Many writers sit down at their laptops and think, “I’m going to be a writer.”
A portion of those writers actually go on to write things. Many of them write things well. Some of those writers “make it.” Whatever your definition of “making it” as a writer means.
The reason many writers who put in the work required to “make it” (I call these active writers) isn’t because they don’t try hard enough or because they aren’t good enough at writing.
(There are some who miss out on success because of reasons like these, but these aren’t the only reasons.)
Actually, many active writers don’t succeed because they try too hard.
There is nothing wrong with the grind, the hustle, whatever you call your relentless pursuit of this passion-you-pray-will-become-a-job called writing. It’s hard work, after all, that kept me writing when I literally could not get hired to do anything else. (Dark times, my friends. Very dark times.)
But there is such thing as taking your drive to write full-time too far. Because the reality is, many active aspiring writers don’t know what they’re getting themselves into until they’ve committed to too many projects without any reasonable way out.
I’ve only been a full-time writer for about a year. Before that, I interned for a magazine, started building this blog, freelanced, and tried to figure out if I really wanted writing to be my full-time job/career at all.
I honestly don’t think I could have handled writing full-time before then. I had writing experience, don’t get me wrong. But I was bad at time management. I got caught up in writing a lot of things I didn’t want to write, but did it because I was trying to pay my way through grad school. I had such a rough time starting out as a freelance writer that it almost made me want to quit writing. (And that wasn’t the first time I’d ever considered quitting, either.)
The only reason I can handle writing full time now is that I’ve spent YEARS building up the discipline and resilience to Make Writing Happen even when I’m bored, overwhelmed, exhausted, or just having one of those days where you’d rather stare at a wall for two hours than force your hands onto a keyboard.
Many writers aren’t ready for this. Excited to grasp every new opportunity that comes their way, they tend to forget that part of being a writer is … oh …. right. Writing.
All the time.
Many writers sit down at their laptops and think, “I’m going to write. I’m not going to do anything else. I was born to write, and that’s what I’m going to do. That’s ALL I’m going to do.”
I used to think that, too. But you can’t just jump headfirst into something you aren’t ready for and grind until there’s nothing left of you. You have to ease your way in. I was 16 when I started blogging about my life as a writer. That evolved into so much more as I learned and matured. I used to think I had to publish a book as soon as possible or I’d fail.
But by the time I got halfway through college, I was tired. Over it. I didn’t even enjoy writing anymore, because for years, that’s all I thought I could do.
Then I took a step back. I stopped trying so hard to succeed. I blogged when I felt like it, about what I felt like blogging about. I started only taking on writing opportunities that aligned with my career goals. Only then did I figure out what it was going to take to work my way up to writing full time.
And even then, it still took years to get there. Here.
Don’t get me wrong — here is amazing. Every day, I get to wake up and feel like my words actually mean something to at least one person reading them.
I don’t think it would be worth it if it hadn’t taken so long. It’s the experiences I’ve had a long the way, not the job and success I have now, that matter most.
You need to be prepared. You need to try many different kinds of writing, and work with or for many different people. You need to figure out what your interests are and find people who share those interests. It’s OK to start slow. In fact, in my experience, it’s the best way to do it.
You don’t have to write full time to be a successful writer. You can have a day job. An unrelated business. Friends. A family.
You can work your way up to that, if you want. But don’t do it because it’s what you think people expect you to do. Do it because writing fulfills you in a way nothing else can.
Build your figurative empire. One word at a time. If you feel pressured to do more, first ask yourself if it’s really what you want to do. Writing can be Your Thing, but it doesn’t have to be Your One Thing.
What makes you a writer isn’t that you write until you’re sick of it.
What makes you a writer is that you allow writing to be a central part of your life, without letting it take complete control of your existence.
Love what you write. Love that you are a writer.
If you end up doing it full-time, that’s cool.
If not, that’s cool too.
Be the writer who writes, who follows through, who “makes it” in your own way.
Don’t burn yourself out. Don’t push yourself too hard. Writers are people, too. Be good to yourself. You deserve it.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.