“Writing is a Job” and Other Myths That Limit Your Success
This is not your mother's writing career. Here's how Gen Y writers do it.
Posted May 17, 2015
New writers often have to do away with myths such as “write what you know” and “write when inspiraiton strikes” before they can achieve any kind of traction with their creative work.
But what about some of us more experienced and mid-career writers? What are the myths and fallacies of the literary life that we frequently fall prey to?
Here, in my opinion, are some of the most common ones.
1. “Writing is a job.”
Nah, it’s not. It’s a business. An editor is not your boss, she’s your client.
It’s important for writers to make this distinction between “job” and “business” because when most writers telling you that “writing is a job” what they’re really trying to say is that you need to treat it with the seriousness with which you treated your 9-5 job, that you actually have to work, and that you are answerable to a boss-like figure, so you better get your act straight and not miss deadlines.
But no. Writing is not a job.
Writing is a business and you need to treat it with more seriousness than you treated your 9-5 job (or you may starve), that you don’t have to slog through work each and every day of your life if you’re meeting dadlines and expectations, an that you’re answerable to clients, that you have chosen to work with.
Writers need to let go of the “employee” and “9-5” mindset and think like businesspeople instead. Writing is not a job. It’s a service business. And you are in charge.
2. “Real writers write every day.”
What are some of the other service businesses that you can think of? Plumbers? Painters? Interior decorators? Chefs?
Do plumbers need to fix toilets every single day or risk losing the title of “real plumber”? How about chefs? Is someone who doesn’t cook each and every single day somehow less capable than someone who does? Do actors perform every day?
I still don’t understand why some writers rattle off this statement like it’s gospel even when it’s nowhere close to the truth.
If you, like many of these expert writers advice, wrote 1,000 words a day, you’d be writing 365,000 words a year. Three books. Do you?
Of course you don’t. Because you’re a “real” writer. And real writers procrastinate, have bad days, have to deal with admin and pitching, fall sick, and most shockingly… don’t feel like writing sometimes.
As long as your clients are happy and deadlines met, I give you permission to go ahead and not write every now and again. Recharge those batteries, take that break. Like all other entrepreneurs and self-employed professionals, take advanrage of that flexibility.
Someone who writes five days a week isn’t somehow more “professional” than someone who only writes two days a week. Jodi Picoult, a New York Times bestselling author, who writes a book every year is not a more professional writer than Kiran Desai, the Booker-winning author who took eight years to write her award-winning novel.
That’s the beauty of writing and entrepreneurship. There’s no one way to do it.
3. “It gets easier once you’re published/have an agent/know editors.”
This is true in the sense that you do become a better writer with each word you write and, of course, you won’t have the challenges that newer writers have to deal with if you already have a few contacts, an agent who believes in your work, and an editor who buys it.
But the challenges don’t disappear, they simply change.
For instance, if you reach the New York Times bestseller list with your firist book, your publisher will expect you to outdo yourself with your second one. If a first-time author sells 50,000 copies, that’s a tremendous success. If an NYT bestselling author sells 50,000 copies, that’s a major disappointment and that writer may not even get another book deal.
Expectations change when you rise higher and it doesn’t necessarily become easier.
4. “Writing is an art” or “Writing is a business.”
It’s both and sure, there are writers who are pens for hire and there are writers who choose to suffer for their art, but you’re really just better off accepting the truth of both.
5. “Writing comes easily to the truly gifted writers.”
And to that I say a big fat HA! I’ve already mentioned how it took Kiran Desai eight years to write her Booker-winning novel. But ask any writer—published, unpublished, successful or not—and they’ll tell you that there are days when the words flow like a gushing stream and days when they just wither up and die.
It happens. To each and every one of us. You’re not that special.
Get over yourself and write.
6. “If you want to be a writer, you must put writing first.”
Well, sure, if you’re Virginia Woolf, but look how that ended and I’m not sure you’d want that.
Look, I love writing, even the act of it, not simply having written. If it didn’t sound so pathetic and sophomoric, I’d tell you that I’d be lost if I didn’t have writing in my life. But as much as I like the act of putting words on the page, I love my family more. I love my son more. I put them first.
And that’s where the whole work-life balance thing kicks in.
For the first time in the history of the world, there are millions of people who truly love their work. But we love our families a little bit more and writing does come second.
All those writers of my parents’ generation who were successful in their work but had crap relationships may have had movies made about their lives, but many of them were deeply unhappy. My generation? We want it ALL and for a lot of us, we actually have it. Which is a blessing and a curse, but it does mean that most of us put our kids and partners first a lot of the time.
That’s exactly as it should be, even if means that the unfinished novel does have to wait a little longer than we would like.
Mridu Khullar Relph is the founder of The International Freelancer.