Being a writer is hard

In no other career does ‘going to work’ depend on having the muse Calliope descend and bless you with inspiration (okay, artists everywhere are afflicted with this too).

Yet ask most laypeople their opinion of writers and you’ll get a hazy hybrid of JK Rowling and a hobo. We’re either a few days away from publishing The Next Big Thing, or a few days away from destitution (yes, I know which analogy better suits).

Few other careers require an explanation or long-winded speech following the epitaph “I’m a [insert career here]”, yet should you utter “I’m a writer” you’re likely have to jump through the following hoops;

“Oh yeah? What have you written?” Prove it.

“No I mean what books have you written?” Because a writer only writes books.

“Do you make any money doing it?” Doubtful.

“Can I read something?” Let’s be clear, I don’t want to buy something, I just want to read it for free.

Let’s imagine for a moment this same line of questioning to a doctor;

“Oh yeah? Who have you saved?”

“No I mean who have you saved from death?”

“How much money do you make doing that?”

“Can you fix this boil on my bum?”

No. doesn’t happen. But to us writers, Every. Damn. Time.

Then there’s the scorn, you’re a writer?? The negativity, oh I wouldn’t quit your day job because you can’t rely on writing. The advice, you should write for Mills & Boone. The assumptions, you’re not published, oh then you’re not a real writer.Β 

Sigh. As if it’s not hard enough having to deal with writer’s block, editing, the publishing dilemma, limited time, limited funds, breaking in, making a name, marketing etc et al, we must also deal with a society that looks down on us unless we slot into their predefined schema of what a writer “is”; namely Hemingway or Rowling.

So I’ve decided to simply answer, “I’m a freelance writer” when people ask the question, what do you do. Oh sure I still get asked what I write about, but there’s less doubt, less disrespect, less judgement. Freelance writing seems to slot into society’s scheme far better than writer.

While I wonder why this is so, it just resonates a simple truth, being a writer is hard.Β 

*I’d love to hear your thoughts and whether or not you’ve experienced some of the prejudice I have when explaining you’re a writer.Β 

61 thoughts on “Being a writer is hard

  1. unauthoredtext says:

    I guess a ‘freelance writer’ = a proper(ish) job in many people’s minds but just a ‘writer’ = a hobby, so is not taken so seriously. I would see being a writer as a vocation – we do it whether it pays the bills or not. My bill-paying job is a communications officer for a university and if people ask me what that means, I say I write stuff. They usually change the subject at that point.

    Liked by 4 people

    • iwannabealady says:

      I think you’ve got something here. A freelance writer indicated that someone is above you, that maybe you’re accountable to someone or report to someone. It makes people feel safe. A writer can be working for years without result and people don’t take freedom (though we know it can be torture also) seriously. Everyone is raised to go to school and find a boss.

      Liked by 3 people

      • unauthoredtext says:

        Yes, agreed and actually education (in the UK at any rate) is part of the problem in that it is all about turning young people into economically useful units, rather than enabling them to look at wider aspects of what life can be.

        Liked by 3 people

      • iwannabealady says:

        We’ve got the same program being pushed in the States. Everyone loves an inspiring story of those who struggle for their dreams and see it fulfilled, but very few respect their process. I try to teach my students differently, but it’s quite hard when the messages to the contrary are so abundant and clear.

        Liked by 2 people

      • unauthoredtext says:

        Well, I think society has a need for heroes in an unheroic age – so sports stars tick that box nicely. The lack of respect for writers and intellectuals, who offer ways forward for society rather than merely meeting current needs, is very worrying.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. iwannabealady says:

    Jess, I love this topic. Although I have never published anything, I do consider myself to be a writer. I feel strange telling people that, though. Maybe I think it sounds presumptuous; maybe I know they’ll ask what I’ve published and I have no response. Of course, I haven’t made a real honest effort to publish (except on my blog) Can that count for something? I’m a teacher by profession, but being a full-time writer would be a dream. For now, I keep that title away from public judgement.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. Amy L Sauder says:

    Hahahaha, this is hilarious. And also sad, of course. Interesting point about “freelance writer” being taken more seriously.

    I will point out though that doctors do sometimes get something similar to this question: β€œCan you fix this boil on my bum?” People will meet a doctor/nurse and suddenly they bring up their ailment and expect a diagnosis or prescription on the spot without having to schedule a doctor’s appointment or pay. I’ve heard that’s common (experienced it occasionally being around sisters who are a nurse.) So we aren’t the only ones that get ridiculous questions, though I’m sure we probably break the record for it πŸ˜‰

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Dominic Sceski says:

    Yeahhhhh I get hit with this stuff a lot. When I was younger, being a writer seemed like a big deal. But now everyone is doing it, and somehow how the idea of being a writer has been degraded. It’s like it means nothing anymore. It stinks…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Davide Mana says:

    Been there, done that. I sort of fell into writing – meaning I turned a hobby into a profession when my profession expired and I found myself house-bound while taking care of a sick parent. Not much you can do as you sit by a bed, but write.
    “What do you do?”
    “I’m a writer.”
    “No, I mean, as a job, for a living, what do you do?”
    But of course I have an advantage – before I started writing, the exchange went like this:
    “What do you do?”
    “I’m a palaeontologist.”
    “Wow, an archaeologist, just like Indiana Jones!”
    Let’s say I was resigned at dealing with dorks.
    Of the various strange/funny/irritating and very COMMON reactions to the “I am a writer” input, my “favorite” are:
    a . “I’d like to write a book, too, someday, but I’m too busy. I’ve got a job, you know…”
    b . “I have this great idea… I’ll tell you and you’ll write a book about it.”
    I usually manage to have a good laugh at those attitude, even if the hostility (and you get a lot of that, sometimes), still gets to me.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Jessica Bakkers says:

      Answer a) just made me spit out my morning coffee! Damn I love it. Mind you the paleontologist / archeologist story was pretty hilarious too. Sigh, maybe that just goes to prove ignorance is actually far more widespread and unless you’re one of the Big Five (Dr, lawyer, business man, salesman or hospitality) you’ll always be quizzed on what it is you actually do. Thanks Dave 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Mohamad Al Karbi says:

    I’m sorry that one of the most noble profession is considered or handled in our society this way!
    Our neighbor was a writer. He used to write at nights and he had to do a lot of jobs during the day to support his family! I also know a retired person who became writer in his 60s to write about his memories! On other hand, I’m used to spending good amount of time daily in a cafe to manage my site and readings. I met a gentle man in his 40s (freelancer) who enjoys few hours every day in the cafe while writing articles for news media here. He said that he enjoys this and it offers good income!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. D. Wallace Peach says:

    A funny post, Jessica, but also kind of sad. One of the downsides of self-publishing is that anybody can publish anything, and almost everyone has a cousin Aldo who’s published now. Children are writing and publishing. So being a writer is kind of seen as something anyone can do (and of course cousin Aldo isn’t making any money on his book about bass fishing and is still working at the bait shop). I carry business cards that I enthusiastically give out whenever someone asks me about what I do. πŸ˜€

    Liked by 1 person

  8. maylynno says:

    I identify myself in those lines you wrote and that’s why I kept my daily job as a philosophy teacher. At least you are a writer but I only wrote philosophy essays and articles and here on my blog, short dissertations. So when I am asked about what I write and I answer with philosophy writing, I get rolled up eyes and all the questions you asked above. Not easy !

    Like

  9. centrilius says:

    I’m not a prolific writer in the sense that I can sit down for hours and punch keys into a book, no.

    I’m the type who can offer my opinion on subjects into which I’ve actually delved. I write more about my daily life and experiences and perspective. I’ve made only $2.00 from writing when I published a “How-To” on being a custodian. It is poorly written, and there’s so much more into that job than I placed in that book.

    Of course, when I had my doubts about how poorly it was doing, I would see other “free’ books that were almost solely written to be free books on Kindle, and I realized that I had more skill than the average person who says they can write and have none of the experience to fit their description of writing.

    One the other hand, they’ve written more than one book, so who would I be to cal lmyself a writer? Ha! I laugh at that nearly every day! When I was growing up, I always thought writing books wasn’t exactly something I could do because I couldn’t sit down and read for extended periods of time. Fast forward to my early teenage years, and R. L. Stine had a Goosebumps series out. I could devour those in a couple of hours. As described in one of your comments by D. Wallace Peach, I’m kind of that Aldo.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jessica Bakkers says:

      Well “Aldo” you’re in good company. I think we all have a bit of Aldo in us. But I’m starting to learn that actually BEING a writer is more a state of mind and an ‘eye of the beholder’ Thing rather than acceptance by peers or success. Maybe if we believe we are then we are?

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Marshall at Sharing God's Story (https://SharingGodsStory.net) says:

    Good post- I reblogged
    It’s good to know I’m not the only one who hesitates to say it. There’s definitely a stigma associated with pursuing anything that’s not 9-5. “I’m a ditch digger” would get fewer raised eyebrows. I think this goes for any kind of volunteering or non-financially-rewarding activity like church worship musician or 12-step program leader. My sense is that’s it’s considered by the practical to be wasting time with an assumption of unseriousness- like I’m not really trying very hard (because I haven’t had financial success). (Although, of course, this could just be my own issues getting in the way. πŸ™„πŸ˜³)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jessica Bakkers says:

      Very good points. Yes, it does extend beyond writer. I imagine artists and actors, to name a few, feel this stigma. I’ve also come to realise that I put this own stigma on myself when someone asks “what do you do?”… I hesitate and cringe thinking ‘they’re going to judge me now’. Will they? Sure some might but will they ALL? Maybe all of us in the non-normal, not-usually-accepted positions need to start proudly speaking up instead of cringing away or lying / stretching the truth (ie me saying I’m a FREELANCE writer instead of just writer). Maybe I’ll try it next time I’m asked…

      Liked by 1 person

  11. williamrablan says:

    I’d have to agree. It is very rough being a writer.

    First, you do have to maintain some kind of working order in your life. Let’s be honest, it’s more fun working on the creative stuff, but until it actually get’s published and makes money, it’s just fun. So we have to work in a time to do the freelance stuff that brings a regular paycheck.

    Then we can play. And even that isn’t easy. You just never know when something is going work out in your head. It can be in the middle of a TV show, sleep, or whenever.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jessica Bakkers says:

      Ugh truer words! Just yesterday after spending 6 hours on freelance work I realized I could sneak in an hour of ‘me’ writing and was so excited! Then if course an hour was not enough so yes, the story kept unfolding as I was trying to go to sleep 😞

      Like

  12. cathleentownsend says:

    People just don’t think before they open their mouths. I think this is the reason I published Dragon Hoard when I did. I knew I couldn’t follow it up very soon, but I felt so weird saying that I was a writer without a published book. *shrugs* Hang in there. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  13. lilynoova says:

    When you choose one or another definition for you as a person in this world, you are, unfortunately meets all the biases that exist for this definition in people’s minds. People who obtain such professions as writers or artists or bloggers pretend on being “special”. Special is questioning in normal people’s eyes. So, choosing something that doubtful is always a struggle, but it also fun! I love the feeling I have and settled for myself when I realized that I like writing. But these days I meet more questions like “Uh-huh, you must be a journalist” despite the fact that I do not have any aspiration for that. I prefer creating fictional worlds and creating characters, but, I haven’t published anything yet πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

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