The Problem with Writing . . . 25 Things to Know BEFORE You Write for a Living

Let’s Be Honest

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Every morning I get up and write blog posts . Then I go do my other writing work. I’ve been writing for a living for very long time. So I feel qualified to write this post. It’s not a rant. It’s a list. It’s a set of things that folks who think they might want to write for a living ought to know before they blindly follow their dream.

The problem with writing is

    that, when you start, no one will believe you are a writer.

    that all writing jobs takes longer than folks think they will.

    that even talent needs ideas.

    that getting to a living wage takes time and boring work.

    that, when you write well, the finished product looks like it was easy.

    that no one cares how hard it was.

    that the lifestyle isn’t glamorous.

    that the pay can be less glamorous.

    that you’re always interrupted in the middle of the perfect thought.

    that you’ll probably have to edit your own work.

    that, if you get noticed, your mistakes are very public.

    that you need to personally invest and be detached.

    that you’ll be critiqued by people who don’t know to say things nicely.

    that you’ll be critiqued by people who don’t know what they’re talking about.

    that you won’t get to follow through on all of your favorite ideas.

    that some of your ideas will stink too.

    that folks won’t believe their opinion can’t hurt you.

    that you won’t be able to explain the thrill of finding a word you spent 3 weeks looking for.

    that only other writers will ever really know what it is that you do.

    that your significant other may not read anything that you write.

    that being a writer can wake you up in the middle of the night.

    that it can make you feel stupid.

    that no one can help you do it.

    that when you have finished, there’s no applause.

    that you have finished, you have to do the same thing all over again.

What could possibly be worth that investment?

Writing communicates through across the world, through time, to people I have never met. It captures ideas, inventions, and information. It’s worth it to be even a tiny part of that.

Bet you could add to this list. Why do you write in spite of it?

–ME “Liz” Strauss
It seems I’m always saying “Thank you, Darren.”.

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  1. says

    “that the lifestyle isn’t glamorous.”

    Oh crap…I was thinking this writing thing was going to bring me fame, fortune, big breasted women, and fancy cars. I’ll have to rethink this blogging stuff.

    Thanks for opening my eyes Liz.

    Seriously, great post you gave us a lot to think about.

  2. says

    Hey, Roy,
    Thanks, I’m still laughing. One thing I found out young was that glamour is only glamour from way far off. Even movie stars go the the bathroom. :)

    Now about those fancy cars , if you find you ever get one . . .

  3. says

    Hi Wendy!
    When I started I thought there would be only about five reasons in the list, but boy once I got listing a whole lot of ideas kept coming. They are all of the things I know about writing for a living.

  4. says

    I write because it allows me to go into “flow” when the words are great.

    I write because it forces me to clarify what I am thinking and turn ideas into action steps.

    I write because it allows me to continually learn about subjects and fit those lessons into what I already know about something.

    I write because I love turning a phrase into something unexpected.

    I write because what I write can help others.


  5. says

    Writing clears my mind, opens my heart, and makes me feel better about my life and where I’m going with it. Seeing thoughts on the page is a very “freeing” experience. And it’s a heck of a lot of fun! Great post Liz – the passion shone through loud and clear. PS: Thanks for your nice goodbye from last night ( I just read this afternoon) – I still like that car analogy you got out of me.

  6. says

    Hi Starbucker,
    Your comment touches so much of why I write. I had to read it three times just to make sure it wasn’t from me. :)

    Thanks for what you say I’m glad no one thought that a word up there meant that I don’t like the writing life. That couldn’t be so. It just couldn’t be.

    You’ll always be that guy in the car in the Rockies. :)

  7. Kharen says

    . There could still be clapping you know. Even when it’s only in your head 😉

    That’s a truly great list! Thank you very, very much!

    I am considering writing “professionally”. Not planning to do it full time yet but at least give it a shot while keeping my day job. And this list makes me want to do it more. Honestly and passionately written. Good on you!

