The Real Reason People Doubt They Can Make Writing a Career

I heard “You’re going to be such a great writer!” so much that I almost decided not to be one.

Many people sit back in their desk chairs at some point and think, “Wow. I might not actually want to be a writer after all.” Even if they’ve studied it, pursued it — succeeded in it. There’s just a sense of doubt that comes along at some point and makes us question everything.

And I think it’s one of the best things that can happen to you.

I write professionally now, but there was a point in my life when I would have gladly done ANYTHING ELSE if it meant I never had to write something out of necessity ever again.

It’s that segment of my life that changed my attitude toward writing for the better.

Starting in middle school, people began complimenting my writing skills. Very cool for a 12-year-old desperately trying to impress both her peers and teachers. But as I entered high school, and started meeting with guidance counselors and registering for writing classes, those nice compliments turned into nonstop … assumptions.

“You’re going to be a great writer! A career in writing is perfect for you! The world needs good writers like you.”

On. And on. And on.

Of course, always a people-pleaser, I went along with it. Until I got to college, where dozens of opportunities to learn a variety of subjects and join clubs that had nothing to do with my English major made me realize that writing wasn’t all I could, or even wanted, to do. I’d barely ever explored any other options. Growing up, people just talked to me about a career in writing, and I assumed that was all I could and would ever do.

So for awhile, the idea of writing all day every day for the rest of my life was far less than appealing. I took literature and psychology and nutrition classes, I spent time performing in music groups and taking voice lessons — I made it a point to try a little bit of everything else. Because at that point, I finally realized I had more than enough power over my life to decide what I wanted to do. And if I didn’t end up settling for a writing career, well, that was fine with me.

How I ended up as a writer anyway is kind of a long and rage-inducing story, so I won’t bother you with the details. But the important thing is, I eventually ended up choosing my career in writing. No one forced it upon me. No one expected me to settle. I actively made the choice, independently of anyone else’s suggestions or opinions. And that made me feel good. It made writing fun, and worthwhile, for me again. It still is.

Growing up, everyone was just trying to be encouraging. I get that — I’m grateful for that. It just took standing in front of a few different crossroads for me to realize that whether I chose a career in writing or something else, my happiness was more important than making someone else proud.

It’s healthy to doubt your desires. When you spend so much time writing, sometimes you do miss out on other things. It’s OK to try something new, to consider a career that doesn’t involve a ton of writing, even just so you can go home at night and have brain power left over to write to your heart’s content. Sometimes we doubt our ability to do something because no one has ever told us we don’t have to. We start to wonder, “What if I did this instead?”

If you go your whole life wondering that, but never trying it, you’re going to be miserable. You might try something new and realize you like writing after all. You might fall in love with something else, and decide to leave writing as an occasional side project. This doesn’t make you any less of a writer, or lazy, or a failure. If writing isn’t all you want to do, you don’t have to sit around feeling trapped and angry. Be a Human Venn Diagram. Do more than one thing. You are not one title, one profession, one skill set. Work hard, but have fun. Don’t smother the urge to try something different.

It’s your time, it’s your life. You can choose how you spend it.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

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5 thoughts on “The Real Reason People Doubt They Can Make Writing a Career

  1. Thanks for another encouraging post! I appreciate the Venn Diagram analogy- reading articles in the writing community gets a little intimidating for a beginner as some seem to imply that writing is ALL I should be doing ;)

    1. I completely understand that. I sincerely believe some people stop writing because they get tired of it – because it’s all they ever do. One of the best ways to generate new ideas is actually NOT to write, and to go off and do something else. :)

  2. Wow–take out “writing” and put in “teaching” and you’ve got me. The drive, the desire, the compliments, and then the assumptions. I fell for those assumptions and then thought. “Okay, I did what I was supposed to do…now what?” And I’ve been sliding downhill ever since.

    I wanted to write and teach, but really wish I’d focused more on writing. But writing was touted as impractical, what I should do “on the side,” but I really wish I’d spent more time learning how to write, to be a journalist, or some other writer…anything. Because when the game plan for your life falls apart and you take off the thin veneer of what you “know” about it, sometimes it just doesn’t work for you anymore. I’m adrift, and have been for years. Reading books and trying to get back into writing are all that have helped me keep going.

    Books are my friends, I love to learn, and I love to ask questions. But I’m determined to be a writer and get better at it (which is partly why I show up here). Good nuggets of wisdom today and I needed that. Hugs.

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