No, Seriously, I’m Not Fucking Around, You Really Don’t Want To Be A Writer


Danger Do Not Enter!

You don’t want to be a writer.

No, no, I know. You think it’s all kittens and rainbows. It’s one big wordgasm, an ejaculation of unbridled creativity. It’s nougat-filled. It’s pillows, marshmallows, parades. It’s a unicorn in a jaunty hat.

Oh, how sweet the illusion. My job, though, is to put my foot through your dreams with a high karate kick.

Consider this your reality check. You’ll note that I do this periodically: I’m here, standing at the edge of the broken bridge in the pouring rain, waving you off — it’s too late for me. My car’s already gone over the edge. I’ve already bought the magic beans. I’ve already bought into the fairy’s lie. I tried to pet the unicorn in its jaunty hat and it ran me through with its corkscrew horn, and now I am impaled.

See my hands? They’re shaking. They won’t stop. I’m like Tom Hanks in Shaving Ryan’s Privates.

I am too far gone.

You, on the other hand, may yet be saved. I see a lot of you out there. An army of writers. Glistening eyes. Lips dewy with the froth of hope. You’re all so fresh. So innocent. Unmolested by the truth.

And so it is time for my annual “Holy Crap The New Year Is Here And Now You Should Reevaluate Your Shit And Realize You’d Be Much Happier As An Accountant Or Botanist Or Some Fucking Thing” post.

More reasons you do not — awooga, awooga, caution, cuidado, verboten — want to be a writer:

It’s The Goddamned Publipocalypse And Now We’re All Doomed

The meteors are coming. Tides of fire are washing up on beaches. Writers are running scared. The publishing industry has heard the seven trumpets and it wails and gibbers.

It’s bad out there.

You know how many books you have to sell to get on the New York Times Bestseller List? Four. You sell four print copies of a book, whoo, dang, you’re like the next Stephen King. Heck, some authors are selling negative numbers. “How many books did you sell this week?” “Negative seven.” “I don’t understand.” “My books are like gremlins. You spill water on them and they multiply. And then pirates steal them and give them away for free. Hey, do you have a gun, because I’d like to eat it.”

Borders pissed the bed. Editors are out of work. Fewer authors are being signed and for less money up front. Jesus, you have a better shot of getting eaten by a bear and a shark at the same time.

And e-books. Pshhh. Don’t even get me started on e-books. Did you know that they eat real books? They eat them right up. That’s what the “e” stands for. “Eat Books.” I’m not messing with you, I have seen it happen. Plus, every time an e-book is born, a literary agent gets a tapeworm. True fact.

I’m cold and frightened. The rest of us writers, we’re going to build a bunker and hole up in it. Maybe form some kind of self-publishing cult and wait out the Pubpocalypse in our vault. We’ll all break down into weird little genre-specific tribes. Horror slashers, elf-fuckers, steampunk iron men, and space whores. But it’ll be the poets who will win. The poets with their brevity and their stanzas. And their bloody claws.

Eventually Editors And Agents Are All Going To Snap (And It’ll Be Our Fault)

It’s easier now than ever to submit to an agent or an editor. Used to be you had to jump through some hoops, maybe print some shit out, pay some cash to ship your big ol’ book out into the world. Now any diaper-rash with a copy of Wordperfect, an e-mail address and a dream can send his 10-book fantasy epic to a thousand agents with the push of a button.

Click! “Here, please consume this sewage as if it were a meal!”

This is your competition. Sure, you might be a real gem, a right jolly ol’ corker of a writer with skills and art and craft and a sexy smug author photo. But these wild-eyed crazy-heads are your competition.

Don’t think so? Peep this scenario:

Your manuscript arrives in the inbox of an agent with 450 unread messages just from that morning. At least 445 of those unread mails comprise a festering heap of word-dung, and that agent has to get through these and write some kind of “No, I don’t want to rep your book about a chosen one Messiah space pilot hermaphrodite ring-bearer wombat-trainer blacksmith” rejection letter. And she has to do it again and again. And again. And again. Times 400. Let’s be honest, by Piece Of Crap #225, that agent has basically lost her mind. Her brain is a treacly, yogurt-like substance that smells faintly of coffee and disappointment.

