I know many of you think being a professional writer is the ideal gig. Maybe you imagine a life as simple as this-
1. Get Ideas.
2. Write Them Down.
Except it’s not like that. Let me tell you why…
First of all- in case you’re thinking maybe I don’t love doing what I do?
Or that I only got here from pushing myself out of guts and determination?
Or that I was motivated by the dollar signs and nothing else?
I love doing this and I could talk more about why but…I believe that what I do backs me up more than what I say (ironic, huh?)
This may come as a surprise, but I didn’t always dream of writing for a living…
I didn’t have an enthusiasm for writing in my early school years. While I did write a project on mushrooms when I was in kindergarten, the writing was all random letters formed into sentences. My teacher told my parents it didn’t matter, that what was most important was that it ‘made sense’ to me…
I didn’t begin learning to read until I was in 1st grade, and it was tedious early on, trying to make words out of those groups of letters on a page. Through Years 2 and 3, I’d write journal entries for class exercises, but I still found the actual writing part of it somewhat tedious- I enjoyed the illustration part more and was happy to devote lots of time to drawing the pictures and colouring them in with those thick, standard-issue pencils every public school had back then…
It wasn’t until the 4th grade that I began to enjoy writing. I’d volunteer to stand up the front of class and read my creative writing assignments aloud. I was in a Year 4/5 composite class, so when my latest work made the 5th graders laugh, I felt pretty cool for those 10 minutes or so. My classmates would tell me to get up and share my latest story when it was creative writing time, and the kudos I got inspired me to write crazier, more elaborate tales- to send up people in our class and be as silly as I could get away with!
The thing was- I didn’t know why people liked hearing what I’d written. Sure, I’d always been hassled by my classmates to draw stuff for them and people had complimented me on my drawing skills for as long as I could remember, but this?
This was a new experience.
I finished Primary school and moved into Highschool. It was a brand new environment where I was a relative unknown and felt like I had everything to prove. So writing was how I connected with my new classmates and gave them an insight into the mind of this shy, awkward 12 year old. I’d recently awakened to a new and uncomfortable sense of self-awareness. It felt like I was constantly being watched, sized up, judged. Unfortunately it didn’t occur to me that it was the same for virtually everyone else…
But when I wrote?
That insecurity vanished. Instead, I felt one step ahead, like I knew exactly what I was doing and I had my classmates in the palm of my hand…
I’d read and they hung on my every word. People laughed. The girls laughed (right when being able to make girls laugh was suddenly a big deal). I wished I could be the person I was when I stood up to read, all the time. In Year 7, we had to write our autobiographies for an assignment. I took a whole day off to write mine- and ended up getting marked 50 out of 50 for it. I got up and, in front of my classmates, shared stories of my life. They all laughed (and in the right places).
If only I knew how to have this impact on people all the time! I thought…
20 years have now passed since those bittersweet years of adolescence, and if I’m not setting out a proposal or engrossed in a client project, then I’m writing a new post just like this one, corresponding with clients, leads and colleagues or writing another entry in the journal I’ve kept these past 5 years. It’s rare there’s a day where I’m not writing! What I like is that it isn’t like speaking out loud to somebody, where being understood and keeping communication going often requires thinking on the spot. When you write, you can take as long as you want. You’d have no idea if it took me 2 seconds or 2 hours between finishing that last sentence and starting this one because to you, it was a seamless transition!
So people imagine that being a paid writer must be a dream job. In some ways? I agree…
All I really need to work is a writing utensil of some sort. Mostly it’s my laptop, but even failing that I could cover a fair bit of work with just a pen and notepad. Give me my laptop and internet connection and I can work virtually anywhere. I have practically no overheads- no shopfront, no stock to insure or maintain- with the added bonus of being a business owner. I set my own schedule and have last say in whatever work I take on. A number of times I’ve been rugged up indoors, going about my day and I look outside at the bleak sky and the rain and feel blessed. This job is great at offering freedom!
But on saying that?
With that freedom comes responsibility. Managing most businesses requires discipline of thought, discipline of action, an appreciation of time-management and organisational skills. Doing this is no different. Soon enough, you learn that you can’t do everything you want, because time is precious. Although I am the captain of this ship, it means that I can rarely sit on deck and enjoy the view. I’m constantly thinking of what else I have to take care of because unless I do it, it’s not going anywhere.
There’s also the amount of time I spend alone. Hours of my day are spent in solitude, solving my own problems and formulating my own ideas. While working in a team can bring out the ugly side of office politics, it also offers camaraderie and the chance of relationships developing. For me, like anything else, there are the wins and moments of glory. But much of the journey is undertaken by me alone. Hours of my day are spent solving problems and formulating ideas by myself. Most of what goes on behind the scenes is barely noticed by anybody else.
That’s the thing with being a writer- the freedom of being un-shackled from the traditional ‘grind’ of weekly living and forging your own path, comes at the expense of feeling ‘cut off’ from the world at times. So many problems and outcomes exist largely in your own mind. Meanwhile the outside world goes on, blissfully unaware…
There’s also the trick of trying to maintain balance. It’s not like the classic ‘Angel/ Devil’ scenario, but there’s one side of me that keeps telling me that if I want to really strike success with a sledgehammer, then I should do more- work harder, sacrifice more, push on further etc.
But then there’s another side of me, reminding me that no amount of money or prestige is worth throwing away good people, my health, and years of my life because I was so focused on the next big thing. What’s the point in abundance if you don’t enjoy your blessings and don’t have people to share them with?
Still, logical as the latter approach may seem, you’d be surprised how often the former voice chimes in, telling me that I’d be way ahead of where I am if I worked for longer hours at a time and devoted more of my life to work. We absolutely need to have good stock in more than just a financial sense- relationship stock, quality of life stock, personal contentment stock are all crucial- otherwise what do we really have to show for ourselves? Yet even then, fighting off that voice telling me I’m not a serious player until I’ve forgotten what relaxation or a day off feels like, can be more difficult than you might think!
But you know what the strange part is?
While my life as a professional writer (and its’ challenges) feels unique to me, I’m sure that for many of you, reading about it feels familiar. I bet there are things you have to deal with that you feel most people won’t understand. As much as you want to, how do you reach out and connect with people and get them to understand what it’s like to be you?
Because once you understand this- and get better at answering it- the better you get at writing.
And if you’ve always wanted to be a writer, that’s where it all starts…