The Silent Struggles of the Writer – Can You Survive or Thrive?

Last Updated on: June 21st, 2016

Please welcome Kristine Millar, who wrote this post for writers everywhere! I hope you enjoy it!

The Silent Struggles of the Writer – Can You Survive or Thrive?

Most writers will tell you there was a point in their life where they knew that they wanted to make a ‘career’ out of writing.  There is usually an event which leads them to that decision.  Whatever it was, it made them feel good and motivated them to continue.  They might have received encouragement  from their parents or a teacher about their writing and it gave them the confidence to pursue the craft.  Others might not have received any outside encouragement and were simply drawn to writing in a cathartic sense, like when we scribble in a journal or compose a poem.  Wherever that writing journey starts, it has a tendency to open the doors not only to a long road of development but, by its very nature, can fill an individual with self-deprecation and doubt.

Deciding to write for a living can lead you in various directions.  If you study journalism at university, you have more or less decided on the form your writing will take and what type of career you will shape.  However, if you are a novelist, a poet or a short-story writer, you have decided on the platform but have yet to find the audience.  Non-fiction writers suffer the same uncertainties unless they are a celebrity or a well-known expert in the field.  So, it is the solitary writer, the one who sits for hours until their shoulders ache, who risks the most.  Why do they risk it?  They risk it because they love it.  They get self-satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment from it.  However, this fulfilment might only be experienced in tiny increments; if they write a great line with impact or develop an amazing character.  These little bursts of happiness are their only reward until they publish.  In the meantime, they must sit in silence and tap away at the keyboard while feelings of self-doubt emerge about what they are doing and whether it is good enough.  For the budding writer, this can be a daily battle.

When you start out, you are so enthusiastic – like a child in an amusement park.  Then, you realise that there is a lot of research to be done just to write that paragraph or, you might decide that something in your plot is faulty or weak.  Each time you hit a snag, you can be prone to ponder the negative aspects of your writing and whether you have what it takes.  You wonder about your ability – wonder whether you are kidding yourself.  Should you just throw it in altogether?  Everyone has experienced one of those days.  In fact, even published authors have reported feeling that they could have done better.  The high of being published is often short-lived and there is often a sense of deflation even after they have reached their apparent ‘dream’.  Doubt in your ability to hone your craft or comparing yourself to established writers will really cripple your ability to write – forever.  What you must accept is that self-doubt and anxiety lives in all artists.  You need to face the fact that it is the nature of the beast.  Indeed, it is the writing field in particular, by both industry and practical application, which actually creates the optimum environment conducive to self-doubt and uncertainty.  It conjures the perfect conditions for the artist to feel like a failure even when they succeed.  To understand why this is the case, we can look at the actual nature of the industry and use the example of the novelist.

As a novelist, you may come up with great characters, a location and plot idea.  You begin writing….but should you?  If you ask any ‘expert’ in the field, they will say, at the very least, these four things:

1) Don’t write a novel which will not have a wide market audience.

2) Don’t start writing until you decide which publishers you are pitching to.

3) When pitching your idea, you must describe similar successful works and how yours is different/better/special.

4) You better get an agent!

Essentially, the industry tells us that we shouldn’t waste our time writing something that will not get published or have the potential to make any money.  It might be surprising for people, but the average novel sells five-hundred copies in its print lifetime.  The publisher needs and wants to sell ten times that amount for them to deem the novel worth the time and effort.


However, what if you plan to publish it yourself?  Self-publishing used to be a dirty word, but has really grown in popularity.  In fact, in its growth, it has produced more work for other artists like graphic designers who can be hired as freelancers to create the cover art.  A growing amount of people are writing novels in their spare time and putting up electronic versions on Amazon just to get it out there.  Sure, they are unlikely to make a living from it, but they are gaining that sense of accomplishment for themselves.