So, when she gets to your manuscript (#451), it’s late in the day. Sure, she might read it and be cowed by your brilliance — “Holy crap, it’s not crap!” — but realistically, she can’t even see straight. She hates everything. She wants to punch the life out of baby animals. Her madness and anger have been honed. It is a machete one could use to strike down God and prune his limbs.

That agent’s on a hair trigger.

Once she gets to yours, she reads that first sentence and doesn’t like that one comma and blammo, she’s firing off a rejection letter. And before too long she’ll be out on the ledge firing off a high-powered rifle.

You don’t want that kind of guilt on your head, do you?

Evidently, Society Still Requires “Money” To Procure Goods And Services

Few writers make enough money to earn a so-called “living wage.”

What is a living wage, you ask? It’s an annual wage that allows you to not perish. It allows you to not freeze to death, or not live in a dumpster where your extremities are eaten by opossum, or not die of starvation under an underpass. I mean, let’s be clear: most writers earn less than your average hobo. A hobo, he might earn ten bucks an hour. Sure, it goes toward booze or toward his raging Magic: The Gathering habit, but still, it’s more than you get paid to be a wordmonkey.

Okay, yeah, I earn a living wage, but you know how hard I have to work? I have to write like, 10,000 words per day. Backwards. While I provide sexual favors to industry insiders with my left hand (the sinister hand is the only hand appropriate for the tasks I give it to perform, be assured).

Since society still demands that we pay it money — and not, say, wampum or words or sexy dances — then trust me, it is not worth it being a writer. A writer, you’re basically just a homeless troglodyte.

Your Soul Remains Uncrushed, Your Mind Is Intact, And Your Orifices Unviolated

First comes the ceaseless parade of rejection. (Probably because you’re just not that good, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t sting, right?) You’re punched in the pink parts over and over again. It’d be comical if it were happening to anybody else, but it’s not. It’s happening to you.

Then, should you have the good fortune of getting published, you are now going to be dragged through a house of possible horrors. Seriously, you should hear the horror stories.

“My contract requires me to tithe a cup of blood every Tuesday morning. A man in a dark hat and a wine-colored cardigan shows up at my door, gives me a plastic cup, and then I have to blood-let into the cup. I don’t know what this has to do with my book, but I think it has something to do with my soul.”

“I found a stipulation in my contract that, should they be able to prove that I used a Barnes & Noble restroom, they could force me to pay back my advance. Also, they stole my shoes.”

“I did not get to approve my own cover art, and for some reason the cover of my paranormal thriller features an orangutan peeing into his own mouth. At least he’s wearing a monocle.”

“I must’ve mis-read. Here I thought they owed me 17% royalty on every e-book sold. Actually, I owe them a 17% royalty on every e-book sold. Mea culpa. Time to pay the piper. Literally. They sent a piper to my house and his pan-pipes play a discordant tune that drives cats mad.”

“Someone spent my marketing budget on cake and whores.”

After all that’s said and done, you have to go through it again with your second book. Which probably nobody will publish. Because they hate you.

Because The Fucking Snooki Book, That’s Why

At first I was like, “Eh, so what, Snooki got a book. Blah blah blah. We’ve seen trash celebrity books for years. Publisher’s gotta eat. Who cares? It’s not the end of the world.”

No, no, it’s definitely the end of the world.

Snooki shouldn’t even be allowed outside and amongst the public without a handler. She’s like a shapeshifting gonorrhea monster. That girl has more brain in her hair than she does in her actual head. And yet I know talented writers who are struggling, but Snooki — some kind of orange monkey-goblin — gets paid enough money to buy a house full of solid gold tanning beds. And, her book is apparently tanking. And, the Today Show chose to put her on instead of a literary icon like Jane Yolen.

That’s what it is to be a writer these days.

Snooki, who is by all reports the equivalent to a drunken, self-aware slime mold, is way, way higher up on the food chain than Jane Yolen. And Jane Yolen is way, way higher up on the food chain than you. Think about that. Think about just how screwed that makes you. It’s like a crazy house. It’s like an asylum where they let that guy who paints leprechaun porn in his own waste run the joint. And there are you and Jane Yolen, holed up in Room 313, the only sane ones in the whole zip code while an army of Snooki Zombies (their book deals flailing in their rotten, epileptic grip) tries to kill you. Or have sex with you.

*shudder*

You don’t want to be a writer.

Turn back now. Save yourself.

