I never thought it would happen to me.
No, really. I honestly never thought I would make it this far. Writing is one of those things many, many people say they want to do when they “grow up.” It is a common, seemingly ordinary dream. A career goal many people still shake their heads at. In high school, no one ever actually told me I couldn’t be a writer. They gently steered me toward an English major at a good college. After that, it was up to me to figure it all out for myself.
I almost gave up on writing as a career. I won’t go into the details right now. I didn’t give up, though. By the time I graduated, writing had become pretty much the only thing I was skilled and qualified enough to do. I figured I should at least try to find writing jobs, at least until I could figure out what my degree(s) could get me in the disaster that is the US job market.
Somehow I became the managing editor of a magazine. And a freelance writer. The first paycheck I received for writing something original wasn’t all that long ago, but it was one of the coolest days of my life. Granted, I’m not the best writer out there. But I’m pretty lucky to be able to, at least for the time being, live off of what I earn from dumping all the racing thoughts in my head onto blank virtual pages.
I almost didn’t do it. I almost changed my mind at the last minute. Because I was afraid … afraid that when writing became my job, I wouldn’t want to do it anymore.
In reality, being able to call writing my ‘profession’ has completely changed my life – for the better in most ways, for the worse in a few others. For years, all I wanted to be was a writer. And when you’re younger and you have responsibilities like school and other activities, you often only have time to write every once in awhile. And that was the case with me. Sometimes, it used to be really hard to force myself to write in my free time … because all I wanted to do was, well, not use my brain anymore.
When you spend all day writing, because you have to, there is a cutoff point, at which you do not have to write anymore until the next day if you don’t want to. Then you are free to do whatever you want to do from that point forward. There is less pressure to write on your own time, because you get your fix during the hours you spend working.
I am a writer. But writing as a job has shown me that writing is not all I do – and there is nothing wrong with that. I have other hobbies I truly enjoy pursuing. Now that there is far less pressure to ‘become a writer,’ I don’t have to push myself over the edge anymore just to get something published. If I feel like writing something extra on my own time, I can, and I do. But if I need a break, and just want to watch YouTube videos until three in the morning, technically I can. And I’m not missing out on any writing time, because my office hours are over for the day.
Identity is really confusing when you’re at that stage where you’re trying to define yourself as a writer but technically aren’t one yet. Now I can call myself a writer – it is my job. But because it’s my job, when I close out all my work for the day, I can be anything I want after that. I can be a bookworm and curl up with a Star Wars novel. I can be a musician and write a few songs just because it’s good for my mental health. I can be a runner, and run six miles just because it makes me feel good.
I love being a writer. I am grateful for everything I have and am proud of what I have achieved so far, and what I have yet to accomplish as I continue to grow and develop my skills. But that is not all I am. I am many different things. That is a kind of freedom I did not realize I needed to embrace. The pressure to be one thing and one thing only is gone.
It took 10+ years, but I have finally found balance in my life. I never thought getting a job could make that happen. I’m glad I was wrong.
If you’re feeling totally lost or stuck, just remember that writing does not have to be your everything. You are a writer. But you are also ___, and ___, and ____. Just because you put down your pen for awhile does not make you any less of a person. And if you do spend all your time writing, and that makes you happy, then you are allowed to find joy in that. Writing can be as little or as much a part of your life as you want it to be. It is completely your choice. But writing does not define you.
Never let yourself create an identity based on your writing unless you have an identity separate from that. That is one of the most important things I will probably ever tell you. Because if you are trapped in one of those cycles when you receive rejection after rejection, you can’t let yourself take that personally. It’s your writing that’s being rejected, not you as a person. Remember that. And if you are succeeding as a writer, feel good about that – but keep in mind that you cannot neglect other areas of your life just because your career is taking off.
You might think it will never happen to you. But I have one rule when it comes to writing as a career: never say never. Ever.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter.