top of page

What Most New Writers Get WRONG About Being a (Professional) Writer

Hello, Baby Writers! I'm Here To Ruin Everything.

There's nothing I love more than seeing a batch of baby writers as they prepare to fly off into the big world. So full of dreams, so full of ideas, and so, so full of...delusions. Sorry, but it's true. As your unwanted big-sister who gives you all the tough love truths about writing, it's my job to dispel those delusions before they hold you back.

Here's what most new writers get completely wrong about the job of being a writer - and how you can shift your mindset toward a successful career!

girl in green sweater writing at desk in school
Me on the first day of my job as a content writer, after upping my age by a decade on my resume.

They Think It's All About Writing.

And wouldn't that be nice? Writing something good is one of the greatest feelings in the whole world - it's what motivates most of us to dedicate hours of our lives to the craft. It's uplifting, inspiring, and glorious to put words onto a page and make something new out of them.

It's also only about 40% of what being a professional writer entails. My dears, those lovely creations of yours are beautiful, but let me ask you something...don't you want people to actually read your work? Yes? Well, you're going to have to learn a thing or five to make that happen.

Being a writer means that you are also an editor, blogger, social media manager, marketer, influencer, brand creator, and more. It's a collection of skills, not just one vein of artistic talent. As Stephen King so wisely put it, "talent is a dull knife that will cut nothing unless it is wielded with great force."

That great force is more like a collection of forces, and they all play a role in propelling your work to the level of a career. We don't live in a world of ideals, after all. Reality takes gumption and a willingness to sell yourself, your work, and your goals. And guess what? That doesn't have to hurt the integrity of your art one little bit.

young woman writing on a rooftop as the sun rises
Sure, it looks romantic, but this chick is about to have some major back problems.

They Think They Can Succeed Based On Ideals.

Hmm, what was that saying - "build it and they will come?" What a bunch of B.S. If you write something and just sit there waiting for people to show up on your site or page or twitter and read it, you'll be dead in the ground before anyone appears. And skeletons make really bad authors, FYI.

There are many ideals which take new writers and give them wings upon which to fly far, far out of the realm of concrete success, and you need to be aware of how they operate. The concept of "art over profit" is one of them, as is "as long as you're talented, you'll succeed."

Art - if you want to quit your day job and really make a go of it - is profit. Every job is profit. And really, would you rather make a profit off of depressing, mind-numbing labor you hate, or enlivening, passionate work that you love doing? The income you make from your work says nothing about the integrity of said work one way or another. Integrity is up to you, the writer, to develop. It's also up to you to integrate that integrity with your need to make a living.

If you didn't want to work hard, you picked the wrong profession, kid.

Another pervasive myth, which I briefly touched on in the prior section, is the fetish so many artists have for the idea of "talent." It's all nonsense. What even is talent? It's a concept, an empty adjective. No one person can actually define it, which means it makes a pretty terrible compass.

What makes a writer successful isn't talent. It's a delightful cocktail of resilience, persistence, education, practice, and personal development. It's about learning new skills constantly and then persisting toward your goals in the face of rejections or failures. You've got to have thick skin and an adaptive mindset - talent doesn't play much of a role in any of those things.

Whether you're writing novels or technical manuals, talent is a false beacon that will only lead to you getting easily discouraged when it turns out not to be enough to take you where you'd like to go. Someone who depends on talent is someone who hasn't build a foundation capable of holding up a longterm career.

There are many other ideals, and I'll probably cover them in another post one day, but these are the two big ones that I see cropping up all the time.

two men in hats typing on typewriters outside
Round 1 of the heavyweight "battle of the books" - the loser gets sacrificed via papercuts.

They Think They'll Enjoy Every Minute of Being A Writer.

Oh, boy. One of the most shocking things about going from writer to Writer was the realization that it often feels job. Horrible, right? Imagine, your job feeling like work for part of the time! I don't know why this concept of writing work as a paradise of creative joy took root so firmly, but I see it constantly.