While you still can.


130 responses to “No, Seriously, I’m Not Fucking Around, You Really Don’t Want To Be A Writer”

  1. We live in crazy times. Getting crazier. Snooki, any politician, anyone who ever tried out for American Idol, Justin Baby writing his memoir of his amazing, spell-binding fourteen years on Earth…and yet the craziest of them all – those of us who keep writing. We’re writing the wrong stuff. We live in a crap-eating world.

    But, hey, your rant was entertaining!

  2. I never wanted to be a writer. I wanted to be… a lumberjack.

    Unfortunately, if you show up in the woods here with an axe, the trees can get quite upset about it and you’ll be reported and arrested as a herbicidal maniac or a serial feller. That’s assuming the trees don’t take the law into their own twigs and compost you themselves.

    On the whole, writing is less profitable but much safer.

  3. Very funny…and true. ha. My first novel is out now and while it’s doing well, the whole process certainly isn’t what I would have thought more than ten years ago when I began this journey. We posted a portion with a link back to you today on Novel Journey. Hope that was okay.

  4. It’s funny because it’s true.

    Although, before I shot everyone in sight and jumped off the Editorial Ledge, I would still try to read the ms about the wombat trainer blacksmith. Mostly because I have a thing for wombats and blacksmiths.

  5. That “debunking” by Dean Wesley Smith is little more than anecdotal evidence, assertions that the studies establishing average writer incomes are wrong (without producing said studies or conducting proper scientific review of their methods and numbers), and a lot of red herring discussion about the finances of publishing which demonstrates nothing about the distribution of income among published writers.

    The tone of Smith’s economics rings vaguely Austrian: a lot of “self-evident” principles (read: libertarian catechism) and not a lot of mathematical rigor except at a small scale where it doesn’t really address the macroeconomic dynamics in question. I could be wrong on Smith’s ideology based on this one sample, but brushing off complaints about income distribution certainly would please an Austrian School libertarian.

    But, I can do a better job of dismissing the whole debate about the “average” income of published writers in two sentences:

    “What matters is not the average income of published writers, but the power law governing how that income is distributed. For example, if a large enough percentage of total writer income is paid out to a small enough percentage of writers, it would be quite possible for a majority of published writers to earn well below the poverty line.”

    Of course, that’s merely a clarification of the problem. The numbers would have to be gathered, analyzed, and peer reviewed before we could have a reasonable picture of the financial risk involved in trying to make a living as a published writer.

  6. Still laughing (a week later) over “Someone spent my marketing budget on cake and whores.” Can I put that on a T-shirt (just one, for me), if I put -Chuck Wendig, TerribleMinds.com after it?

  7. I’ve known this for a long time… got a Pulitzer prize-winner for a brother. I’ve been writing on-line for fifteen years, never made a dime off of it, still have the same 32 readers/day. I’m retired now, and I don’t need to worry about making money, ’cause I live very cheap. But I’m a writer, and I still might write… well, I do write, every day, on the web… but it’s a hobby, always has been, always will be, as long as it’s still fun.

  8. This was so funny and sadly true! I have no desire to be a writer, but I am a fanatic reader. Seeing people like Snookie get a book deal makes the Taco Bell I ate for dinner want to come back up. (or maybe that’s just Taco Bell) Anyway thanks for the laugh! I will pass this on to any body I meet who thinks they should be an author!

  9. One night in Seattle, I chatted with Dean Wesley Smith and bought one of his books. My take-away? He’s a far better salesman than writer. I’m not necessarily being critical. Do what works for you.

  10. 1. I always knew the poets would win.
    2. It’s too late for me. It was write or schizophrenia. I chose a med free option.
    3. I’m a writer. What the fuck is reality? LOL!!!

    Awesome post.

  11. That was a seriously entertaining read.
    Sounds like I’ll be choosing between feeding my intellectual vanity and feeding myself.
    I gotta pick the former, because I’d much rather be a good writer than a popular one.

  12. To all you folks saying writing is saving your sanity: No one ever told you not to write. We’re just saying that you can’t make a decent living at it.

    As one who’s made a career, but not good money, as a writer, I’m constantly getting asked how one becomes a successful writer – as in, someone who makes a decent living at it. I say, “Marry well.” Or “Learn to do math.” Given Snooki, I might add “Become famous doing something else.” Telling people they can make money through writing is cruel, so you have done us and them a favor.

