3 Harsh Truths About Building A Writing Career - Cut Through the BS And Succeed Realistically!
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There are a lot of myths about what it's like to be a career writer. If you look online you'll see plenty of posts or clickbait-y articles about "how to make $25,000,000,000 in a month as a new blogger!" or "How to become a bestseller exactly 255 days ago with this ONE TRICK."
It's all crap - and you don't need to be wasting precious time on gimmicks or marketing lures, because you are a professional. You have important things to do! Having waded through the ocean of cheap, mass-produced idiocy myself, I'm here to share a little of what I've learned.
Put on your goggles, kids, because we're going bullsh** dodging.
Myth 1: If You Work REALLY Hard and Produce Awesome Work, Success Will Happen Quickly.
Oh, if only... The reality is that most ambitious goals - and the creation of a viable writing career is certainly ambitious - take a good chunk of time and a heavy dose of persistence. This job is a marathon, not a sprint, and you need to train yourself mentally to go the distance.
Writing careers take many forms. You can be a technical writer, a blogger, an author, a ghostwriter, a poet, etc., and no matter what path you choose, it's going to take a while to build up the portfolio and connections necessary to sustain your income. A career, by definition, is a long-term entity. Literally, the definition is "an occupation undertaken for a significant period of a person's life and with opportunities for progress."
The opportunities are abundant. They'll come and go many times over the course of your life, and your goal as a professional isn't to grab every single one or live a life full of regret for the ones you missed. The goal is to stay on your feet, stay limber, and seize them over the months, years, and decades you spend as a writer. However, those opportunities will still take time to bear fruit ninety percent of the time.
The amount of work you produce is critical to your success, and content takes time to create. Networking is also a long game requiring sustained effort to forge and nurture bonds with others in your field. How you manage your life in the time between planting your seeds and seeing them produce is up to you, and is a topic that will have its own post sometime soon.
Just know that if you are looking for a career with a fast turnaround and predictable growth, you've truly come to the wrong place. If, however, you're willing to be patient, hardworking, and smart about your choices? Welcome to the community, my friend.
Myth 2: Writing Is An Inherently Noble And Virtuous Career That Will Automatically Command Respect.
Ha! Have you seen some of the successful work out there? Concepts like "noble" and "virtuous" are incredibly subjective - and you can't build a career on subjectives. To be a professional writer, you need to stop putting writing on a 200-foot-high pedestal and accept it for what it is: an occupation.
Is it an extremely versatile occupation? Absolutely! There are hundreds of ways to be a writer, and all of them are interesting and worthwhile if it's what you want to do. Just don't expect the wider world to agree with you.
There are a number of negative stereotypes about writers and writing that will almost certainly hit you full in the face at some point throughout your career (especially when you're just getting started). Let's list a few, shall we?
A Pipe Dream
Never Profitable (unless you're a mythical rags-to-riches case)
A Cop Out
Not a "Real Job"
A Dying Art
A Dead Field
Just a Hobby
Something Only "Certain People" Can Do
And, of course, writers are...
Not "Normal People"
etc. etc. etc....
It's a pretty bleak picture, the image a lot of people have about writers and writing. And while you may have some supporters, you will soon find that these stereotypes are pervasive, even amidst the people you thought you could depend on. People may enthusiastically support your writing, but do they support it as your job?
Even other writers are going to judge the absolute hell out of you. Sorry, we're a**holes. You'll get all kinds of overt and subliminal messages about what you're doing wrong, why you, specifically, can't succeed, and so on and so forth.
It is, like the aforementioned clickbait, all bull**it.
Writing is one of the most disciplined and sustainable careers out there - it just isn't a get-rich-quick scheme. It takes longer, sometimes much longer, than certain other careers do to get up momentum. The returns, however, can be extremely satisfying. Plenty of writers make plenty of money in their line of work, and you can, too.
Just don't expect everyone (or most people) to be in your corner while you build those foundations, and do expect to be your own (and only) cheerleader a good percentage of the time. Sis Boom Bah, Bit**es.
Myth 3: There Is A Glorious And Supportive Community of Other Writers Just Waiting To Help You Out!
Who do you think you are, anyway? The prodigal? Sorry, but the real world is not filled with smiling artists who hold hands and skip into the rainbow together. That would actually be pretty annoying, if you think about it - who has time for singing kumbayah 3 days a week?
The writing community, as such, is a wonderful thing. It is rife with resources and it is, indeed, full of very cool, very kind, very supportive people - if you do the work. People won't just waltz up to you as soon as you publish your first novel and kiss your ass. That kind of service generally takes one, vital thing called reciprocity.
You kiss my ass, I'll kiss yours. That's how the saying goes, right? If I had a dime for every overeager new writer who tries to hop on the success train of already-established professionals, I'd be living a very different lifestyle. It's not only ineffective, but also really annoying.
The writing community isn't there to promote you. It isn't there to help you out for free, or give you a boost out of the goodness of its heart, or magically make your problems disappear for you. It's there to be a community. Aka, we'll celebrate your victories with you, provide feedback, share knowledge, and so on. Success, however, depends entirely on you.
Networking isn't a free-for-all, either. If you are lucky enough to get a mentor (shoutout to mine, love ya), it's because you are able to be of benefit to each other. Sure, sometimes someone will give you a nice break - and that is awesome when it happens - but that's very rare. Professional bonds are a two-way street.
If you barrel into a writing career expecting literally anyone else to do any of the work for you, well, honey, you've got a big storm coming. If you want help, you're going to need to pay for it just like any other service or product. And if you aren't paying for it with cold, hard cash, you'll be bartering your skills and abilities for someone else's.
A lot of us have a very idealistic image of the artistic community, and this can not only hold you back professionally, but it also sets you up to get taken advantage of. Plenty of people will pose as a mentor or act like they'd love to help you out of the good grace of their bleeding heart - and then they'll scam the daylights out of you. They'll get you to do free work for them, free promotions, or otherwise use you to get ahead. Do not be that poor sap who ends up overworked, broke, and disillusioned within a few months of working in the field because they trusted all the wrong people.
Support, respect, and accolades will come...after you succeed. Lots of people will want to be your friend at that point.
Protect yourself and don't assume the world is on your side just because you're a great writer with a lot of drive. This career has more than its fair share of cons and predators, and I don't want to see you fall into any traps.
In Conclusion - Writing Is a Job. A Jobby Job - As Professional A Job As Any You've Ever Seen.
Writing, to many writers, is an integral piece of their identity, self-esteem, and overall life plan. That means that we are pretty susceptible to idealism, disillusionment, and false starts as we pursue our often-extremely-ambitious professional goals. Writers, like many artists, often have a childlike way of seeing the world - and this is a beautiful thing.
Just don't let it make a mess of your career life. When something seems too good to be true, guess what? It more-than-probably is! Shift your mindset so that you think of writing like you would any other job - and no, this doesn't mean blocking out all of the joy, fulfillment, and passion that the work brings with it.
It just means that you are protective of yourself and your creations, and that you make the choices that are the most likely to help you over the long-term. The myths are many and pervasive, but mama didn't raise no fool. You can, with effort and patience, learn to see through the screens of delusion clouding our field and find your way to the career you've always dreamed of.
And hey, I'll be cheering you on the whole time! Thanks for reading, and I'll catch you on the flipside (I did finger-guns while typing that, FYI).
Oh, and don't forget to comment, share, and subscribe! I love knowing that I'm not just talking to myself (wait, who said that?).