Try: 10 Reasons Not to be A Writer
The epitaph on the late author Charles Bukowski’s grave has always bothered me.
It’s short – just two words: ‘Don’t try.’
What does that even mean? Does it mean give up? Don’t even bother? Or, does it mean something else? ‘Don’t try, just do it.’
I don’t know. And it bothers me.
Whatever is behind that epitaph, I don’t think Bukowski meant ‘Don’t write’. He spent his whole, drunken mess of a life writing. No matter how bad things got for him, he never stopped writing.
A writer is all he ever was.
He and I have that much in common, at least. When I told my mother I was going to be a writer, she cried. I was the first person in my family to go to university and she thought I was wasting my education. She wanted me to be a banker.
Now that I’m older I can see her side of things – it would be nice to be obscenely rich.
Yet I love my job. There is no thrill like the sheer, anarchic joy of inventing a story in your head. Creating characters from thin air and filling their veins with blood. Giving them life, and watching them walk across your page.
It’s the only magic I have ever really believed in.
Still. My mother was right about one thing: the pay sucks.
So. Here are ten reasons not to do what I do.
- The pay
Most authors make less than minimum wage. Seriously. It’s ridiculous.
- It’s hard
100,000 words is a lot of words. It takes months, even years to write that much. It costs you every brain cell. Every ounce of energy. Probably the odd relationship too. And then some teenager on Goodreads will be, like, ‘She used “the” twice on page 254, this is crap. One star.’
They seem like a quaint memory to me now. Few writers take weekends off because if you take two days off in a row, you spend ages trying to get the plot flow back. I write every day. Remind me what Sundays used to be like? I can’t remember.
- Paid holidays
You can kiss those goodbye.
- European rules on working day lengths
No one cares. To keep up with my workload I usually work 14-hour days and no human rights lawyers are banging down my door to save me from myself.
- No guarantees
This is the worst part. You can work years and years on a book and never sell it. Forget the money and the Goodreads grouches and the long days – the worst part is this: you will put part of yourself in that book, and publishers still might say, ‘Nah.’ And there you’ll be.
- Did I mention the pay?
It’s really bad
Writers aren’t just writers these days. They’re writers, PRs, marketing experts, web designers, travelling salespeople, entertainers, accountants, SEO experts… I could go on. You are taking on more than one full-time job when you become a writer.
- The isolation
If you’re a social person, working alone all day every day will get to you. I know many writers who take on day-jobs because they got lonely. I’m a separatist so I’m fine with it. But I do have long, philosophical conversations with my dog and lately I’ve begun to believe she’s answering me.
- Do it anyway
Here’s the thing: if you really want to be a writer, none of the 9 things I’ve just mentioned will matter. You’ll love it. You’ll write on trains and in coffee shops, you’ll learn to de-bug your own website, you’ll get good at mentioning your books on Twitter. You will ignore Goodreads. You will do whatever it takes to tell your story. Because the story demands to be told. And telling it is wonderful.
I can’t wait to read what you write.