Should You Be A Writer?
This week, there was a well-deserved uproar when a “Best-Selling” author was revealed to have been publishing plagiarized pieces from many other writer’s works. Her defense was that she’d used a ghostwriter, and that person had done the plagiarizing, which is neither a valid excuse nor a particularly compelling one. I don’t want to look too hard at the exact circumstances of that hustle, though, because it’s really just a symptom of something bigger.
A lot of people want to be writers, far less folks like to write.
That’s weird, right? Like, I know that not everyone who wants to be a dentist gets into dental school, but it’s rare you find someone taking credit for other dentist’s works, or telling people they’re basically a dentist once they knuckle down and do the certification. My running theory is that it’s a mix of how writers are portrayed in other mediums, swirled with aspects of the job that used to be much more novel. Today I wanted to break down some of the reasons people go into this line of work, and whether or not it will likely be fulfilling for those goals.
1) Work From Home
This one comes up a lot, and yes, it does fucking rule. Not going to pretend I don’t love waking up and walking to my office in slippers. I adore setting my own schedule, deciding how to use my time, basically steering the ship. But hey, fun fact, that only used to be unique to writers, back when most jobs required people be there in person.
That was before the digital age, now if you want to work from home, there are way better options. I know engineers, architects, programmers, the list keeps going, all of whom work from their homes just like me. Well, not just like me. Most of them get health insurance, employee benefits, and a steady paycheck. That’s why I did this one first, it feels like it should be very obvious this isn’t a writer-specific perk anymore.
2) Make Great Money
The people who tend to get “rich” off books are, allowing for some exceptions, generally one of three incarnations: A publisher running a well-selected portfolio of books, a writer who hits the jackpot of success getting all sorts of deals on their properties, and scammers milking a system. Of those three, only the first two have any hope at sustaining their earnings, as the scammers always get flushed to some new sewer when their current trick is exposed.
As for the rest of us, we do okay. The ones who survive off their income full-time are seen as extremely fortunate, it’s a goal tons of others are striving for. I’m not saying that writing is an automatic sentence to poverty, especially if you use it to supplement existing income, but it is far from the best use of your time if the goal is money. There are authors who’ve been plugging away for decades and can only cover a car note. Why? Because this just isn’t that great of a way to earn steady cash. Despite what films and TV tell you, one book does not a fortune reap. It’s a hungry system that demands constant feeding. If you get into this career, do so expecting to be writing more or less unendingly for years and years.
3) It’s a Cool Job
I don’t feel like it’s especially egotistical to say that author comes off as a cool job. I thought it was one while I was on the outside, and even now that I’m doing the work I dig the hell out of it. That said, I’m also deep enough in to realize the massive difference in how writing is portrayed in films and TV vs. reality. At least it wasn’t hard to figure out why writers are either portrayed as clenched-asshole boredom robots or playboy success legends.
Fun fact: all those movies and shows? They started out as scripts. Scripts that were penned by, you guessed it, writers. Since everyone in the creative arts is hardly known for their healthy self-images and confidence, it’s no shocker that they wrote their own jobs to either seem awesome or skewer the types of successful writers they hated. Mostly the former. So we show authors with new books going to massive parties thrown for them, being charming and cool as they wax on about their work, verbally slicing up anyone who tries to step to them. Which is extra ridiculous once you realize how many writers are crazy shy and would be in hell to attend that party.
Do you want to know what a bunch of authors really talk about when we get together? Click-rates for the major advertising system, comparing notes with promotional companies, sharing references on good editors and artists we might want to use. Useful, interesting stuff if you’re trying to have your books reach a larger audience, but it’s not exactly chugging champagne in a hot tub.
4) Chasing the Fame
Maybe this should have gone with money or coolness, I’m not fully sure where we are as a society right now. But it definitely feels like fame should have its own entry, in the age of streamers and reality shows. A lot of people want to be famous, not even for the income or power, merely for the act of being well-known. Of all the reasons I see people go for writing, this is the weirdest one to me.
Show of fingers, if I put you on a plane with all your favorite writers, how many could you honestly recognize? I’d get the obvious ones who do lots of media: Gaiman, Rowling, King, etc. But even ones I adore the work of, like Christopher Moore or Terry Pratchett, I’d have trouble picking out of a line-up. It’s not a slight on those writers, I simply know them best by their words.
Do some authors get famous? Sure. Do you have much better odds of that in an industry where people regularly see your face? Fucking obviously.
5) You Like Writing
Oh hey, look at that. The only one of these reasons where chasing the job actually makes sense. You enjoy writing, and that’s how you want to spend your days. In this case, I can say that pursuing writing as a job makes sense as your next step. It should be noted that you don’t have to love it every moment of every day, you just have to want to keep doing it, even in the hard times. If you’ve got that, then the career of writing is for you.
If you’re one of the other folks listed above, might I recommend finding a hobby you genuinely enjoy. Who knows, you may find actual success doing a thing you love.