Yes, Virginia, Writing Is Too A Job

First came the article about the writer who wrote a novel and then went broke.

Then came the response at The Billfold, which said blah-blah something-something about how you can’t really make a living working as a writer because writer isn’t a job.

‘…but come the fuck on. Kafka, Dickens, Nabokov — they all had day jobs. Novelists have day jobs! Roxane Gaywho is busy and accomplished enough to be several people, still has a day job. Writers have day jobs because being a writer isn’t a job. Writing is a thing you can do if you like it! It’s a thing you might get paid for, now and again, if you’re good at it! But it’s not a job.’

*looks around*

*looks at self*

*looks at self writing*

*looks at self getting paid to write*

*looks at self getting paid to write full-time*

*looks at self inside writing shed which was paid for by writing full-time*

*grunts*

Writer is a job.

I almost feel like I should end it there.

WRITER IS A JOB, he yodels, then goes and writes.

Writing can be a career. It can be a hobby. An art form. A distraction. An exploration. Some get paid nothing to do it. Others, very little. Some make enough with it to do the work full-time. Sometimes “writer” is even a job title inside a company. If you work for a video game company, or for a movie studio, or for any kind of content creation company… nnyeah, yes, those people are writers. It’s real. They’re not unicorns. They’re not secretly mailroom attendants who were given the job title of ‘writer’ just to make them happy. Don’t diminish them. They are writers who write and they write for money. I get the point. I’m not saying you should quit your day job and expect the MONEY HOVERCRAFT to back up to your house and fire wads of cash into your garage with a cannon, but there’s money there. And occasionally, it’s very good money for the time you put in.

Being a writer does not mean you are also automagically at a job. Being a writer and making money does not mean it is your only job. I had a day job while freelance writing — until one day, I didn’t, because I was making enough as a writer. A lot of novelists and freelancers have day jobs, but that doesn’t mean writing fails to serve as a companion job. It’s like, just because I ate a meal at lunch doesn’t mean dinner does not also comprise a meal. If I have one child, I may also have a second one — the second one isn’t a pet or a robot. You can have two things. You can hold two truths. You can have more than one job, and writer can be part of your cabinet of professions.

No, it’s not easy. Duh. Obviously.

But a lot of jobs and careers are not easy to enter or maintain.

Most people can’t be film directors, or cartoonists, or professional bear inseminators. But there are those who can, and who do, and who get paid accordingly.

Writing is a job. And to suggest it’s anything other than that gives in to the persistent myth that writing is some kind of joy-fueled reward factory, where the writing alone is enough to feed itself. Where we pretend that starvation and sadness are implicit to the role, and that getting paid is so rare and so strange we can’t even call it a job or a career anymore. That’s dangerous. Starvation is not a requirement. Starvation is not sexy.

That’s not to say every writer must aspire to also make it their profession. It’s totally fine to do it as a hobby. No harm no foul if you do it just to do it, just as there’s no harm no foul if you inseminate bears just to do it.

*is handed a note*

Correction: you should not randomly inseminate bears. That is, according to my lawyer, “illegal.”

Whatever.

Point is, writing is a job.

It’s okay that’s it’s a job.

It’s okay when it’s not a job.

It’s okay that it’s a hard job.

It’s okay when you also have a day job.

It’s all fine.

The end.

Go write.

62 comments

  • As a person who admires the shit out of people who can do the writing thing so much that they finish a story so I can read it, it amazes and appalls me when writing isn’t considered a job, or at least, a serious job. You go, writer people! Keep jobbing!

  • Writing is my career and I work at it 12 hours a day. It takes skill, dedication, passion, and focus to do this job. I say “Nerts!” to anyone who thinks it’s not a job. I have done this job while also working in Corporate America, and while raising kids, and it was my career as much then as it is now. The difference is, now I get paid to do this. (insert happy face here!)

  • Looks at day-job business card title: “Senior Writer”

    SENIOR. And that does not mean AARP, yo. It means I put in some serious hours slinging words. Twenty-three years’ worth, in point of fact. Thousands of newspaper and wire articles. Dozens of magazine pieces and, yes, PowerPoint presentations. Several work-for-hire non-fiction books. A half-dozen published short fiction bits. Four novels going on five.

    And I get so very, very tired of folks minimizing and devaluing the art and craft of writing. Everyone thinks writing is this low-level skill to be gotten on the cheap, that anyone with half a brain can put some words down and think they’re doing well. I dare anyone who thinks that to have his or her cousin write a promotional piece or cover letter for them, and then let me write it too. We’ll compare and contrast, and I’ll win. Because when it comes to writing, I will make you *believe* in exactly whatever the hell I want you to believe. That’s what I do.

    Writing isn’t just a job, it’s as much a skilled profession as plumbing or bear insemination (which I imagine requires a unique skill set). And I will have words with anyone who says otherwise. In fact, I’ll have well-crafted, cogent and convincing words with them, because I’m a goddamn professional writer.

  • If not getting paid enough disqualified a job from being a job then you’d have to pretend that those fast food workers you yelled at this morning are just in it because they LOVE the work.THAT must why they have another job.

    Flipping burgers is just a passion! A hobby!

    I think I’m finally understanding American economic policy.

  • Thank you, thank you and million times thank you.

    I’m currently between day jobs, but my writing is holding me over. If I work this right, I might not need to find another day-job. (not too hopeful, but it might happen)

  • I HEART this post. I heart it hard. I’m lucky I get to write for a living. I don’t necessarily love all the stuff I have to write to pay the rent (sorry: marketing job!) but if it means I can afford to write 3 or four extra hours a day for me? It’s sweet gig.

  • This is all very true. Additionally, I would also like to insert an observation that most of the people who are writing “how I failed to be a full-time writer” types of pieces are living in hella expeez cities like LA and NYC, where you are going to have to supplement your writerly income with at least one other job just to not live in a closet with 40 roommates. So, maybe part of the problem is that you need to live somewhere with a slightly lower cost of living? Writers can write ANYWHERE, so don’t think you have to pick up and move to the Big City just to make it big.

  • Thank you!
    I get so tired of the inevitable, “But what do you really do,” that always comes after I tell someone I’m a writer.
    Even better is the, “I guess your wife makes good money, then.”

    I usually just write these people off as well-meaning idiots and get back to writing.

    But nothing gets to me more than the holier-than-thou attitude I get from other writers who insist that the only way to make a living writing is to “sell out” or be some kind of mercinary. And that if they were only willing to betray their precious artistic vision, they would be rolling in the dough. So I should just continue to be a sell out, while they go work on their art.

    Whew.

    I probably shouldn’t comment before coffee.

    Great post!!

  • I just submitted another story to a magazine because of this post, after giving up on writing for about a year.
    Fingers crossed.
    Thanks Chuck, as always.

  • In the follow up to the second article, she writes “Thanks for engaging, but I think we agree more than disagree”. As someone who also speaks in hyberbole, to the dismay of literally everyone on the planet, I think she’s right.

    I mean, can we admit that that “cautionary tale” is a tad … whiny? Her problem isn’t “writing doesn’t pay well”, her problem is anxiety. She needs to be getting help for that. I’ve partied with letter carriers after work, it’s not THAT draining. Also, most phones have voice recorders, she could “write” with her voice. Sure, that requires transcribing, but wouldn’t it be worth it to write?

    In between all the lines of that essay all I could hear was “What if my second book is not good enough? What if I only had one good idea in me? What if I fail?” Which, you know, are pretty normal fears. None of her problems have to do with writing so much as fear. Right from the beginning — she used her book as an excuse to quit a job she hated (without having to say “I hate my job”, which I guess she feels she can’t because, I don’t know, hating something about a non-profit would make people think badly of her? Which is a type of fear that’s also not all that unusual). Her mistake wasn’t “thinking she could be a writer”, it was blaming everything else in the world instead of getting some help. Which is also scary. Or, you could hide, which feels comfy and safe and there’s no shame in that if you like it. How many actors go from that one hit show to a day job that they never leave? Suddenly they’re not having to go to auditions every day, be rejected every day, ect. Sounds nice.

    Also, maybe an editor or something could have asked her “Do you really want to leave in that part about someone handing you $40K a year with no questions asked or no pressure?” That made me want to roll my eyes so hard that they nearly rolled out. I have a “prestigious” Liberal Arts degree as well, and you do NOT want to know how many bags of fries I handed out in my 20’s. “Oh, life is hard and scary and I’m broke” um …. welcome to life?

    tl’dr: It’s ok to have anxiety, but if you’re going to pour all your denial onto a blog post, people may criticize what you wrote. It’s called life.

    • I agree 100% on all of this. I disliked both articles because the first one was “I wrote a book and it didn’t make me enough and now what?” and I think about myself and plenty of other writer’s who hustle and I also thought “maybe talk to someone who is a pro at your problems?”

      Then I looked at the response, and was really confused by what this person was saying. Hyperbole to get rage reads seems like a big motivation to me!

      Chuck cuts through it, as does Shirley and others, and it is good. I’m going to get back to writing. For money.

      • Dawn – omg, yes. She actually quit just before the book even came out. Now, I know from shitty jobs you want to quit, but you really have to be grown up enough to realize how life works … or at least get hints from people who have already lived it (I’m 54 and just starting my first book, lol)

      • Not only did she quit before her first book came out… but, in the article, she actually says that she REFUSED a two-book contract, demanding a single-book contract because she “didn’t want to feel she owed anyone.”

        Here’s the thing — at that point? When she turned down a bog-standard two-book deal? That’s when her publisher slashed their promotion plans for her first book — and I wouldn’t be surprised if they adjusted the print run downward. Why throw money after somebody who has already told you that they’re not serious?

        …and she seems genuinely clueless that this might have had an adverse impact.

        • In all honestly, the original article sounded more like venting to me. It sounded like she KNOWS she’s to blame for not writing the “second book,” and is more lamenting the whole needing-money thing. As for the quitting her job thing, hell, I’d be willing to bet MOST writers would do that in a minute if their spouse/partner said, “Maybe I can support us both?” (particularly if there were no children involved). I don’t necessarily think that’s a terrible thing to try out — either you will suddenly become very very productive with all that “free time,” or you will find out pretty quickly that having massive amounts of unstructured writing time really isn’t for you after all…and at least you’ll stop blaming “lack of time” for your inability to write. As someone else pointed out, it sounds like her real problem is anxiety and self-doubt (something lots of writers struggle with) and she should seek help for that.

  • Thank you.

    My current title is “Principal Technical Writer.” That doesn’t mean I’m the top one (far from it!) but just that I’ve been doing this tech-writing thing for (counts on fingers) (runs out of fingers, goes to toes)(runs out of toes, adds cats) almost twenty-seven years now. And I’ve gotten paid for it. Pretty well, in fact.

    And now, I’m planning to take the leap away from that to become a full-time fiction and freelance game writer. I’ve made enough with my self-published books that I’ll be able to afford (with the help of a spouse in IT who makes more than I do in the tech-writing job) to make this leap. Scary? Heck yeah. Big-time scary. It’ll be weird not to have the safety net of a full time job. But exciting too. So exciting. I like my tech-writing job, but it doesn’t make me jump out of bed in the morning. The thought of getting up each day and writing my own stuff makes me positively giddy with excitement.

    So yeah, writing is a job. Sometimes it’s two jobs. Anybody who says it isn’t is just jealous because they can’t do it.

  • Now, technically, I wasn’t supposed to be writing while I was at the office. But if you’re done with your work, you’re done with your work. What else is one supposed to do? Stare at one’s wall? I think not. Still, I didn’t want to hear any shit about it so I perfected the art of the Alt+Tab.

    What was that? Voices in conversation nearing my cubicle? Alt+Tab. The squeaky wheel of the mail cart? Alt+Tab. The always harried click-clack of high heels? That’s the boss, definitely Alt+Tab. The office was pretty busy so it was difficult to get into any sort of rhythm. If I was lucky I could sneak in a few hundred words that weren’t complete crap.

    • Hey, that’s how Dilbert got started. :) My first foray into writing happened when I was working in a parts factory. I got moved from the assembly line to a CNC machine which ran for 20 minutes after I put the metal pieces in. Even then, writing was “taboo”?
      Supervisor: “Is that homework? Just tell me that that’s homework.”
      Me: “Um. It’s homework.”
      Supervisor: “OK!”
      Weird how many people love to read, but think that writing is a waste of time.

      (I also recently came across the notebook with that ‘book’ I started. So bad. So very, very bad, lol. But I may use the basic premise again someday)

  • I’m going to take a wild guess and say that people calling writing “not a real job” are the same people who tell me that working in daycare isn’t really work because “you get to hold babies all day!”
    In other words, people who I’d love to punch in the throat if I didn’t have a Mary Poppins persona to maintain.

    • Ha, yes. I used to work in a flower shop, and people would come in while we were scrambling to get our highly-perishable product ready for a big wedding or event and talk about how relaxing it must be to work with flowers all day. :)

      • Oh man, yes! I’ve worked as a florist before and we used to get that comment ALL THE TIME. I learned to laugh it off, but it made me furious! We had to work so hard to keep everything balanced, all the flowers fresh and looking their best, making all the brides happy … and then our hands would get messed up from the water, the scrubbing, and the chemicals.
        I think it’s best to never assume someone’s job is easy (unless they’re a tax-dodging fat-cat CEO. Then that’s okay.)

  • Writing is hard. Whether its a job or not depends on many factors and not easy to pin down. If you have a passion to write, then just write dammit and forget the rest. Art after all seperates us from the rest. .

