What’s it really like to be a writer?
If writing isn’t your day job (yet), I bet you’ve daydreamed of what it must be like. You’ve probably imagined a life spent creating fantastical characters from thin air, as you smoke a cigar, and peck away on your typewriter.
Let’s just say, you probably nurse a very romantic notion of what it’s like to be a writer, but here’s what it’s really like:
1. You’ll turn into a hermit.
Writing will turn you into a hopeless hermit. Your friends will wonder where you’ve gone. Your family will think you’ve abandoned them. Meanwhile, you’ll be huddled over your keyboard, frantically typing away on your first draft and lamenting the fact that it sounds like crap.
When you enter the world of serious writing, you leave behind your social life. The closest you’ll get to interacting with the outside world is if you pack up your laptop and head to a nearby coffee shop. At least there you can look like you’re social, even if you’re in the corner, in the back… with headphones on.
2. Inspiration hits at the craziest times.
I’m going to save you money on a plane ticket. You don’t have to take a journey halfway across the world, bathe with llamas, and climb the Himalayas to find inspiration for your novel.
Look for inspiration no further than your fingers.
As Pablo Picasso once said, inspiration must find you working. I’ll revise that to say writing. If you’re waiting to get some inspiration from nature—it happens, but you’ll probably be waiting for a while.
Most writers agree that you have to write until you meet inspiration on the way. You can’t just wait for it to punch you in the stomach, because that punch may never come.
3. Deadlines are your greatest motivation.
There’s nothing quite as inspirational as knowing you’ve got to get something on paper before a specific deadline.
That’s why I recommend that every writer enact deadlines on their writing. This is especially useful if you’re writing a book. Without a deadline, you may be tempted to kick the can down the road.
Procrastination is your frenemy.
Always give yourself a due date. It will help you accomplish much more than you thought possible.
4. It’s feast or famine.
You know the joke about being a starving writer? Yeah, that’s actually a true story.
As a writer, especially if you delve into it fulltime, you’ll have times where the floodgates open, and you’ll have so many people buying your stories and wanting to consume everything you’ve ever written. And then there’ll be other times when it’s just you and the computer.
But write feverishly during those times, because I can almost guarantee feast will return again.
5. Writer’s block doesn’t exist.
Repeat after me. Writer’s block is not real.
I know this is controversial, but I just don’t believe that it’s possible for a writer to not write. And I’m not alone in this. Lots of other writers discount the notion of writer’s block.
Here’s what’s real: perfectionism, and many writers suffer from it. They want everything to sound perfect the very first time, and sometimes it just doesn’t work out that way. Sometimes, you’re going to have to write pure manure and plow through it, with the hopes that it will create a fertile soil. (It will.)
6. You’ll get burned out.
Writer’s block may not be real, but burn out definitely is, and it can destroy you—if you let it.
While you should write regularly, it’s crucial that you take frequent breaks. I’m not just talking about coffee breaks, either.
Leave your desk, leave your house, even leave your state, and take a vacation from writing for a while.
I’m not suggesting that you go somewhere to find inspiration, either. Just go somewhere new to give yourself a break from writing.
Writing is similar to physical exercise. If you exercise non-stop, you can overtrain and actually do more harm than good. The same is true for writing.
7. You must write everyday.
Many authors write every day and so should you—if you want to be a serious writer, that is.
Just like with physical exercise, your writing will improve if you do it consistently.
Even if you write only 20 minutes a day, keep the appointment with yourself.
8. You must read everyday.
Writers who say they don’t read disturb me. Why write if you don’t appreciate the written word? How can you possibly grow as a writer without reading the great works of other writers, past and present?
As a writer, you should surround yourself with rich language often. Read as much as you write.
9. No one takes you seriously (and that includes you).
Sometimes it’s difficult to tell others that you’re a writer. You’re afraid that people won’t take you seriously, and to be honest, they probably don’t.
The main reason why no one takes you seriously as a writer is because you don’t either. Case in point, have you ever referred to yourself as “an aspiring writer”?
That’s self-defeating language.
Have you written something—anything?
Well then, you’re not aspiring to be a writer, you are one! Just because you haven’t published a novel and landed on a best seller’s list doesn’t mean that you’re any less of a writer. In fact, if you never publish anything, it doesn’t dilute your writer-ness.
So, say it boldly to everyone who asks, “I’m a writer.” And eventually, you’ll start to accept it.
10. You need to surround yourself with other writers.
So, writers are hermits, no doubt about it. But, writers also need to socialize with each other for perspective, advice, and some semblance of sanity.
Check out this post for our favorite writing communities. Joining an online writer’s group can become a welcome respite to a life of self-imposed isolation. Plus, other writers can empathize with your struggles more than well-meaning family and friends.
11. You’ve got to sell yourself.
As a writer, you’re also a one-person-shop. You create the product, you market the product, and then you sell the product. Even if you’re not self-publishing and are opting to work with a traditional publisher, you still have to market yourself through query letters.
When you’re accustomed to living in the world of your own creation, it can be jarring to step out of it and into salesperson mode. But step out of it you must, especially if you hope to sell your book eventually.
Just like any other type of art, writing is pain and pleasure at the same time. There’s a lot of sacrifice when it comes to writing, but it’s all more than worth it at the end.