  8. says

    I’m so delighted that people heard this in the voice it was written. I worried after I hit publish that folks might think I was feeling unhappy or some such.

    Nah, it’s been rough at times and everyone should know that. But writers do this, because they can’t not do this. That’s how you know you’re a writer.

    Do let me know Kharen, if I can help in any way.

  9. says

    The worst thing about writing – you have to market what you write.

    You and Starbucker said it better, but I think of it as thinking out loud with a pen, each edit clarifying a point of confusion until you actually know what you mean. Publishing adds your thoughts and insights to the tapestry we are creating.

  10. says

    I think of it that way too — as figuring out what I’m thinking, forcing myself to clarify what I think I know, but I really don’t.

    It’s romantic. It’s work. It’s frustration. It’s joy.

    It’s like being married. :)

  11. says

    You have to apply yourself to both body and soul to make them work, but success, and sometimes failure, makes them both worth it.

    I don’t write for a living, but find myself thinking the most worthwhile thing I will leave behind other than my influence on those around me are the things I’ve written.

  12. says

    The things I have written in the past two years are things that are worth keeping. My writing blog will tell my son the story of his mother.

    I agree. Writing is our past and our future.

  13. says

    You are right, it is like being married! I’m glad we’re thinking alike on this one – your passion for writing is rubbing off on me. And Rick makes a great point too about how the written things will be the best things we leave behind – I know it can’t be those college pictures of me in a toga! :-)

  14. says

    Hi Ann,
    Thanks for the smile this Thursday morning! I don’t worry about applause really. When I write something, I know whether it works and that’s enough . . . but folks thinking about writing for a living need to know that it can be lonely when you do your best work and you haven’t got anyone to share it with.

  15. says

    I completely understand. I especially like the one about how your signifcant other may not read anything you write. It’s probably wise to point out that in some cases you don’t want them to! It could make for a much happier marraige!


    (PS – just so you know – I’m still clapping for YOU!)

  16. says

    Hey Ann,
    Your comment made me laugh out loud.

    You might laugh to know that at one point I wrote something I thought IT man would really like, but i just couldn’t get him to pick it up. At wits end I left it in the bathroom, hoping he might. No luck even then. . . .

    I’m applauding you too. You are A-! first class commenter wherever you go!

  17. says

    Writing is such a ‘rush’ when the words are flowing and it all makes sense and is intelligent and witty. Kind of like a runner’s high. Doesn’t happen often, but when it does …
    What am I supposed to do with this image of starbucker in a toga … dancing? Say it ain’t so. can’t breathe, can’t focus, can’t get it out of my head!

  18. says

    Hi Larry,
    Nice to meet you.
    Yeah writing when you’re “in the zone,” is a fine and phenomenal feeling. It’s a full body sport that gets me going good for the rest of the day too.

    Starbucker, thank god, is a fabulous dancer. I know we danced together here in the comment box two weeks ago. He didn’t bring his toga then, but it WAS disco . . . 😉

    Maybe you should just give in and go with the feeling. Meet us here next Tuesday night for open comments. After all, you’re not a stranger here any more. You’ve made a comment. Now youre a friend. :)

  19. says

    I love writing. My worst day as a writer is better than my best day of running a videogame company (my previous career). Why?

    * I enjoy the craftsmanship of writing.
    * Meeting new people is endlessly stimulating.
    * I write about things I love: planes, technology, business.
    * I’m directly responsible for all my work.
    * I have to work 24 hours a day but I get to chose which 24.
    * No commute. No employee problems.
    * If I don’t an assignment, it’s over soon.
    * I’m vain enough to enjoy the thought that lots of people read my work and some enjoy it.
    * My blog is like this but more so because there are no clients to keep happy. Just me.

  20. says

    Hi Matthew
    The best thing about this post is that it’s brings so many wonderful comments like yours. I love the same things as you do. It’s a joy that you remind me of them and that I get to meet a person who feels the same way.

