All Writers Mess Up, Big Time (How to Earn a Career in Writing, Part 5)

Oops.

Disappointed.

That’s what they told me – that the spec article I’d worked so hard on left them “disappointed.”

I won’t get into how I feel about that choice of phrasing right now (people say things, it’s not personal, blah blah blah). Anyway.

This was a prospective project that was meant to challenge me, yet when I failed to deliver exactly what the client wanted (not always an easy thing to do in the health space), their response stirred something dark and unsettling inside me.

I write to impress. As you can hopefully guess, I don’t always impress. Who does? I’m just a human. I make human-like errors.

We all fail – yes, even me. It really sways your confidence, though, when you almost grab onto that bar you’ve set so high – your fingertips touch it, you almost have it – but you still end up facedown on the ground, red-faced and wanting nothing more than to crawl into a bottomless hole and never emerge.

I was bored. Freelancing hit a mundane patch for me, so I decided to stretch myself a little – thinking, of course, that I could do just fine.

That particular piece of feedback really messed me up. Not for long – not to the point where I considered quitting and settling for a different career path – but doubt is not friendly. It twists things around and makes you feel like you’re doing everything wrong, even when you’re not.

It scared me. Really. I remember thinking, “Are people just lying to me? Am I a terrible writer, and people are just being nice because they don’t want to hurt my feelings?”

I mean, for all I know, that could be true. Ignorance is bliss. I just don’t like doubt being the one thing that forces me to think about potential realities too hard.

Fear and doubt and self-consciousness brought on by negative commentary – these are the most dangerous obstacles for writers. They’re manipulative and suffocating. Bad, bad, bad.

But leave it to film editor Farah Khalid to say exactly what we all need to hear in situations like this:

“Fear can be an indicator of when you need to push yourself harder. When were you last afraid/uncomfortable? Not recently? Well then, are you really growing as an artist?” (Hustle Economy, p. 49)

Oh. OH. So I was on the right track, then? I did a good thing, even though I almost burst into tears because I started having flashbacks about that one time I disappointed my mom in like, middle school?

(Understand, this is the way the brain of an Anxious person works. I know a client’s feedback has actually nothing to do with me personally. I can’t think rationally when I’m Anxious.)

I was nervous about that spec assignment for days. I put it off for over 48 hours, something I never do when I’m writing to impress. It wasn’t that I was in over my head – it was just stretching me beyond what I was used to.

You see, you get too comfortable when you spend too much time at the same level of writing. I write for a few blogs, which, honestly, means they’re not always too picky about how many scientific studies you mention in your posts. I got a little lazy. I got a little cocky, maybe. And when I thought, “I need a challenge,” I sprinted headfirst into a brick wall of shame and disappointment. Awesome.

You can’t grow unless you work harder than you did yesterday. But you also can’t grow unless you fail – and unless you’re willing to look your mistakes in the eye, learn from them and move on.

I probably could have pushed myself a little harder to impress that client. I could have spent more time on that article. I could have asked more questions, could have put what would have felt like excessive effort into a trial assignment (I’d already spent more than two hours on it – more than usual for cases like this). There are plenty of things I could have done differently. The reason we fail is because we remember how much failing hurts – and we, hopefully, don’t continue to make the same mistakes when something like this comes around again.

I messed up. My biggest fear is messing up. So I’m really glad it happened. I’m not saying you should go out there and purposely make mistakes just to learn how to be a better writer – it’s never purposeful. Just don’t get discouraged when things like this happen (because they will).

We think we’re working as hard as we can, right up until it’s suddenly not quite good enough anymore – oops! Failure is a chance to return to your last checkpoint and evaluate whether or not you did everything you could have before you missed the bar. You’ll try again. Maybe you’ll fail a few more times. But you’ll work harder and harder each time, until you succeed. It’s how you earn the title of ‘writer.’ It’s not always fun. But it teaches you a lot about yourself along the way.


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.

The One Thing That Changed When Writing Became My Job Instead of Just My Hobby

I am many different things. That is a kind of freedom I did not realize I needed to embrace.

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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.