  • OK. I know (personally) at least seven self-pubbed authors you’ve never heard who make a good living wage from their writing. And it’s what they do full time. (Lindsey Buroker and Nathan Lowell are two of them. Look them up.) I don’t yet, but I’m getting there.

    I also know a trad published A-lister who has made millions, although it took him twenty years to get there.

    The woman who went broke was an idiot. You don’t give up the day job until you have enough in the bank to last at least a year. Certainly not before the book is even released. Everybody knows this. Except her. Apparently.

    • Yep. I’m one of them. I make a very respectable living, and I’m a total no-name. My readers know who I am, but nobody else does. That’s okay. The readers are all you need to make a living at this.

      • I clicked through to your website and wanted to subscribe right away! Unfortunately, your website is not behaving in mobile version. Every time I get to your subscribe field, the page jerks back up and relocates to the top of the blog post list. I’m using Safari on an iPhone. :(

  • September 22, 2016 at 1:59 PM // Reply

    Of course writing can be your job. I’ve been working on my first book for over 15 years, still working on it. I’ve always had to have a paying job, about 8 years ago was sitting in the dark as Hurricane Ike passed over head shaking my small apartment while was hoping to find a job that would pay me to write. I took the Monkey’s Paw out from under the glass started to gently rub the stiff fur and say, “I want a job where I’m paid to write.” It worked, but I should have been more specific. A week later I landed a job as a Marine Editor. I didn’t know what the Marine was about, but I knew I coveted the title Editor, and I could figure out the Marine side. I’ve been writing professionally about offshore oil and gas logistics ever since. I became an expert in the field and eventually a Market Analyst. I still work on my own stories and projects, but my daily grind is writing daily news stories, month journals, and biannual forecasts. It’s not what I planned but writing every day to deadlines and specific subjects has been an intensive 8 year writers’ workshop. I write every day, not when I feel like it. Sometimes its good, sometimes not. There are many jobs for writers, they just don’t say Writer Wanted!

  • Writing is more than a job – it’s also about running a small business. Decades ago, I had a job – as in, paid employment – writing history books. It didn’t last, but it was fun while it did.

  • I’ve been paying the bills with writing as my only income, I’m the sole breadwinner in the house while my wife is in graduate school, and my wife’s family members STILL ask her when I’m going to get a “real job”. So thanks for this, Chuck.

  • Writing has been my sole source of income since 1969. During this time I have had only one, self-published book (a food memoir) and have just managed to land my first publishing contract. But all along, I’ve been a professional writer. It was a job. It’s still a job. Just some kinds of writing are more fun than others.

  • You like us, you really, really, like us. We babes in the forest, waifs on the street or the ones snug, tight, in the night. You are a good man, you share ( We thank your kindergarten teacher ) all things that one can tuck into a pen.

  • “But it’s not a job.” -Says an editor and writer (dare I say journalist) who apparently writes these articles for a living…

    – Current writer rolls her eyes so far behind her head she almost kills herself. Of course, she stops herself in time, then goes to the bank and cashes a check for a translation she made (writing) and another for her copywriting work (writing again).

  • A while back I entered into a heated discussion in a writing group on Linked In. One person said that no one asked us to be writers, so why should we expect to get paid. Her profile listed her as an “event planner,” and I asked her what the hell that was and why did she think someone should pay her to plan an event when they can do it themselves. She didn’t respond. No one asks anyone to do a particular job. But someone needs to do every job: mop the floors in an office building; check out customers at a retail store; flush out septic tanks; program software; figure out million-dollar corporate budgets; teach children how to read and write.

    In the same manner, people essentially ask others to write stories and compose songs because they want to be entertained. They want to watch movies and TV and listen to music. Someone has to put that stuff together. If they want to do it for a living, obviously they should be financially compensated. Otherwise, they’ll go onto something else, and society could miss out on a great talent.

    Indeed, writing is a real job. Some 30+ years ago, when I told my parents that’s what I wanted to do with my life, they reacted with initial silence – as if I’d told them I was going into organized crime or something. They wanted me to be a computer programmer. Shy little me didn’t want to upset mom and dad, so that’s what I started studying upon entering college. I went through 2 ½ years of not knowing what the hell I was doing. Ultimately I ended up working with computers anyway (as that’s what the Technology Gods imposed upon us mortals), but I still pursued my creative writing ventures. More importantly, my parents came around and supported my life’s goals.

    Like other artists writers struggle to be taken seriously and to achieve some measure of success. Yes, we love to write. It’s what gets us going and keeps us in pursuit of those dreams. No one particular individual absolutely has to become a professional writer. But someone somewhere needs to do it. The world can’t function without us.

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