Everyone wants to be a professional writer! Or so it seems sometimes. In my life, it’s more unusual to come across someone who doesn’t want to write than someone who does.

I love my job, but writing is very difficult. People think that because they learned basic writing in school and enjoy fantasizing that they can do it, which is a little like getting an A in high school biology and calling yourself a doctor. So let’s talk about it: should you be a professional writer?

First, let’s define terms. What do I mean by professional writer? I’m old-fashioned. I think it means getting paid to write. Sometimes, though, this is indirect: for example, many literary writers don’t get paid to publish their fiction but their writing leads to grants and teaching jobs. Let’s define “professional writer” as your livelihood revolves around publishing your writing in some way.

Here’s what you probably know. You probably know that writing means a lot of rejection. At least I hope you know that, because you will get rejected. A lot. Like it will almost be funny how many rejections you get. And you probably know that you’ll have to spend time alone in a room struggling with your thoughts. There will be agonizing, discouragement, and doubt. These emotions are real, and not at all romantic—don’t underestimate the toll they’ll take on you.

Those are the common things people know about being a professional writer. Here are some things that most people don’t know:

    * People will constantly tell you that what you do is not worth paying you for. In fact, maybe you should pay them to even be considered for publication.

    * Everyone in the industry complains about how no one reads and journalism is collapsing and publishing is dying and no one reads and ebooks! and Amazon is a meanie and no one reads anymore. So get ready for that.

    * You will reach what feels like the end of your intellect, vocabulary, and imagination, and it will be humbling.

    * People will tell you that they think they can be a writer because they can type fast. Really. That is something someone said to me.

    * Most people who show interest in your career are looking for tips on how to do the same thing.

    * In social settings, when you say you’re a writer, some people will think this means you’re an unemployed person giving yourself airs, and will expect you to prove otherwise by listing off your resume.

    * People will ask you point-blank how much you’re paid or what you make in a year, even though they would never do that with another job because it’s rude.

    * You know you will be poor, right?

So. That’s what you have to deal with in today’s writing community. Still interested? Okay, you must really like writing! Or do you? Let’s take a test.

Signs You Should NOT Be A Writer:

    * You never have time to read.

    * You find it hard to write. The act of putting words down on paper is a struggle for you.

    * You feel you need to read self-help books to learn how to be creative.

    * You don’t like writing, or, writing makes you unhappy and depressed.

    * Your self-doubt strangles you to the point that you can’t write anything. You beat yourself up endlessly over this problem.

    * You expect to be a success right away and get upset if you fail.

    * You can’t handle rejection.

I don’t like to squash blossoms of hope, but if you don’t like writing and reading, or the idea of writing makes you so nervous you can’t bear to contemplate it, then you don’t have a deep enough reserve of love for this career. Without that reserve of love, the industry will turn you into a dehydrated toad. Publishing is full of dehydrated toads.

But since this post is sounding a bit negative, here’s the flip side:

Signs you SHOULD be a writer:

    * Writing is emotionally and spiritually satisfying to you. It comes easily (most of the time) and you love it with the passion of a thousand Latin lovers.

    * You have so many ideas, you don’t know what to do with them all.

    * You feel there is something unique or original about you that you need to express.

    * You’re an obsessive reader.

    * You love language. Well-written words fill you with joy.

    * You naturally make narratives, connections, and observations that are sharp and interesting.

    * You have a huge imagination.

    * You’re tough and disciplined.

    * You’re willing to do the sacrifices that writing requires.

Finally: there is nothing wrong with writing for the fun of it. It’s a great form of self-expression and an enriching activity. And, bonus, writing as a hobby has none of the above problems—no rejection, no having to defend yourself, no fear or doubt. That’s a pretty good deal. Why not leave that stuff up to the professionals?

1 Comment

  1. Marcia

    I would say that of all the strangers outside the writing field who find out I’ve written a book, about 70% of them either ask me how they can get a book published or tell me they would like to write one, too. The only time this ever bothered me was when someone told me that the reason they wanted to do it was because they needed an easy fallback career. Ha!

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