It is unfortunate to say, but the writing climate of today makes even the most robust writer shiver. If you want to make regular income writing – and that means you have to write about anything – then you have to really churn out the articles.  Since most clients now buy pieces online, you have to compete with hundreds of thousands of writers to win private clients and jobs which will pay the bills.  Some people might enjoy the challenge; however, I think it has tainted the opportunity for enjoyment in the craft.  In the past, you pitched your article or idea to the magazine or paper and they would accept or reject it.  The writer had to do lots of research and pitch to many publications per week to make a meagre living.  In addition, even though you knew you had competition, the other writers were invisible to you.  You didn’t have to see their profiles and know how many more articles they had published or what their expertise was.  The writer of the past lived in the hope that they would get lucky and be picked up as a regular feature writer by a magazine – and sometimes this happened.  Now, in principle, you can do the same thing but the earning capacity is less.  Sure, a single writer’s work may be published more prolifically online today, but only because you have to do twice the work for half the money.  The magic of having an article published and of holding that magazine in your hands is, unfortunately, fading into the past.  So is the comfort of anonymity.

The writer of today can no longer hide in the shadows and hope that someone will notice them.  They can no longer hope that their talent will speak loud enough for the public to hear.  If you want to earn a living, you will not see results that way.  Today’s writer really needs to create an online presence as well as being prepared and having the courage to have a live media presence if and when required.  If you are a novelist who gets lucky and is published by a trade publisher, it would be a contractual requirement that you make yourself available to the public in order to market the work and create a public profile.  If you are competing for article work online, you might be discouraged to see all the other writers bidding for the work because you get to see the magnitude of the competition.  However, you cannot let that overwhelm you.  Remember that every writer has something different to offer – that every writer is unique.  Each has his/her own strengths and weaknesses.  It may be an unfortunate reality for those introvert writers out there who want to write but remain in their private sanctuary; you no longer have this luxury in the writing industry.  A public profile, whether large or small, is a vital necessity.

How is the practical nature of writing conducive to self-doubt?  Writing by its very nature is a solitary exercise which requires a comfortable chair and a reliable computer.  The autonomous nature of the art which blossoms from us in a wide variety of styles and approaches relies on you, as an individual, and what you can manage to summon.  You and only you are the creator of your art.  You have no recourse to anyone else.  You are totally self-reliant on your abilities.  If you succeed, you can be happy for yourself; if you fail, it is you who is responsible.  This is where writers put everything on the line.  You see, writing requires guts, courage and determination.

Depending on your disposition, what I have just outlined can be a powerful and upsetting conundrum for someone who needs constant praise or reassurance from outside sources.  For the solitary writer – there is often no-one there to give it.  We are isolated – only our thoughts of the next line keep us company.  We might be validated when we publish, but in the process of writing, particularly a book, there is many a month or year where we have to reassure ourselves.  So, as writers, we must have the strength to be self-assured and draw on that inner belief in our ability.  It is that which fuelled our desire to write in the first place.

To survive and thrive as a writer today, you have to push through with great determination and draw on your passion.  You can only do this with a heavy dose of self-belief.  If you are fortunate and are able to write for leisure and enjoyment, don’t let industry tell you it’s a waste of time.  Also, don’t be afraid to create an on-line profile, it’s actually a lot of fun.  If you don’t have to pay all the bills with your writing then don’t sacrifice the enjoyment of writing or the quality of the output.  After all, the decision to write came from the satisfaction of producing quality work in the genre of your choice.  If you take that away from most writers, you diminish any hope of a satisfying occupation or pastime.  You are left with just a mundane job like any other; instead of something which should be crafted and enjoyed.

Kristine Millar has been a writer for many years, starting out as a poet and reading some of her work at writer’s festivals. She holds an honours degree in anthropology and has qualifications in psychology and professional writing.  She enjoys writing about current social and political issues and offers an affordable editing service through her website.  Her first book is a work of philosophy called “Meaning, Self & the Human Potential” and you can find her on Amazon here.

Thanks for the post, Kristine!

Readers, don’t forget to comment and share this post with others! 

26 thoughts on “The Silent Struggles of the Writer – Can You Survive or Thrive?

