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!
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