The Hard and Ugly Truth About Writing

There is no one way to live the writer’s life

Aspiring writers often act like they believe that to become a true writer they have to partake in some elaborate rituals before they can be admitted to the exalted, secret society of writers. They scour the internet in search of the clues about the rites they must undergo before they can gain entrance to the writer’s clubhouse.

Often, the unwary read hundreds of articles about how different writers work, and worst of all, they spend time studying blog posts about writing best practices as if they were the Dead Sea Scrolls.

But, these best practices lists are a trap. The truth that almost no beginning writer wants to hear is that there are no universal best practices. Every writer must eventually cut their own path through the jungle on the way to the magical city where writers can earn a full-time living.

There is No Such Thing as an Aspiring Writer

I cringe whenever I see “aspiring writer” in someone’s profile. There is no such thing as an aspiring writer. There are writers and non-writers. If you write for the entertainment or education of other people you are a writer. If you only write in your journal, and never publish anything in any form, you are a hobbyist. You are not a writer.

It has never been easier to publish your work. Until you are willing to put your words out into the world, you are not a writer.

If you publish on Medium, on your blog, on social media, in zines, in books, in ebooks, in magazines, in comics, in newspapers, or in an email newsletter, you are a writer. You don’t even need to have any readers.

All you need is to have written and published somewhere where others could read your work.

If you are waiting for a ceremony, I hereby anoint you a writer. Now go forth and write more.

What About Talent?

Talent is a component of success in any endeavor. However, talent isn’t the most important requirement. There are many talented starving writers. There are also many financially prosperous writers with only a modicum of talent.

However, in my experience, most writers are far more talented than they believe. Most writers tend to suffer from a strange mental state where we are desperate for others to read our work, but we’re petrified that someone will actually read our work because we don’t think it’s good enough.

My favorite quote about writing talent is:

“If you wrote something for which someone sent you a check, if you cashed the check and it didn’t bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented.” — Stephen King

You are much more talented than you think. What’s holding you back from earning a living as a writer isn’t talent. You are either not writing enough, not marketing yourself enough, or you aren’t publishing enough.

Work ethic is a much better predictor of financial success as a writer than talent.

The magic of writing is the more you write, revise, and publish the more talented you will become. But, many writers spend too much time trying to find a shortcut to writing success instead of putting in the work of writing and publishing.

Writing Best Practices — There Are No Best Practices

I have been a full-time writer for six years. I make enough money from my writing to support my wife and four kids. We don’t live in a mansion. We can take a nice vacation or two each year. Most importantly, we have all of our basic needs met, and I have enough time to spend with my family playing games, going for walks, and just enjoying the small, wonderful moments that make life worth living.

I have worked hard to build my career to this point. But, I still don’t feel like I have arrived. I still struggle with crippling anxiety and self-doubt. I still have bigger writing goals in my sights. But, I am grateful for the vista from my current place on the writing path.

Early on, like many struggling writers, I procrastinated doing the actual work that would get me closer to my goals by reading articles on writing best practices.

Instead of writing, publishing, and marketing, I read blog posts and articles.

The problem is that my life situation was very different from those of the writers giving advice on the best practices.

The more I tried to conform to these best practices, the more frustrated I got. Eventually, I realized I had to cut my own path. I needed to experiment.

There is no “one way” to be a writer. We each need to create our own best practices.

Don’t believe anyone that says if writing is easy, you’re doing it wrong. Don’t believe anyone who says if writing is hard you’re doing it wrong. The actual act of writing is different for everyone. Just like no two people have the exact same gait, not two writers have the same approach to the mystic art of breathing life into ideas.

My daily routine won’t work for you. (I don’t actually have a daily routine.) My workflow would probably drive you insane. But, after years of trial and error, I have found a system that helps me write and produce enough work to pay my bills.

I have broken most of the big rules that all writers are supposed to follow in the era of the internet. I don’t have office hours. I haven’t specialized in one niche. I hate using social media to market myself.

I don’t currently even have an email list.

I don’t even write every day.

I do write regularly. I do work on building relationships with companies that regularly pay me to write for them. I use a variety of different platforms to find work. I am always looking to find new revenue sources. I am learning to play to my strengths and work on my weaknesses.

I am not a naturally gifted writer. I do work hard. But, I also am not able to devote even a full eight hours a day to my writing each day. Usually, I write for two-four hours a day, four-five days a week.

I have learned how to price my work, how to value my work, how to find new markets, and how to work around my frequent downtimes when an anxiety attack puts me out of commission.

None of these skills come from a best practices list.

I can’t tell you how many words you need to write a day. I don’t know how many queries or pitches you need to send out. I don’t know how to get more traffic to your blog.

Writing is Sublime. Writing is Work.

I can tell you that if you want to make a solid living as a writer, you can do it. But, you have to put in the work. You need to write a lot. You need to publish a lot. You need to fail a lot. You need to get rejected.

You also need to rebound from failure and rejection. You have to keep pushing forward, writing, publishing, and marketing more.

I have been self-employed my entire adult life. I have had businesses fail spectacularly. I have had jobs that crushed my soul.

Writing is the most sublime work I have ever done. When I’m at my best, writing puts me in a trance. Until you have been in this state of flow, you will never understand the beauty and peace that writing can bring to your soul.

But, no matter how sublime, it is still work.

The ugly, hard truth about writing is that nobody can do it for you. Nobody can tell you how you need to write, what you need to write, or when or where you need to write. You have to learn these things for yourself by actually writing. You will also never feel like you have arrived. You will always suspect that you don’t really belong.

Is it worth it? I can’t answer that for you. I know that for many people the price of making a fulltime income as a writer is too high. They shrink away and choose a safer path.

However, for me, I’m happy to pay the price. Life is never better than when I’m in the throes of a new idea. When those moments come where I am taking dictation from the Universe, and the rest of the world fades away, I know that this is the only life for me.

Are you ready to write your own path to a successful, fulfilling life?

Prove it. Write your own happy ending.

Brainstormer. Poet. Indie Comic Creator. he/him

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