    I just said “good-bye” to a project that wasn’t a good fit for me. I feel lighter than air. My client is happy too. We’ll be working together again soon on something else. Isn’t that ever so cool?

    Communicating, constructing a message that means the same both ends is wonderful.

  21. kathie says

    Hi, I have a couple of questions that I would like to ask you, however I don’t really want to put them out there for everyone to see. Would it be possible to contact you by email instead?


  22. says

    Hi Kathie,
    I sent you an email a little while ago. If you want to email me you can find my email on my about page or my Work with Liz page in the sidebar. :)

    Nice to meet you!

  23. says

    As a beginning writer the above list can be discouraging but knowing that what I write will be read by people that I do not know and might change their lives is enough motivation for me to keep at it!

  24. Erika says

    Some of what you said, I must say I do agree with! But not everything. If you don’t mind, I would like to comment on everything you said.

    “that, when you start, no one will believe you are a writer.”
    Some people won’t. But if you look, I am sure you can find people who do! I am not a very known name yet, but I have a lot of suport and a lot of people who believe in me and believe that I can do it!

    “that all writing jobs takes longer than folks think they will.”
    Probably, yes. But some people know that it will take time and give you that time.

    “that even talent needs ideas.”
    Insperation is all over the place! Of course it needs ideas, but they are not hard to get!

    “that getting to a living wage takes time and boring work.”
    Boring? Writing is such a wonderful way to do it! In my opinion, it is the most entertaining way! Writers get to experiance things, that most people can’t! We take such amazing adventures, and writing them helps others take them with you!

    “that, when you write well, the finished product looks like it was easy.”
    To most people, yes. But not to me! Some people will see the effort it took!

    “that no one cares how hard it was.”
    Many people care how hard it was! No joke here, they really do! Why do you think people don’t care? Many people really do!

    “that the lifestyle isn’t glamorous.”
    It sure can be! It not being is up to you.

    “that the pay can be less glamorous.”
    Sometimes, yes. I can agree with you on that. So you come out with something else!

    “that you’re always interrupted in the middle of the perfect thought.”
    Not always. Why do you say, “always.”?? So many times that is not true!

    “that you’ll probably have to edit your own work.”
    I don’t see any problem with that. It’s part of writing! A good fun part. I am in the middle of it right now, and loving every minute of it!!

    “that, if you get noticed, your mistakes are very public.”
    Get past it! Nobody is perfect! If you don’t let it bother you, then the people out to get you will have failed!

    “that you need to personally invest and be detached.”
    Detach? Do you mean from other people? I don’t think so. In my experiance, that is where the inspiration comes from!

    “that you’ll be critiqued by people who don’t know to say things nicely.”
    It happens. Get past it, there are so many good things to notice! Why let that get to you?

    “that you’ll be critiqued by people who don’t know what they’re talking about.”
    But you do. Let them say what they want, and focus on the good stuff. If you focus on the bad you will drive yourself crazy! Turn the negitive into a positive! And if you can’t, throw it away!

    “that you won’t get to follow through on all of your favorite ideas.”
    That is the hardest part for me. I cannot argue here. But that obviously means, you are coming up with bigger, better things!

    “that some of your ideas will stink too.”
    Yes. Nobody is perfect. But throw those away and start fresh! You have so many ideas, so try, try again!!

    “that folks won’t believe their opinion can’t hurt you.”
    So they are trying to hurt you? True. That may come, but like a said, turn the bad to good. And throw away what is completely no good!

    “that you won’t be able to explain the thrill of finding a word you spent 3 weeks looking for.”
    Not you can’t. No one will understand the excitement you have! But they can see your excited and celabrate with you and you feel like you are on top of the world!! It is so wonderful!! I live for those days!

    “that only other writers will ever really know what it is that you do.”
    Well I am glad they are there to understand. It’s not like you are having to say, “nobody!”

    “that your significant other may not read anything that you write.”
    May not. But some may! Focus on the good! Focus on the things people read and love! Focus on your joy in things!

