Like any other work, writing has its drawbacks and bad days. I don’t mention these aspect of the profession by way of bad-mouthing it, complaining, or fishing for sympathy. I’m much more interested in helping new writers approach this line of work with eyes wide open and to let fellow writers know they are not alone with their struggles.
Speaking of which, let’s start with the bad news about writing and publishing. Tomorrow we’ll talk about the good parts of writing, but for now, we’ll look at some of the drawbacks:
Excessive Loneliness and Introspection
Depending on your personality type, the solitude of writing can become a bit much if you don’t have enough interaction with other people. While time alone is the daily bread most writers need, they also need the feedback of others and interaction with fellow writers and some non-writers. Writing is a lonely task that can become difficult unless appropriate attention is paid to this aspect of the work.
Rejection and Critique
There are so many reasons why a submission or proposal may be rejected, but even so, writing often means not only the disappointment of rejection, but the lost investment of time in an article or book that may never be published. Even if a piece is accepted, publication is not guaranteed. Even if it is published, editors will surely critique it and may even suggest changes you may not want to make. These are typical for the profession and cannot be avoided, so prepare for it and over time you’ll learn to work with it.
Low to Zero Pay
If you’ve ever looked through Craig’s List for work as a writer, the payment offered sometimes can be insulting. In all seriousness some postings ask for hours of work and offer only $10 or $20 for the whole project. Writers at this point in time have, generally speaking, an under-valued skill set. With the exception of niche web sites such as technology and politics, there isn’t all that much money, if any, to be had with online publishing either (though there are exceptions of course).
In addition, many magazines looking to scrape by have had to drop their payments to writers, while book publishers are also under pressure to lower their advances. This means that writers need to think like entrepreneurs who cannot survive unless they also branch into more lucrative aspects of writing such as copywriting, technical writing, or advertising. Others have specialized in social media seminars, speaking on their book topics, and other business ventures to help pay the bills. Very few writers these days are able to earn a full-time living from their writing books and magazine articles.
The Difficulties of Building a Good Platform
And speaking of speaking, many writers looking to publish a nonfiction book will first need a large enough platform to guarantee book sales. Some agents say that this may soon apply to fiction writers as well. There are some easy ways to build a platform, but the most meaningful way to build a platform requires the hard work of seeking out speaking engagements, book events, and other media appearances.
If you think a rejection letter is tough to take, try calling a few libraries to ask if you can speak about your book. While some libraries have been receptive, others have acted as if I was an axe murderer asking to lop off the heads of a few kids during story hour. I understand that most organizations have limited space and capacity, and as such they cannot accommodate every writer who calls looking for an event.
However, writers need to prepare themselves for something worse than the word “No” when they call around looking for speaking events. You will sometimes be eyed with suspicion, doubt, and even annoyance. You will sometimes be told by book store owners that you’re not popular enough, that not enough people are interested in your topic, and that no one gives a damn about you or your book. That is FAR worse than reading, “I’m sorry we can’t accept your book at this time.”
I’m not bitter about these experiences, but I think writers need to speak frankly about the difficulties that come with building a good platform that reaches a lot of readers. While I love speaking to groups about my works, getting to that point will include some difficult and deflating conversations.
Doubts haunt every writer, even those who are successful. I recently read an interview with Gregory MacGuire, the author of Wicked and several other bestselling books, and he shared that he is plagued by doubts and the fear of failure at the start of every new book project. Writers tend to fear their current work isn’t good enough, regardless of past success.
It’s Not All Bad
While some of these aspects of the writing life may sound quite bad, take heart. There is a up side to writing. We’ll discuss that tomorrow.