No one told me it would be like this.
When I formally decided I was going to “be” a writer — whenever that was, whatever that means, I’m still uncertain — I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. I knew writing books would take a long time. I knew writers didn’t get paid much and that in general your chances of getting published were minimal at best.
Always hungry for a challenge, I dove in anyway. At first, I didn’t care about the money or the recognition, I just knew I needed to start getting my work out there no matter the cost.
I was 22 when I started my career as a writer — not counting the three years I had spent before that interning and contributing to various publications in my spare time.
It has been five years, and there are days I feel like nothing has changed. Even worse, I feel more pressured to “keep writing” than I ever have before. And not just because there’s money involved (I’m grateful for that).
No one ever told me being a writer would be THIS kind of challenging.
What is it about being a writer that’s so overwhelming — and often so lacking in terms of reward?
You’re not allowed to get things wrong. I have a health science degree. I care about facts. I am an editor., an experienced fact-checker. Getting things “right” matters to me. But I am also not perfect. And for whateve reason the internet has a problem with that.
I work for a publication that probably gets dozens if not hundreds of emails a day from readers submitting “corrections” on published content. First of all, who are you that you have this much time on your hands to seek out a specific email address to tell someone about a typo? Second of all, guess what happens when content on the internet is free? Companies don’t make enough to hire teams of editors. Sorry that’s not good enough for you.
This wouldn’t be a problem if people were nice about correcting you on your mistakes. But they aren’t — not usually.
So where does that leave us? Trying as hard as we can not to mess up. Which just makes it that much harder to get everything done, because when you’re concerned about trying to make everything perfect, you can’t focus on anything else. You write more slowly, you second-guess yourself. It’s exhausting.
Should your work be proofread and fact-checked if you want to come off as someone who takes their writing seriously? Of course. But that doesn’t mean typos or accidental misinformation isn’t going to happen. There’s no forgiveness for that. And I don’t know about you, but some days that just makes me not even want to bother.
They expect you to hustle. 2019 seems to be the year of self-care and getting real about burnout. I’m all for it. But here’s what frustrates me about these discussions: I’m mostly hearing them from people who have the luxury of taking time off, exploring different interests, and “doing whatever they want.”
When you’re a small creator — an unknown writer with a blog and a dream, let’s say — you can’t just go on a month-long hiatus and come back like nothing happened. The whole goal of publishing when you’re unknown is to make sure your work is seen. And guess what algorithms and casual followers don’t like? When you stop posting or publishing or reminding people you exist.
So we’re expected to always be “on,” to always be working on something. We’re told — at the very least, it’s implied — that if we stop or even so much as slow down, we’re going to get lost in the noise. If you’ve ever wondered why I publish a new blog post daily, THIS IS WHY. If I don’t have something new to put in front of your eyes, you will forget about me. You say you won’t, and I appreciate the love, but the reality is, there is too much content, and if it doesn’t show up in your feed, you probably will not go looking for it.
Small creators are giving up because big creators keep saying it’s okay to relax but as soon as they do they lose all motivation to start hustling again. This is a never-ending cycle. We’re trying to get noticed and really hurting ourselves in the process.
They scold you for working too much and scold you if you don’t. This might just be a “me” problem, but I have to assume every writer has encountered conflicting opinions of some kind when it comes to how, when, where, and how much they work.
In the same conversation, I’ve had a family member ask me “when am I publishing my book” and tell me I “need to relax.” I get where they’re coming from. I do. And I appreciate that there are people in my life who care about my health and happiness. I really do.
But you can’t tell me I spend too much time in front of my laptop and also ask me why I’m not more successful. It’s too much. I’m over here doing everything I know to do to get my work done and make a name for myself in some way. I acknowledge that my life is often out of balance and that’s not a sustainable thing long-term. But I can’t work harder and also relax more. It doesn’t work like that.
A lot of this comes from most non-writers simply not understanding what it’s like to put a lot of work into something that might never get released into the world. That in itself is overwhelming. You might spend six months pouring all your heart and soul into a novel that never makes it past the first draft stage. That doesn’t mean those months were a waste. This is just how the story goes. Throughout your life you will write more things that no one else will ever see than you will things that others will read. Welcome to the writing life.
But still. Why does how much I work bother other people SO MUCH?
I realize this post turned into a rant about struggling to meet other people’s expectations. I don’t want you to think other people’s opinions matter more than your sanity. But at the same time, this is reality. We’re up against so much. We’ve chosen this life. We’re in it now. We either have to find a way to deal or we don’t survive.
If I had good advice to offer about handling all this, I’d gladly give it. From what I know so far, you really just have to take it day by day. Wake up. Do what you can to take care of yourself. Keep your head up, do your work, keep looking at your goals. Don’t let your dreams die. Do something every day that gets you a little closer to the finish line.
As always, if nothing else, remember this: You are not in this alone.
Writers work individually. But as a whole, we are a community. We understand each other. We care.
Thanks for being a part of it all.
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.