    “that being a writer can wake you up in the middle of the night.”
    That to me is one of the best joys!! I love waking in the middle of the night with an idea. Sometimes it is maddening. But most of the time, it is the most amazing thing! It is part of the joy of the job!!

    “that it can make you feel stupid.”
    How? What is stupid about writing? I do not understand what you mean here.

    “that no one can help you do it.”
    Many people can help you do it! And some people help you do it without even knowing they do! Many people do help you do it!

    “that when you have finished, there’s no applause.”
    No? None from you or non from others? There is applause, from you and others!! At least that is how it goes for me!! I get the applause from myself and others! So many others!

    “that you have finished, you have to do the same thing all over again. ”
    Isn’t it wonderful? You get done, and it’s time to start over! Time to once again go through those feilds you love, be with the people you love, everything!! My imagination is one of my favorate places to go, I have so many friends and favorite places and love going back to them!!

  25. Erika says

    Sorry, one more comment:
    From what you say, it sounds like you think writing is a lonely thing, is that true?

  26. irene says

    hi kathie…
    that’s true,especially for the beginner,when we start to write some text,we always think about vocabulary, grammar,or ideas.we shy if someone read our text,there are some mistakes in it.

  27. says

    Hi Erika,
    Because I wrote you an email, I almost forgot to make a comment for you here. I am a writer. I love writing. Now you know that you if you read deeper that there is plenty on my blog to show my joy in writing.

    This post is only a list of point put together for folks to see the down side of writing. I purposefully left the correspoding upside out. Thank you, though, for caring so about writing to take the time to write such a detailed response so that my readers know the positive too.

  28. says

    I didn’t mean to miss your comment. I’m so sorry. I must have been distrated by the length of the one that followed it. Yes it’s true, what you write can change a life . . . and I bet that you will write something that does. :)

  29. says

    Hi irene,
    I’m Liz. Take your time. Think clearly. Plan what you write. Check it over. Don’t check it too much — don’t check the life out of it. If you write great ideas with a passion for what you’re saying, folks will forgive you an occasional grammar mistake. :)

  30. says

    I just found this article while taking a lot around your site. The part about your spouse not reading your work rings true for me…though once I had DH proof something for me and when he was done he said “wow, it reads like a professional wrote it.” Duh. LOL. Actually, it was a very nice compliment coming from him, knowing that he never bothers to visit my blogs.

  31. Jake says

    I write because I love to. Sure I’m hoping someday I’ll hit the big time and, I have to admit, that J.K.Rs success and earnings really gave me more of a reason to write for a living.

    But when it comes right down to it, I write because it is a kind of calling I cannot explain to my peers. It is a simple need to place myself in words that may be read by those that wish to share and experience the worlds I run to.

    It is me painting grand things with nothing but letters and dots and the strokes of a pen and pushing of keys.

    But hey, what do I know right. I am only 16 with a long way to go in this world of writing… So many great others before me, and so many more yet to come.

    Never will let go of the ego that’s built up over the years I’ve spent with a pen though.

    Good post. Finally, people who understand.

  32. says

    Christian greetings!
    I’m 15 yrs old from Philippines. I am actually trying to surf the net about the common traits and lifestyles of writers until I find this blog. LOL. I’m not quite sure if I could call myself a writer. You know, what you’ve got on your list are all absolutely right. I’ve been writing poems, stories, scripts, essays, and the others since 7. Most of the time, actually, I get disappointed about myself. You know… It’s hard for me to express myself through actions or speech. They call me weird ’cause I always prefer to write how I feel. They can’t even see emotions through my eyes. hehehe! I’m not really into writing. You know… I have a lot of weaknesses in this stuff ’cause I never had someone to teach me nor guide me in this field. Worse, the second thing I hate to do next to dancing is reading. When I write, I just dig way down deep through my senses. People just comment “badly” most of the time. They always compare me to those professionals and I start feeling down. Can you help me boost some confidence? My family doesn’t like this field. But I do.

