Friday, July 31, 2009

5 Truths About Writing and Writers

I feel that you need to balance the negative (even the marginally negative, which I feel Wednesday's post may have been) with a healthy dose of the positive. To that end, here are a few facts about writers and the writing life:

1. There's a big difference between a writer and someone who likes to write. How many times have you heard someone say "I've always wanted to write a book" or "I think I have a book or two in me." The difference between those people and writers is that the writer sat down to get that book out of his head and on to the page. I can't tell you how many times I'll tell someone that I'm a writer, and that is met with a small smirk and the comment, "Oh? What do you write?" Once I tell them about the various things I've had published or the new things I'm working on, the smirks quickly fade. I'm certainly not pursuing this to impress people, but after years of defending my choice of major in college ("English? Oh, you must want to be a teacher!"), it's nice to give my friends, relatives, and acquaintances another option to consider.

2. It is a job if someone is paying you to do it. Once you do break into that first market or take on that first client, you're no longer writing for you--you're writing to meet someone else's requirements. This is when it stops being a fun little side hobby and more of a serious business. After all, if you don't take yourself seriously as a writer, how will anyone else?

3. Freelance writing (or any other freelance gig) is a bit like job hunting all the time. That's the reality, folks. Even the most successful freelancers who have work lined up for months spend some time scrolling through sites like MediaBistro or each week. I can't tell you how many sites I visit or markets I investigate, while at the same time trying to think of story ideas for those markets or new ways to broaden my writerly horizons. I often have flashbacks to my first few months out of college, where my long, dark, unemployed days were spent poring over the classifieds with a fine-tooth comb.

4. Writers don't just "write what they know". If that's all we stuck to, we'd be out of a job really quick. Granted, it's much easier to exhaust the topics we feel most comfortable with, but if we expect to grow our businesses, or simply grow as writers, we may need to work a little harder. As one workshop facilitator put it--"Writers don't just write 'what they know'...we write what we want to know more about.'" And that, for me, is one of the most rewarding parts of the whole process--doing the research!

5. Few writers are in it just for the money. I don't know any freelance writer who boasts a six-figure income or who is living in the lap of luxury. Writers are writers just like any other creative type does what they do--we do it because it's who we are. It's what we do. Most freelancers will tell you that even though writing copy for brochures was not their childhood ambition, the freedom to work on their own pieces and write in different genres far outweigh the financial gain. Most writers I know are happy to make enough to support themselves--anything beyond that is a bonus.

What are a few other truths about the writing life?


  1. This is great 5 points, as if you are answering questions in my mind. Like mind reader. Please keep posting. Regards Vikas

  2. Dear Sara: Great post. Encourages others to ask the right questions.

    Having discovered this post, I look forward to exploring other topics you've addressed.

    Everyone can benefit from concisely-stated common sense and basic principles. Best wishes, Roger