    People will always crave stories and clever turns of phrase. But they’re no longer willing to pay for them. Simple as that.

  13. Ah, it’s too damn late for me, I’m already screwed. Your post had me laughing so hard because it’s all so true. We’re crazy people. Pink parts…I haven’t laughed like that in ages!

    :o)

  14. As a published author who just had her latest book turned down because the heroine was going through menopause, let me say Thank You Chuck. Oh — what’s that? Oh, yes. You read that correctly. Because she was menopausal. That, the editors told me, was right up there with talking about periods. Or condoms. They loved my “voice” my “style” my characters, my plot, and OH YEAH, it was great that I had fire-breathing flying monkeys in it, and oh, you’ve had NINE books published? Great! But a woman going through menopause? Uh . . . well . . . (Several of the younger editors, the teenagers, ran screaming into Manhattan alleyways never to be heard from again) “Gee,” the other, senior editors said, smiling their pleasant little twenty-year-old smiles. “Thanks but no thanks.” *deep breath*

    So dear Chuck, like I said, I want to thank you. No, I want to do more. I want to lie down at your feet and lick your toes carefully one by one, not in a sexual way, you understand, but just to pay you a kind of humble homage. I needed to laugh today. I cannot tell you how desperately I needed to laugh. I’m about to start teaching a writing workshop because I need the money. Only no one can afford to take it. But I’m trying to work out a new approach to the workshop so I can hawk it online later, so I cut my price in half and ONE person took me up on it out of nine. Today I applied for a job to make $10 per blog post that I would write for a company on a variety of fascinating subjects: finance, nutrition, manufacturing. This is why I don’t own a gun.

    I have added another soap opera to my daily schedule and every morning, I want to deep fry my animals or myself as I stare at my latest project and think–What is the point? But what keeps running through my mind even louder is HOW DID I GET HERE? And more importantly. WHY?

    So, thank you Chuck. Thank you for making me laugh out loud, long and hard, and smile and nod and make a fist and pump it into the air with a shout of “Yeah! True Dat!” and other such emphatic ejaculations of agreement. Thank you.
    *lick, lick*

  15. […] But aren’t we all when we start the process?  We write a novel with wide-eyed hope of seeing our name splashed across a hard back cover in some fancy font and sitting on the main display table of Barnes and Noble.  At that point we’re basking in the success of having a 70,000 word completed piece of work.  There were times it was a question if we’d even get that far.  But, we haven’t done any research, asked any questions, or done any hard work to find out about the business except for writing the damn thing.  (Which you soon realize is just the first step.)  If you have any questions if writing is for you, check out this blog. […]

  16. Ideas are better open-sourced.

    Writing or any other kind of art should be a secondary activity after actually getting something done. If your thoughts are so insightful or precious, join academiia or a think tank. Apply for a grant. Real artists starve for their art.

    Prostitutes and mercenaries and criminals and charismatic cult leaders make all the money. If you’re more than one, multiply your winnings.

    Seriously, people are not paid for their work. They are paid for their image. The information age has only made this more true, but it was always true. The fact is that, for a while, a particular confluence of artificial scarcity, control and mass media distribution allowed a few lucky scribes to exploit a loophole in the system. But the loopholes are closing.

    Welcome back to serfdom, Internet style. enjoy your stay.

  17. Funny: I’m currently working toward my Ph.D in Botany solely so I don’t have to go back to writing. Carnivorous plants may look at me funny, but at least they don’t quote Cory Doctorow’s vowel movements about how “all you need to do is give your stuff away for free and you’ll be a success!” (There’s absolutely nothing that ol’ Cory’s written about writing or publishing that wasn’t said better by Steve Martin [in the role of Ruprecht] in the film “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” 23 years ago.)

  18. Oh, and another reason why I’m glad I’m no longer a writer? I won’t have to listen to the bleatings of butthurt wannabes screaming about how “None of this is true! I have it in me! I’m gonna show you ALL!” Go ahead, sweethearts. Show us all that learning to type by throwing cats at your keyboard to compose that Absolutely Fabulous/Farscape slashfic is worth the time. You’ll just make the agents and editors happier when this year’s International Slushpile Bonfire Day ( http://www.revolutionsf.com/article.php?id=950 ) comes around.

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