  33. abdulcarym says

    its so hard to get ideas.sometimes when i get them,they seem too simple the type anybody could just make up.i would like to write an interesting story to touch teenagers lives most especially but its been very very hard

  34. Morgan says

    I’m only thirteen years old but I love writting with all of my heart. I write because I love it, not because I need others to read it. Not very many people read my work because I am so young–no one takes me seriously. I love it so, so much.

    After reading your list, I think it is very much worth it because you get the satisfying feeling that you just brought something to life. Its amazing in so many words, but you can’t seem to properly describe the sensation. *That’s* what makes it so wonderful.

    So worth it.

  35. Annie says

    I have to write because I can’t express my thoughts, feelings, or opinions through normal conversation without getting terribly tongue-tied and confusing my victim. I have a need to be understood, but I can’t do that unless I take a unique approach. Somehow I failed Social Skills 101.

    Plus, if I don’t write I go through withdrawal. Ideas and snippets of prose bombard my mind during the late hours of night, pumping me full of restless energy until I get them down.

    But yes. It’s a pain in the neck most of the time. There are days that my eyes ache from staring at teh screen too long, and I want to bash my head against the nearest brick wall. I cannot read a book for pleasure anymore because I have to analyze the author’s style. I can’t engage with my friends because I’m too busy writing scenes in my head or studying the interactions of people around me. I find I too easily retreat into the stories in my head, clinging to the prose like a security blanket when times get tough, instead of pushing through like I should.

    I need it but I hate it. I feel like a drug addict. :/

  36. iSkippy says

    I write because I am obsessed. I have tried to ignore writing and went down the path of science. Whilst in the middle of studies or class, stories would pop into my mind. After writing script after script and showing no one, I have decided enough is enough. I am a writer and I must come to accept this fact. Usually, people think of Hollywood as a place to make big money, while I think the exact opposite since I have seen the struggles of my friends (I live in L.A.). I really do not want the life of a writer, but it seems that my compulsion will have it’s way. At least I won’t feel guilty when I wake up at 3:00am because I have a story that I can’t shake from my head. At least now I can immerse myself in daydreaming! I am free! Your list does not apply to me because I don’t expect much. I have a day job that pays me well in the science field. I can write my stories from 4pm-10pm Mon-Friday and all throughout the weekend. Maybe other people write for other reasons and your advice applies to them, but there are a few people out there like me. We are writers out of compulsion.

  37. says

    Writing is a mysterious art. Something we all have the capability to express; yet few have truly mastered. It seems to me that those who write from their heart; always have a niche and place in others. If you love to write – then it will flow & flow.

  38. maddy says

    Hello Liz S, enjoyed reading the posts and one in particular stood out and without mentioning any names all I’m going to say is “wow” and “omg”. lol. I consider myself a closet writer and without going into too much detail, Im getting a little anxious. All my life (elderly lady now) Ive wanted to write and was too scared. I had grandious dreams when I was a young girl that I would be getting the Noble Prize for literature one day. lol. I loved reading and had some great ideas for fiction except that I never did anything about it. I was always dissapointed and never understood the power of the universe when I would dream about writing something and several years later I would discover my idea in a best seller or find that it had been written about many years after I had already thought about the idea. I find that I particularily like to write and find that when I write, I never know what to do with my writing. Is it possible to give me some ideas, perhaps from other writers as well as to what do with my writing as a start. I dont care if I get paid, I would just like to write stuff and perhaps you may have ideas on where would be a good start. For example, when I travel I love to do writing on the characters or experiences that I meet in my travels. I love reading the editorials and write things but never send them out for fear that no one will want to read my stuff. What is a good start to writing if you have strong opinions on subjects or the kind of person that views life a little differently than most people. I know that lots of people must think this about themselves and thier writing. lol. Love to hear some feedback. Maddy :)

  39. says

    Nodding my head emphatically.

    Why do I do it anyway?

    Because I get a thrill when someone receives the message I’m putting out there, even if it’s a client message that I was able to make more clear.

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