You can enjoy driving, but that's not the same as being a professional driver. You can enjoy food, but that's different from being a professional chef. Writing follows the same basic laws, though I'd venture to say that it remains more enjoyable as a career than most passions do. The majority of the time, I am enjoying myself.

There are times when what I'm doing just feels like something I have to do, however. I don't believe in sticking with a job you absolutely hate, but I do think that creatives in general need to be more realistic about what it takes to turn what they love into a career.

As I mentioned earlier, writing isn't just about writing. You have to learn all of the other back-end skills that will bring you views, sales, and all the other bread-and-butter necessities of a job. Even the writing itself will often take the form of content you wouldn't necessarily write just for the heck of it. And that's not a bad thing! If you loved every minute of the job, you wouldn't grow very much by doing it.

Writing as a career is challenging, usually requiring long hours, strong priorities, and the ability to be pretty ruthless in cutting out the voices and wants of other people. It's going to come down to choosing between writing-related tasks and things you'd really rather be doing a good percentage of the time.

To view writing as a job you can love, you need to look at the big, long-term picture of what it means to achieve fulfillment and success as a professional - not just as an artist. That means biting the bullet, sometimes.

man typing at a laptop
A common mistake new writers make is trying to type a novel before they turn their laptop on.

They Think They Need to Be a Bestseller To Succeed.

Yeah, being a bestselling author would definitely be nice, but it's not what being a Writer is all about. In fact, most highly successful writers aren't bestselling anythings. They're just hardworking professionals with a strategy and attainable goals.

I wish more new writers would sit down and spend some time with themselves before going all-in on a career they aren't mentally ready for. I wish I had spent some time with myself, actually - at least more time than I actually did. I love what I do, but having a more realistic, grounded definition of success by which to measure my progress would have been nice.

Success is, like talent, fairly subjective. Most people in the writing industry agree on a few things, however - it means being able to support your lifestyle and needs, reaching important milestones in your career, and producing quality content on a regular, consistent basis. Maybe some people add in things like "getting recognition for my work" or "not having a fan-fiction of my book become a #1 bestseller and erotic movie" to the list.

These additions aren't central, however. Success is about ability more than anything, whether it's the ability to make the income you need or the ability to be free and independent from the burdens of a 9-5 life and 9-5 barriers to happiness. Writing as a career can certainly give you all of those things without you becoming a famous author for it.

New writers - and more established ones, too - need to be patient and focused about how they define success. If your definition is faulty or unrealistic, it's going to seep into your attitudes toward your work and make it hard to stay motivated. I hate to tell you to lower the bar, but...lower the bar.

Oddly enough, it's usually the writers who didn't have sky-high expectations that ended up becoming household names. Go figure.

typewriter with lots of plants growing out of it
A little known challenge Writers face is when plants burst out of their Remington typewriter.

In Conclusion - A Writing Career Gives You What You Put Into It (Sometimes A Little Less).

If you ask most people what kind of investment they think a writing career is, they'll probably say "a risky one" if they're being polite. A lot of new writers absorb this attitude and view writing as a mystical, luck-based endeavor that either succeeds or fails based on the whims of talent and fate.

So, isn't it sort of nice to know that this perspective is a load of crap? Writing is a job, it's an art, it's whatever you define it to be in your life. But if you want one of those definitions to be a career, you need to be certain about what you're signing up for.

The writing industry has changed a whole heck of a lot in the past decade, my friends. It's a fast-paced, dynamic, content-based world out there. You can pout and see this as a negative, or you can look at it as an opportunity to learn many new skills that otherwise would have evaded you. Being a writer is a path like no other - just make sure you're ready to take that first step down its winding way.

And please, stop telling me about talent.

That's all for today, folks - don't forget to subscribe and share this post if you enjoyed it! If you didn't? Too bad, subscribe and share anyway. Just kidding. Send me an abusive private message so I can screenshot it and put it on twitter.

Talk to you soon, kiddos!


bottom of page