Why a Writer’s Path is Never a Straight Line

It’s unpredictable. And that’s OK.

When I was a senior in college, I honestly thought I’d already “made it.” I had multiple writing and editing gigs, which meant I had more writing experience than a lot of people my age. I had a blog, I had bylines, and I had a portfolio of work ready to send out to potential clients and/or employers.

I was set. I was ready. I had absolutely nothing to worry about.

And then I graduated.

Within the first few months of searching for steady work as a writer, I knew I was in trouble. It seemed that no matter how much writing experience I technically had, it still wasn’t enough. I kept submitting articles to magazines and searching for jobs, but — at least to me — it seemed like no one wanted to pay a 22-year-old to publish content under their brand.

So I found myself back in a place I thought I’d left behind when I walked across a stage — working for free as an intern, giving websites my work in exchange for exposure, getting more job rejections than I’d ever expected to get in a single summer.

I felt as though I’d been climbing my way up the staircase to success, and suddenly I found myself twelve stories below where I’d been. How had I worked so hard all throughout college to set myself up for a decent writing job after I got my diplomas, only to find myself struggling just as hard as everyone else my age?

It’s not that I felt I deserved it more than them. But I’d put in the work. And hard work was supposed to lead to some kind of reward, wasn’t it?

It took a few years and another degree for me to build up the experience I needed to pursue a career in my chosen profession (science writing). I hit a peak, tumbled into a valley, and had to continue working hard to climb my way back up to something worthwhile again. And chances are, I’m going to have to do that again. And again. And again.

How do I know? Because this is the writer’s path. It winds. It dips and rises. You don’t just start out at the bottom and climb your way to the top. You succeed, you fail, you do great things and you don’t. And the best way to get through the ups and downs of pursuing a career in writing is to expect that it’s not going to be anything even resembling a straight line.

I like to say a writer’s journey is really just a bunch of scribbles. They go this way and that, they loop around each other, they start and stop and go every which direction. Looking at them up close, trying to follow a single line, none of it makes any sense.

But looking at the whole thing from a distance, you might actually be able to see where those scribbles began — their starting point — and where they conclude — your end.

You’re going to deal with a lot starting from the moment you first decide to begin your career in writing. You’re going to learn what you’re good at and what you’re not good at. You’re going to learn how to put yourself out there and how to focus on yourself when necessary. You’re going to learn what hard work means for you, what you really want to accomplish with your writing, and how you can use your passion to reach and maybe even serve other people.

But most important of all, you’re going to learn that there are always going to be setbacks. There are always going to be obstacles you have to find a way around or through. There are going to be moments you love what you do and moments you wish you didn’t have to do it anymore.

There are going to be successes and failures. Frustrations and celebrations. Times of laughter and times of tears. Maybe both at the same time, who really knows.

How do you get through it? You don’t. You write through it. You take what you learn along the way and you use it to do better with every new twist and turn along your way. You acknowledge your mistakes and do the very best you can not to repeat them. You pay attention to your successes and  keep doing the things that led to them.

Getting from Point A to Point B is not simple. It’s not predictable. And admittedly, it’s not always fun.

But all these curves and sharp turns and spirals? They’re worth it.

If I’d given up that summer and decided just to set my writing ambitions aside, I may not have made it to where I am now. I’m not a bestselling author, I don’t have a column in a popular magazine or newspaper that everyone reads. I’m just another writer doing my best to make every day in this industry count.

But I’ve made it further than I ever expected to at times. And I still have a long way to go. All because I accepted this would not be easy, and try to take every new thing that comes along with the best attitude and drive I can.

I hope you’ll start doing the same. If you do, I promise you’ll go far. There’s no guarantee you’ll get to where you want to be. But you’ll get somewhere, which is better than nowhere, don’t you think?

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 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

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17 thoughts on “Why a Writer’s Path is Never a Straight Line

  1. I want so desperately to be a writer. But lately I have felt discouraged. I can’t seem to get anywhere with my writing. It’s disappointing for sure.

    1. What happens when you try writing something? What goes through your mind that leads to your feelings of discouragement? Is there a specific goal you’re trying to reach you aren’t making progress toward?

      1. I would love to be a published author and a freelancer. When I sit down to write the words don’t come. All I feel is fear of failing so in turn, I feel like I am failing.

      2. My worst case scenario is ending up being told I wasted my time. Not having my dream happen. Being told it’s not realistic for me.

      3. You’re worried about what other people might say/think. What about what YOU think/believe? Do you think writing will be a waste of time? That your dream can’t happen or isn’t realistic?

      4. I think it’s worth a shot to see if I can make it a reality. I do care what others think and I have been trying to be better but it’s been a struggle. I have wanted this for so long that I don’t want to put my all into it if it’s not going to work out in the end. I know there is never a guarantee with this or anything really. It would be nice to know in advance though.

      5. It would — unfortunately, writing is something you have to be willing to take a chance on. It might work out the way you want it to, it might not. Clearly you’re passionate about it since it’s been your dream for a long time. But it won’t happen overnight. Every writer begins their journey in the same place — having written or published nothing. All you can worry about in the moment is getting something written down. Focusing on things that haven’t happened yet is a distraction you can’t afford if you’re serious about writing. Also, you really have nothing to lose. You don’t have to quit your day job, move to another state, give up your life savings to start writing a book. It’s a very low-risk decision, if you think about it. “Just start writing” is not as scary or complicated as it might seem. Challenge yourself to that and nothing else. Start writing. It’s a barrier so many aspiring writers face, but once they cross it, it’s not nearly as terrifying. I don’t know if any of that helps. Does that at least make sense? :)

      6. This is actually extremely helpful. I’m one of those people who overthink everything. Your comment has helped relax me a bit. I will focus on my writing and see where it takes me. I’ll only fail if I don’t try. Thank you for your encouraging words. 🙂

      7. I’m so glad you’re feeling a little more relaxed about what’s to come. If you’re ever feeling stuck, overwhelmed, or discouraged, you are always welcome to reach out. Sometimes we just need to be reminded that what we’re doing is worth it. :)

  2. I’ve always written. It wasn’t until recently I began calling myself a writer. It wasn’t until I’d learned to tap into every ounce of triumph, regret, pain, victory, and sheer terror I’d lived through that I found I was writing anything worth saying.

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