Skip to content

So You Want to be a Writer?

No you don’t. Honestly. But here is the thing about being a writer: you really don’t have any choice. I said recently in a blog post that you can’t become a writer, because it is something you already are. Either you are a writer, or you aren’t. If you are, you will find doing anything else for a living pretty damn miserable.

On the other side, if you aren’t you will find the writer life a pretty miserable place to be. You can’t force a round peg into a square hole, and it’s the same the other way around. Don’t believe me? I’ll give you some real life examples that also explore what it really means to be a writer. We’ll just call it a reality check.

You Need Training, Both Formal and Informal

WriterBeing a writer is a profession. You don’t need a degree, or a certificate, at least not any more, although for a while there to break into literary fiction you needed an MFA in creative writing, which also allowed you to teach writing. This meant you could be underpaid for writing, and teaching others to do it. But you never wanted to become a writer to get rich, right? Because f you did, you picked the wrong profession.

But you do need training. You need to practice writing, and get good practice, which means you can’t go it alone. You need feedback from writers more experienced than you, you need to take classes, and you need to read books about writing. You don’t go to a doctor who hasn’t learned his profession and suffered through an internship, right? Well, to be a professional writer you need to do the same thing: get an education, and practice for a while with someone with more experience with you.

Introverted? Can’t make friends? You can pay for critiques, and join online groups, like the popular Amazon Write On Program. However you go about it, don’t skip this step.

If you are not a writer, you will hate this. Studying English? Story structure? Literature and movie plots, and how they are developed? If you just want to be entertained, this will not be fun. If you want to learn to be an entertainer (what an author does, through words) you will love it. If you find that you hate education, and you think you know all you need to know about writing, then move along. This is not the profession for you.

I’ve been writing for years, and published a bunch of books and short stories. And I still learn new things all the time. Not one of us has arrived, and the moment you think you have, you are probably moving backwards.

Write Every Day

It doesn’t have to be much, but it needs to be something. I’ve heard people say a thousand times they don’t have to write every day, and I agree with them. You don’t HAVE to. You do have to you if you want to be a professional, and a success in the long run. It just depends on how you want it.

Read The Outliers, by Gladwell? You should. You have to do something for 10000 hours to become a virtuoso. For most writers, that means about 1,000,000 words of crap before you write stuff that’s worthwhile. The more days you go without writing, the longer it will take you to get to your million word mark.

If you are not a writer, writing will seem like work. The more a writer writes, the more they love it, and want to do it more. But if you thought papers, essays, and writing assignments in school were horrible, don’t become a writer. It’s like assigning yourself writing homework every day. For the rest of your life.

A writer is not only comfortable with that, but is excited about it. Someone who is not a writer doesn’t understand that at all. Being a writer means research, editing, writing, and accepting criticism of what you wrote.  If you find yourself cringing at harsh feedback, you’re going to struggle in this business.

Writing is a Business

keyboardThis is the final point for now, but it is vital. If you want to write as more than just a hobby, it is a business. Which means you either do business things, or you pay someone to do them for you. These include, but are not limited to, handling money, accounting, taxes, marketing and promotions, hiring and paying vendors, distribution of your product (your book) and customer service (interaction with readers).

Sound horrible? If you think so, you need to find something else to do. On average, a full time writer spends about 40% of their time marketing and handling business. At least. Even if they have another job. It is tough, and there is no glory. There will be a period of time when you will not be able to afford to pay someone to do some of these things for you. You won’t have any choice but to do them yourself.

Sometimes you will lose money. Other times you will make it, like any other business, and it helps to have a business and marketing plan in place. One you revise all the time.

Being a writer is rough. If you find you really aren’t fit to do much else, go for it. Come along on the journey, but prepare for what it really is. If you CAN do something else, anything. Something more respectable like a cashier at McDonald’s or an exotic dancer, something your family won’t hate you for, go do it. Don’t work as a writer.

But writers happen to the best of families. If you’re already one, and trying to figure out how to make the whole thing work, keep in touch. Maybe we can figure it out together.

Published inAdvice for AuthorsOpinion

11 Comments

  1. Loni Townsend Loni Townsend

    Yes! And this is why I will likely never quit my day job. 🙂 Oh, I do the writing and the informal training, but the business side makes me want to run and hide.

    • Troy Lambert Troy Lambert

      The business side is most often the hardest part, and it trips up more writers than anything else.

    • So another reminder, because you all know I’m not repetitive. I want to remind you to get the NaNo Story Bundle (http://storybundle.com/nano) because the second tier bonus has Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s Freelancer Survival Guide (http://kriswrites.com/freelancers-survival-guide-table-of-contents/), which talks about the business side of writing. And when I say talks about, I mean 70 chapters, 612 pages of information on how to run the business side of a writing business. And if somebody else will just tell you all about it, why attend the school of hard knocks?

      • Troy Lambert Troy Lambert

        Agreed. Education is about getting knowledge before you make the mistake, instead of “learning from your mistakes.” If you can prevent the mistake in the first place, why make it at all? Seems silly to me.

  2. Best one yet Troy !!!

    • Troy Lambert Troy Lambert

      Thanks Tegon!

  3. An excellent blog post. I don’t entirely go along with your suggestion that you need ‘training’ to become a writer. Sit down and write and you’re a writer. Sit down and write every day for 20 years and you will quite possibly become a good writer. Those with something genuinely interesting to say, a novel way of saying it and the drive and determination to say it better than anyone else will possibly become a bestselling author. In my experience you need to find your voice, and that comes from writing and writing and writing and showing it to others and being told its crap and writing some more and repeating the process until your voice is natural and engaging and clear. If that’s what your inferring then we’re in agreement brother. But I never went to any experienced writers for advice, attended classes or read how-to books. I read my Hemingway and Poe and Tolkien and learned from their work.

    As for your 1,000,000 words before you can hope to get published – bang on! Iain Banks said much the same thing and it worked/happened to me.

    Keep up the good work and keep writing! I will bookmark and return!

    • Troy Lambert Troy Lambert

      We do agree, except on one point: I think interacting with experienced writers, attending classes, and reading how to books helps shorten the time we hear “Your stuff is crap.” But there is nothing like the school of hard knocks and the million words. The trouble as you get better is to find true critique partners who help you sharpen your skills rather than just validate the fact that you can write.

  4. RK RK

    Really excellent article, thank you. Loved how you highlighted the virtuoso point.

    • Troy Lambert Troy Lambert

      Thanks. I think it is good to know how much hard work being a writer really is.

Comments are closed.