  1. The best advice I was given on honing my writing skills was from a prof 30 years ago who told me to drop all my lit courses until I found my own voice and style. Then, she said, just write. You do improve your writing skills with practice. I believe the greatest influence on my writing started in childhood when I read anything I could get my hands on. I was reading poetry while the other girls learned how to skip rope (hence, a lot of time spent alone in the schoolyard!). So, I would say read the sort of work you are interested in writing– not just subject matter, but form: poetry, prose, plays, blogs. Step away from your work to listen for your own voice in everything you write–you will know when you hear (read) it by what happens INside–a tap tap on your heart. That’s your voice calling.

    • Lorraine Marie Reguly says

      Thanks for the advice, Christine! I am sure all of the readers here will appreciate it, as many are writers and bloggers. I also used to read everything I could get my hands on, from shampoo bottles to cereal boxes when I was a child to novels and textbooks as an adult!

  2. Suzanne Fluhr (Just One Boomer) says

    I am recovering lawyer. I was afraid to go cold turkey and still write the occasional legal brief, but from the time of my semi-retirement in 2005, I was hoping to write. I was a serious letter writer since I was old enough to pick up a pencil and the recipients of my correspondence always told me I should be a “writer”. In 2005, I was able to publish some personal essays in our local newspaper for pay, but as described in this article, the print media world has been rapidly changing. My twenty-something son urged me to try my hand at blogging. Thus, was born my blog, Boomeresque. I am enjoying writing for my blog and perhaps not surprisingly, I have been able to find mentors and support from other bloggers on Facebook, Linked-In and Twitter. I am going to my first international blogging conference in June.

    Even back in 2005, I was able to find a writing group through a night school Travel Writing course I took at a local high school. We were a small group and supported and helped each other with our writing. Kristine is, of course, correct that writing is by definition a solitary undertaking, but there are ways to reach out to other writers in local groups or virtual groups on the internet.

    I am fortunate that I don’t have to rely on my writing to put a roof over my head and food on the table, but as Kristine alluded to, there are ways to do this and you can probably find people who can guide you on the internet—ironically, the same medium that has so drastically diminished options in the print media world. Further, in some ways, the internet has democratized the writing world. The former professional gatekeepers no longer exclusively control access to finding readership for your work.

    So, try not to despair and write on!

    • Lorraine Marie Reguly says

      Thanks for your very insightful contribution! Classes and courses are available in many places, but often comes with a monetary cost, which some writers cannot afford. Sometimes this creates a “catch-22” type of situation: a freelance writer cannot find work until his/her writing improves, but he/she needs some work in order to make the money necessary to take a course. Suzanne, you are, indeed, fortunate that writing is more a hobby than a means of survival. This is a claim that not everyone can make!

      Support for writers can be found via the social mediums you have mentioned, and I have met quite a few decent, supportive people via LinkedIn. Bloggers helping Bloggers is one of the groups to which I belong that offers support in a friendly environment. Congratulations, also, for making plans to attend a blogging conference! Please let me know where it is!

  3. Every writer must certainly decide their own path. I will self-publish my novel if it doesn’t get picked up by an agent. Yet, when it comes to writing articles and posts, I hesitate to write too many on writing because there are already so many people who do so, even though my educational background makes it possible to brand myself as an expert. It’s also a difficult call to try to develop articles and posts related to teaching, because although I am an expert in that area, I left the profession. Overall, great post that has given me a lot to think about.

    • Lorraine Marie Reguly says

      Kristine has, indeed, given us a lot to think about in this post. Thanks for sharing! Watch for future posts of interviews with authors and editors… they may help you in your decision-making process. 🙂

    • Kristine says

      Hi Jeri, thanks for your comment. You are right about articles on ‘writing’. It is by coincidence that blog posts I have done for others have been. In fact, these are the only ones I have done on the subject. With regards to being an ‘expert’, even though you have left teaching, it doesn’t mean you wouldn’t be able to write a few articles on the subject!

      Good luck with your novel. Self-publishing is fine as long as the editing is thorough. However, don’t forget to really research publishers who take unsolicited manuscripts. If they accept the genre you are writing in, you have nothing to lose in sending them your work. I would say after you have exhausted that path, then look into hiring an agent. Agents will also scrutinise your idea or work and will be honest with whether they can help you or not. All the best.

