A warning for those who want to be published writers

Currently I am reading a book entitled Bird by Bird – Some Instructions on Writing and Life, written by Anne Lamott. This book is considered a classic as far as books about writing go, and now I can see why. It is full of truth, wisdom and encouragement for novice or even experienced writers. There is one passage in the introduction that really struck me, one that I think any beginning writer should be told -

“…I tell my students that the odds of their getting published and of it bringing them financial security, peace of mind, and even joy are probably not that great. Ruin, hysteria, bad skin, unsightly tics, ugly financial problems, maybe; but probably not peace of mind. I tell them that I think they ought to write anyway. But I try to make sure they understand that writing, and even getting good at it, and having books and stories and articles published, will not open the doors that most of them hope for. It will not make them well. It will not give them the feeling that the world has finally validated their parking tickets, that they have in fact finally arrived. My writer friends, and they are legion, do not go around beaming with quiet feelings of contentment. Most of them go around with haunted, abused, surprised looks on their faces, like lab dogs on whom very personal deodorant sprays have been tested.”

Honestly, I’m not sure truer words have ever been spoken about the writing life. Don’t get me wrong, I love to write, I would never quit…but sometimes the actual business of writing and publishing can make you as miserable as it makes you happy. Bad reviews, marketing failures, endless editing, lonely book signings (where you feel ignored), low sales…all of these things can bring a writer down quicker than you might imagine. Plus, for 99% of us (or more), it seems to be a struggle to pay any of our bills with what we make writing, let alone live a comfy lifestyle.

So why continue to do it? Why not throw in the towel and quit or just write for yourself? I can’t answer for every writer, but for me it is because…

A) I love to read & write

and

B) I really want to share that passion and my own creativity with others.

Next to those reasons, all the small stuff doesn’t seem quite as important. At least not to me.

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9 thoughts on “A warning for those who want to be published writers

  1. The ONLY reason to write is for the love of writing – it is brutally hard work, even with the love. Without the love, it would be all folly. To do something that requires such loneliness, isolation, and dedication for money? You might as well go to prison for cash – but, if you have the love, there is nothing like it.

  2. Thanks so much for this post! I hadn’t heard of this book. I’ve been trying to devote more time to writing, I’ve been writing this one story for a few years but haven’t been able to work on it very much…I’m trying to change that though! :)

  3. It’s a difficult thing, writing, or doing anything that you love dearly. Success is that much sweeter, but the failures can be ruinous. The only thing to do is turn the setbacks into fuel for the fire and and continue to pour yourself out on the page. (It’s cheaper than a therapist, anyways.)

    • So true. I know I often turn the frustration, anger and despair I feel over my failures into fodder for my writing. I think there may be something to that stereotypical image of authors writing from their deep well of pain.

  4. I read a quote about writing once (not sure how it went exactly, and not sure who by, so this will be really awesome) and it was something to the effect of don’t write unless it would kill you not to, otherwise the payoff is just too much pain and aggravation. So yes, I agree with you. Loving it, being able to enjoy the process, and having a passion for it is KEY. (Ursula K. LeGuin also has some pretty great quotes that speak to this idea, too! I’d recommend looking some up!)

    • Thanks for reading and commenting Deborah! I have heard that quote somewhere too, but like you I can’t remember who actually said it. I will definitely check out Ursula LeGuin’s quotes, I am always looking for inspirational or constructive quotes on writing to share with the writing students I teach.

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