Why Writing is Not for the Faint of Heart (And Why That's Awesome)
So, You Want to Be a Writer
Whether you are considering a writing career, or you have been trying to get one off the ground for some time, chances are that you have seen plenty of discouragement toward creative writers when it comes to creating an income or being successful doing what they love. ("You're an English major? How are you going to pay the bills?") Maybe you have experienced it firsthand, when you submitted your poetry to a literary journal and either received a rejection or did not get a response. Or perhaps you are afraid to submit your work at all, because you worry about how you may feel if an editor does not want to feature your work.
Writing is not for the faint of heart. I do not say this to discourage you. My intention is quite the opposite, which is to help you realize what a Badass (pardon my French) you are, if you feel called toward this path. This is not going to be another downer article about how much hard work you must put in and how you should expect continued rejection, if you want to be successful as a writer. Those things can be true, and I definitely cover them here. However, this journey does not have to be a constant struggle. Let's see how we can make it better for you and convince you of your awesomeness.
If you are looking for a crash course on how to get paid for your writing, I would suggest the resources over at Writer's Digest. This article is going to be more of a pep talk for your wounded soul.
A Solitary Path or Solitary Confinement?
If you have been writing for some time, or looking at quotes about writing on the Internet, you have probably seen by now that writing is one of the (if not the) loneliest professions.
Yikes! Right off the bat, you know that this path is not for those who want to live a life with plenty of cushioning to keep them safe from uncomfortable feelings.
It does help if you are an introvert and enjoy working alone. I come up with my best ideas when I am alone, when my body is active and my mind is calm. When my hands are busy doing the dishes or crafting, or I am going for a run with my music turned up, I have my biggest aha moments. I think we are all prepared for that bit - but what about once we have our work out for the public eye, when we finally get accepted to that magazine we've submitted to for months? Which is worse: snarling negative reviews or the sound of... crickets? For me, the latter has been more common. To put your heart and soul out there and receive no encouragement or even a stupid Facebook like is a lonely feeling, indeed.
Of course, I have also received plenty of positive feedback! But after my first couple of times being published, people looked at it more as a regular occurrence and didn't congratulate me or say much anymore. Sometimes, I have had to ask for feedback. My feelings got hurt. I wanted to give up and delete my page. I brooded over my guitar and sulked for days. I went back and forth with myself about whether or not to throw in the towel and succumb to the idea of working in a soul-sucking corporate job for the rest of my life.
Do you know who suffered? Here's a hint: it's not the people who seemingly didn't care. At some point, you come to accept that your art chose you, not the other way around. You accept that people will not always cheer you on, for whatever reason. You accept that maybe people think you are crazy or your poetry does not make any sense to them, but you do it for the love of it. You have to love it so much that you would do it, even if you were never paid for it and never received any praise. Once you do this and you realize this, you have arrived. It is lonely sometimes, yes, but you aren't doing this to be the most popular person at parties or to get your family to love you. You're doing this because your soul needs you to do it. You can think of loneliness as a pesky side-effect, but not the entire picture, of being a writer.
Submission Anxiety is Real... And Also Not for the Faint of Heart
If you have sent your work out to literary journals, perhaps you know the feeling of pacing in your living room at four in the morning, wondering if you should have sent them that piece or not. You know how heavy your finger can feel before it presses the "send" button on your e-mail, even after you have proofread your cover letter and submission for the twentieth time. Or, as stated earlier in this article, simply imagining these feelings may have you in a state of mental paralysis where you do not submit your work at all.
Literary magazines and presses are run by these strange creatures called humans. Sometimes there are multiple strange humans running a publication, and they have to agree or vote on which pieces make it into their magazine. We all have our preferences, but a lack of preference is not automatically a judgment. My favorite solo artist of The Beatles is John Lennon, and if some law passed where I could only listen to one of them solo, it would be him. But it would not mean, in the slightest, that I detest the solo work of Paul, George, and Ringo. Publishers have a finite amount of space or have certain themes they need to stick to, but that does not mean that your work sucks if it does not fit. Some will even invite you to submit again later - if they don't, submit again later anyway. They will admire your strength and persistence.
Even if people are disliking your work, whether that is real or imagined, you have to get good at saying, "Who cares?" One person may not like your poem, but there is bound to be at least one other person in this world who will love it (I promise you there will be more than one). Sometimes it can be difficult to find that person, but they exist. Who cares that John Doe hated your poem? Susan Smith over there loved it, and she is clicking the like button on your Facebook page as we speak.
You can learn to give publishers the benefit of the doubt rather than think by default that they must have hated your work. That can be hard. No matter how many rejection letters you have read about J.K. Rowling receiving, you're human too, and you have feelings. And that's okay. If your work doesn't seem to fit, then you can know it's unique, and you can be proud of that. There are all kinds of ways to think about it, so you have to choose the thoughts that will help you to keep going. If you're experiencing paralysis, perhaps you can try sending your work to a trusted friend or family member instead of to a stranger. See what happens, and experiment with different ideas and comfort levels. You have to start somewhere.
Accepting a Corporate Position Can Feel Like Selling Your Soul to the Devil
This one may not apply to all writers out there. Some of you don't mind working at your day job and doing your writing in the evening or on weekends, but I have met plenty of others who feel that they would rather spend those hours from nine to five on weekdays doing what they love: writing and being creative. On top of that, certain office environments can be extremely negative and draining to those who have creative and deep thoughts. This is why many of us would prefer to work for ourselves and in our own spaces. It can feel self-compromising to stay in a position that is not our truth, that creates stress and struggle for something that holds little meaning and value in our lives. When we die, our position and income level will not be suitable to be written on our tombstone, but perhaps a line from one of our poems could be.
We do what we have to do to make life work on a practical level. You are not less of a writer if you enjoy your day job or if you need one (or more than one) to make ends meet. In fact, if you can do both, this serves as further proof of how badass you are. It's not easy to do something that isn't your truth or your passion for the majority of your waking hours during the week, and then do something else on the side. Sometimes you end up skipping meals or declining invites from friends in favor of your art. It takes a lot of inner strength, resilience, and patience to keep your dream alive when it is not your reality forty (or more) hours per week.
I am still working out the "how," when it comes to working for myself and doing something that feels more true to myself for an income. Unfortunately, I do not have any pointers to give you at this time, but I want to commend you on your courage. Some people just give up and give in to the oppression and exhaustion. But not you. You are reading this article to affirm what you already know inside, and you would not be here if you didn't believe your dream is possible. Since you know your dream is possible, you are halfway there. Keep going.
So, You Still Want to Be a Writer
The path for creative writers is not straightforward. The job market is highly competitive, and holding a degree in Creative Writing does not guarantee anything. You have to spend a lot of time - time that you might otherwise spend with friends or family, or vegging out in front of the television - working on your passion and envisioning attainable goals for yourself. There are many demons and dragons to face: people who will question you or tell you that you'll never make it, editors who reject your work, bosses who feel disappointed in you when you don't want to give your heart and soul to your day job. And then there is your own self-doubt, the little voice that wonders if you have any talent at all or if anyone will ever notice you or think you're any good. This voice, small though it may be, is enough to keep you up at four in the morning, pacing and wishing you could un-send that poetry submission.
You know all this, yet you still want to pursue what you love. If that is not the mark of a true Badass, then I don't know what is.
Questions & Answers
© 2017 Holley Hyler