care whether you live or die, so here we are.
Like many people who make their living as writers, I have a love/hate relationship with the craft. While you sometimes love the feeling of turning out a piece of finely phrased prose, unless you are one of the tiny handful of writers who are vastly successful, you pretty much hate everything else about the business. You don’t make much money, frequently have to write on topics that don’t interest you to make any money at all, often have to deal with editors who either don’t have the time or the interest to give your story the attention you feel it deserves, suffer bouts of writer’s block, feelings of insecurity, inadequacy, jealousy, and have to deal with massive amounts of rejection. And that’s all on a good day.
It’s the last of those, the rejection, that is often the most daunting aspect of the writing business. Everyone in the field, from best-selling authors to people writing blurbs for the local newspaper, has had to suffer through this miserable aspect of the profession. And no matter how much you believe in your work, no matter how confident you are in your own abilities, it hurts. Because the stuff you write, especially the more personal stuff, is a part of you, a reflection of you. So cache it any way you want but a rejection of your writing always feels very personal, like a rejection of you as an individual.
Then why write? There are a lot of answers to that. The quick, flip one is “I can’t do anything else.” A slightly more thoughtful answer has been espoused by author Richard Bach, who said that he doesn’t like to write, it’s just something he’s compelled to do.
There’s nothing wrong with that, per se. A lot of people feel compelled to get their thoughts down on paper (or computer screen). Some people even enjoy the process. But it’s when you try to make a living out of this writing compulsion that things start to get hairy for you and you run into that long list of negatives I highlighted above.
So am I trying to discourage people from becoming professional writers? Not exactly (unless you stink, then you probably shouldn’t). But I am trying to be honest about it.
As a young man, my father was a drummer. He was moderately successful, even recording a few minor albums with his band before giving it up to actually make money at something. Years later, an older cousin of mine became fascinated with drumming, himself. He wanted nothing more than to become a professional drummer. My father was asked to sit down with him and explain the difficulties of such a career choice. As the story was related to me, he took my cousin aside and told him, “Look, being a professional musician is one of the toughest things you can do. You’ll often be on the road, away from your family, living out of cheap hotel rooms. You won’t make much money, you’ll deal with constant rejection. It’s a miserable life. Now if you can believe everything I’m telling you is the truth and you still want to do it, then go ahead. Otherwise, don’t bother.”
For anyone seriously considering becoming professional writers, I cannot offer any better advice.