      • Lorraine Marie Reguly says

        Thanks for being available, Kristine, for those who have opted to leave comments! Much appreciated!

  4. Great post! I love writing and believe I got a lot of practice it throughout college because my University required a number of “writing intensive” classes. I think that you have to be able to have a life outside of work to pull inspiration for your writing which is very important.

  5. Kristine says

    Thanks for the comments everyone. Aleshia, I’m glad you relate to some of the elements of self-doubt we go through. I hope you know now you are not alone!

    Doreen, I totally agree that times have changed. Specialising is a element I didn’t speak about, but you are right. If you don’t, then you have to write ‘junk’ articles about anything. Even with the writing sites that do pay well, you are often writing advertising for a product ‘disguised’ as an article. What satisfaction can be gained from that?

    I enjoy writing about social and political issues as they reflect the disciplines which I undertook during university. I also write on these topics because they are of interest to me. I’m going to continue doing this and just keep plugging away.

    Thanks again everyone.

    Keep writing, don’t give up.

    Kristine

    • Lorraine Marie Reguly says

      Thanks again, Kristine, for everything! It was very nice of you to offer this post as well as your support and encouragement. As you know, we sometimes need it!

  6. As a new writer, I definitely feel the little voice in my head telling me I’m not good enough to succeed. I just remind myself that it took years to build my former career, so I need to focus on one day at a time. The fear is counter-productive, and I need to tell myself that whenever I start worrying.

    • Lorraine Marie Reguly says

      Hi, Aleshia! I would have to say that Kristine’s article has touched a nerve in all of us. What we must remember is that each of us has our own unique style and voice, which is difficult to replicate. Remember that the next time you doubt yourself or your abilities!

  7. I have been a professional freelance writer for 20 years and have taken quite a different path than Kristine. I went to college and took Communications training in a variety of disciplines and soon realized that my talent lay in telling stories. Therefore, writing magazine features was a writing task I enjoyed for years and for good pay. The writing market has changed drastically in the past few years, and because of the internet, it’s much harder to resell articles that have been previously published, and as rates for many publications and certainly online markets have dropped dramatically. That’s why, I think its’ really important for new writers to start getting publication credits in a specialized field and establish themselves as experts in a specific topic. Otherwise you’re just one of thousands who will be forced to write for next to nothing. Blogging can definitely help establish yourself as an expert in a given field if you are unable to get paid assignments at first.

    • Lorraine Marie Reguly says

      I appreciate your input, Doreen, and have actually heard that advice given by several people… to become an “expert” in your field. However, it is often tough to narrow down what this field may be, for some people (myself included). Any further advice?

      Thanks for contributing!

      • Writing about things for which you have a deep passion or strong interest is a great way to build a portfolio/body of work on any given topic. That way, you will eventually be able to market yourself as an “expert” on the subject. Good luck to al!

  8. Great post! It speaks volumes to us fledgeling writers. Whew! So much to overcome, and decide. The question that persists is, “When.” My response is, “Soon, I hope.” Blessings.

  9. rlloydmyers says

    Great article, Kristine. It certainly lends credence to what I’ve said about how much things have changed in the freelancing arena. Thanks for posting this, Lorraine. I enjoy your blog and look forward to reading the contents. I think you’re getting the hang of it! 🙂

    • Lorraine Marie Reguly says

      Thanks, Richard, for the vote of confidence. Please share the link to this article with your friends/colleagues/connections! I would appreciate it, as would Kristine, who deserves a round of applause for a well-written and informative article. Stay tuned for more awesome guest posts and interviews!

      • rlloydmyers says

        I tweeted the article. I tweeted my blogs and got a lot of looks from doing so and as it’s said, ‘cain’t hurt’ (said around here, anyhow). I hope people will take notice and give it a read. It’s very well-crafted and worthy of consideration.

        • Lorraine Marie Reguly says

          Thank you very much! I definitely agree with your assessment. It is also great to see LinkedIn members supporting one another. I know this is not the first time either of us gals has interacted with you. I also hope it won’t be the last!

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