The Journeyman Author

On writing for writers.

I’d rather fail as a writer than succeed at giving up.

I believe I’ve already written a post about how difficult writing is. Actually, it’s more about how important furthering an education in writing is for aspiring authors. Anyway, that’s not the point. The point is, however, that writing isn’t easy. One does not simply pick up a pen and notebook one day, put the ink to the paper, and viola!–Instawriter! No. Writing is a difficult craft. It takes years of devotion and training, hours upon hours of reading and studying, and hundreds of thousands of words of practice before a writer is even halfway decent. One of my professors once told me that no writer should even expect to be any good until he has written at least 100,000 words. For some, that count can be as high as 200,000 words.

So, we have established that at least. Writing isn’t easy. Good, with that settled, we can go onto the next step in the process–something that is equally “not easy.”

Getting published isn’t easy. Most publishing houses only publish a couple dozen books every year (including new editions of old titles)–some of the smaller presses even fewer than that. Not only that, actually reaching out to those publishing houses isn’t as simple as one might think. Most larger publishing houses won’t even look at you without an agent, and many agents won’t look at you without a previous publishing experience, and many small presses from which you could get that experience are already swamped with volumes upon volumes of other books in line to get published. For the start-up writer, getting into the business seems impossible. For many, it is.

Great. So not only is it hard to write, but it’s hard to get published. Any other bad news for us, Mary?

Actually, yes. Even if you DO get published, good luck making a living off of your writing. As I’ve also previously blogged about, most writers make pennies on their published work. In fact, unless your book is picked up as a bestseller right off the bat, the chances of you making enough money to live on from one publication are slim to none. We can’t all be JK Rowling (and, though that would be awesome, I’m afraid the economy couldn’t support paying every author the kind of money she makes). In fact, an author I knew told me he made, on average, between 3,000 and 5,000 per book per year. In a society where most people need at least 30,000 a year to get by, that simply can’t cut it.

So, what are you telling us, Mary? That writing is a worthless endeavor? That I should give up here and now? That my dreams are an impossible, hopeless fantasy? I’d call you horrible names, but I’m your subconscious transcribed into words on your blog, and I feel that would be inappropriate.

Luckily for me and my subconscious, that’s not at all what I’m saying.

My undergrad can be summed up in a single sentence: “What the hell are you going to do with a creative writing degree?” That phrase was the bane of my baccalaureate experience. Almost every time I talked to anyone outside of my own college (and sometimes even from Literature majors who, in my opinion, had even slimmer job prospects than I did), they asked what could possibly be the practical application of my degree outside of academia.

After a while, I got sick of explaining to them how, actually, writing was a very diverse field and could practically be applied to any kind of work. They didn’t seem to understand that all companies need writers in their technical departments, marketing departments, and sometimes in their executive departments. Scientific types didn’t really get the versatility of a writing degree. So, in the end, I settled for a simpler answer.

“I want to write books.”

Luckily for me, that shut most of them up. It was probably because they didn’t understand how difficult it actually is to make it as a published author. If they had understood that, I doubt there’s a scientist alive who would have neglected to point out the flaws in my line of logic. Fortunately, most of them made the same assumption: Stephen King is rich, JK Rowling is rich–authors are all rich!

If only.

Regardless, there are always people out there who try to step on a writer’s dream. There are those who do see how difficult it is. They understand the hard road ahead for aspiring authors. They know the risks–the many, many risks. They know the statistics. They know that most people who want to publish books for a living will never actually make it. They tell you to do something profitable with your time. They tell you to go for a career that you can actually make money in. They tell you to abandon your writing for something like business or biology–something that, yes, maybe you’d make more money, but would you really be happy?

Sadly, many writers do just that. Many writers let themselves be scared away from their passions by the prospect of a shaky future. Many writers fall into the trap, into a pit of doubt and uncertainty, and abandon their dreams for a more “realistic” future.

I saw screw “realistic!”

Writers, go for your dreams. No, it won’t be easy. Yes, you will probably fail (and probably fail more than once). Maybe, just maybe you’ll make it big. But I can guarantee one thing: if you never try, you will always wonder if you could have actually been the one to succeed.

So, just keep writing. Get your degree in a “dead end” field and flash a big finger to the people who say you’ll never make it. Maybe they’re right, but I personally wouldn’t be caught dead giving in and proving them right.

Cheers,
–Mary

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8 responses to “I’d rather fail as a writer than succeed at giving up.

  1. ckellywho February 7, 2012 at 7:20 PM

    Get out of my head! I’ve gotten those looks many times when I reveal my creative writing degree, even from some of my high school writing teachers, go figure. Wonderful post!

  2. Aimee February 8, 2012 at 6:18 AM

    I was persuaded to do English Literature with Creative Writing as almost everyone around me insisted I’d get nowhere just doing Creative Writing on its own. I don’t even know what I want to do as a career yet, all I know is I enjoy writing and want this degree. Very inspirational post :)

    • Mary February 8, 2012 at 6:56 AM

      My story is similar, but I chose a photography minor instead. ANOTHER “dead end” option! I’m glad you’re doing what you love. :) Later, I plan on writing a post about job options for writers, so keep in touch! You’ll fin something. :)

  3. amymarie February 8, 2012 at 3:20 PM

    Thanks for this great post. I’m an aspiring writer myself and your post really gave me hope in the face of rejection (six the day before yesterday. Ugh.). Thanks!

    • Mary February 8, 2012 at 3:34 PM

      You’re welcome! And thank you for checking out my blog–and for following! Unfortunately, most of us will see dozens of rejection letters before we finally get one acceptance. I know it’s tough, but I’m glad you keep trekking! Good luck!

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