“So, what do you do?”
“I’m a writer.”
“Okay. But, like, what do you actually do?”
Conversations like these often make me sigh. I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard this, if not directed at me, then directed at other writers I know. People seem to have a lot of misconceptions surrounding writing, and it becomes especially prevalent when I tell them that it’s what I do for a living. When they look at me, they see a slightly frazzled mom with too many books and very little free time.
When thinking of a writer, many people picture a turtlenecked professional with their MacBook propped on a small café table beside a designer drink, morosely staring at a blank page until suddenly, the heavens open and lo! Inspiration has struck! They clack away madly and write a best-seller in one sitting.
Yeah…no. Writing for a living isn’t as depressing (thankfully) or glamorous (aw) as most people make it out to be. Here are a few myths about writing for a living, and what makes them so utterly wrong.
Writing isn’t a real job
I’m fortunate enough to have followed two fantastic career paths in creative fields, and to my dismay, both times, I’ve been asked what my “real job” is, or what my backup plan is for “when this falls through.”
As an actress, I expected this. Theater is notoriously difficult to break into, and the amount of people who try to become actors greatly outweighs the number of people who actually succeed in doing so. It was a shock when I got the same responses as a writer.
Yes, writing is a real job. I write for clients and for myself at least five hours every day, if not longer, just getting the words out of my head and onto the page. That doesn’t even take into account time dedicated to editing, administrative responsibilities, client communications, or personal brand management. My work weeks are no shorter than yours just because they happen in my home office.
Alternatively: The only real writing jobs are novelists and journalists
The world of professional writing is a lot more varied than just newspaper journalists and fiction novelists. There are copywriters like me who put words to products and business branding. Editors and proofreaders who make sure all kinds of writing are clear and error-free. Bloggers who share their opinions on everything from books to parenting , and many, many more.
Yes, journalistic reporting and writing books can be a lucrative career for a writer, but these folks make up only a small portion of the field.
Get a book published and you’ll be instantly successful
Getting a book published is the dream of many authors, and with the help of the internet, it’s easier than ever to bring a manuscript to the public. Self-publishing is easy and free, and small or hybrid publishers will offer the benefits of a brand imprint while allowing you to keep control of your work. Working with a small publisher can even have the benefit of giving you great contacts in the industry who you can count as allies and friends.
But just because it’s easier doesn’t mean you’ll be an instant success. Standing out as a self-published author is extremely difficult. Add to that the fact that the Big Five publishers (Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Hachette, and Macmillan) own about 80% of the market anyway, and you’re in for tough luck making any sales on your own.
That being said, it’s still amazing to see your name come to print in a book you can hold in your hand. If you get even a few sales, it’s thrilling. It can make you feel like the entire writing process was worth it just to see someone pick it up and smile.
You have to wait for inspiration to strike
Inspiration is a funny, fickle thing. If I waited until I was inspired to write, I’d never get anything done.
If you want to know a secret (that isn’t much of a secret to working writers), then listen. Inspiration comes after you start working most of the time. Sitting down and slogging through the “I don’t want to do this” slump is the only way most of us manage to get our pieces turned in on time.
Once you’ve got your hands on the keys or the pen in your hand, you’ll usually find that there were words in your head; they just got jammed in the rafters and needed to be shaken loose with all that banging against a brick wall.
This works for me, but I suppose other writers have more consistent bouts of inspiration visiting them. For me, though, this assumption is a myth.
Writers must be starving artists and/or depressed extreme introverts
This one’s a bit of a dangerous assumption. It’s not a good idea to promote suffering of any kind, let alone “suffering for your art.” The idea that to be a “real” writer, you have to be living in a dirty hole in the wall, eating next to nothing as you scrape away at your masterpiece, can set you up to take on abuse that you don’t deserve to endure.
Writers, like any other person doing a job, deserve to earn a living wage and be treated fairly. Is it always fun to be a professional writer? No, not really. Sometimes it’s boring and annoying. But it should never be suffering.
You have every right to be paid and paid well for work you put effort into and know you do well.
Getting published in your own name is the only way to be a real writer
Did you know that one of the most lucrative writing careers in the industry is ghostwriting? The average ghostwriter makes $37.50 an hour, according to PayScale, with the upper tiers of the profession making more than $60 an hour. And that’s not even taking into account what they can be paid per word.
People have visions for books that they want to write, but they don’t always have the skills, experience, or time necessary to do so. Ghostwriters provide that for them.
Writers can be social media marketers, SEO professionals, website content builders, grant drafters, transcriptionists, copywriters, bloggers, vloggers, proofreaders, editors, and, yes, regular old byline-getting magazine and book writers. There are hundreds of ways to make a living with words; not all of them include being front and center in the “About the Author” section.
Writing is so easy anyone can do it
Despite everything I’ve said about how accessible writing is and can be, I would never say that writing is easy.
Almost anyone can write a paragraph about their favorite drink, or tweet at a celebrity to voice their opinions. Lots of people write about their opinions, and hundreds of experts write about their fields every day. Anyone can string words together. It takes something else to be a writer.
Writing, as a profession, means a passion for finding new and interesting ways to talk about the things you love. It means finding interesting ways to write about things you don’t love, or things that are downright boring.
It means years of studying the language, either on your own or through academic means, to learn its ins and outs, the conventions of the industry, how to break those conventions, and who broke them first. It means spending a long time with the language because you love it, and seeing how it works with other languages.
It’s being able to get an idea out of your head and onto the page, then being able to take that page, cut it apart, and put it back together in a way that makes other people want to read it.
Writing means being told over and over again that there’s very little chance you’re going to succeed and smiling while you pick up the pen. Anyone can write, but you have to be willing to put in the work to be a writer.
About the Author
Cat Webling is an author and actress based in Kansas. She is a lover of all things magic and macabre, strange and surreal, and of course, anything to do with space. Beyond writing, she loves to read, act, cook, play video games, and cuddle with her one-eyed wonder cat or her son, not necessarily in that order.
Cat writes science fiction, short stories, and poetry, as well as articles about literature, theater, gaming, and fan culture.
You can find her work at: