“Can you stomach failure and rejection…”
Far too many people fall in love with the romanticized image of being a writer. This is your Hemingway types emptying their hearts and souls into the ink of a typewriter while sitting in a quaint café in Paris. This is your fictional writers like Hank Moody from Californication who can drunkenly spill brilliance onto the page whenever they please, then go party and be a philanderer about town because their writing has afforded them such a life. This is your larger than life writers like Stephen King who shit out million dollar story ideas a few times a year while others look to them for inspiration. Hell, the romanticized writer image even stretches to the troubled writers like Kafka or Lovecraft who are beloved today but didn’t believe in themselves while they were alive.
Here’s the problem with all these different ideas of what it is to be a writer: they don’t represent the work and struggle it takes to become successful. Stephen King is rich. J.K. Rowling is rich. Hemingway was rich. But these riches didn’t come to them overnight. Hemingway was an ambulance driver in WWI and was injured during his service. Stephen King was a struggling janitor and eventually a struggling teacher who wrote every night in his free time. J.K. Rowling was near becoming homeless before she sold Harry Potter. The point is, when people say they want to be a writer, they almost never mean they want to write in poor obscurity for ten or more years. No, they want to write one book, win awards for said book, and then have the book turned into a major motion picture—netting them a huge payday in the process.
Unfortunately, this isn’t how life works. Sure, you have your outliers who make it big off shitty fan fiction turned into an even shittier movie franchise, but that’s like having a lightning bolt strike you and give you superpowers right after hitting the Powerball. I’m not going to preach to you about the trials and tribulations you most likely will go through on your journey to becoming a successful writer, but I do want cut any bullshit delusions you may have about what it’s like to be a real writer.
First off, if you’re a writer you probably have a full-time day job. You gotta eat, after all. Second, even if you’re a naturally talented writer full of awesome ideas and writing prowess, you still need to constantly work on the craft. You can’t expect to become known if you half-ass the writing portion of being a writer. Trust me, there are way more than enough mediocre writers out there. Thirdly, even if you do have an audience and a decent publisher backing you, don’t expect to make much money. The novel industry is declining at a significant rate compared to the old days; being a writer just isn’t a lucrative art form anymore.
I hate to say it, but that first novel you worked so hard to create, one of the dearest and most precious things to you in the world, will probably end up in a bargain bin at best. Unless you sell it yourself online, which you’ll probably need to sell for only a few bucks to at least grow your readership. When it comes down to it, the writing industry is all about fandom now. If you can build a hardcore fan base you’ll do alright, but if you write, say one-shot literary fiction novels unconnected to a greater universe, you better hope it nets you a Pulitzer if you want to make real dough as a writer.
So, do you have what it takes to be a writer? Can you stomach failure and rejection and rejection, and more fucking rejection? Can you handle days upon days of seclusion? Can you muster up the courage to let others read something you absolutely hate and wish you never wrote? These are questions you must ask yourself if you want to be a writer. These are the realities of being a writer. Not wine in Spain, coke parties in LA, or sailing near Cape Cod. A writer is someone who sits down and writes a huge chunk of their life away.
I know that sounds dramatic, but think about it for a minute. How long does it take to write a good novel? Maybe six months if you’re Stephen King and have amazing editors. But most likely it will take you at least a solid year, not counting the editing process. That’s a whole lot of hours behind the keyboard. Even more if you count the fact you’ll probably still work a full-time job while writing, and have to do all the marketing yourself. Because guess what! Even if you have a book deal with a major publisher, you still have to do the marketing yourself! It fucking sucks.
This isn’t meant to discourage any of you from trying your hands at writing.—and not everyone writes to become successful. Some do it because it makes them happy or is just a fun hobby, and that’s perfectly fine. For those who do want to make it as a full-time writer, though, just know it will be hard, but it can also be incredibly rewarding. It’s all about your attitude and why you write in the first place. If you’re writing because you’re in love with the craft, you’ll do it whether you make it in the industry or not. And that’s what really constitutes whether you’re cut out to be a writer or not. If you can write knowing there’s a chance nobody will ever read it, you got what it takes.
If you enjoyed this you may want to check out these other great pieces on writing.