I love to write. I write by choice. I am blessed that I’ve had two good seasons in which to write: when I stayed home to raise my young children, and now that I’m retired from paid labor. But there are days when I wonder what ever possessed me to decide to be a writer. Why didn’t anyone tell me—
- You won’t become rich from your first publication. (In fact, you may devote thousands of hours into projects that you never earn any money from.) I actually believed all I needed was one article published, and the world of publications would all be clamoring for the next and the next, and my career as a magazine writer would be established, and I’d be able to support my family with my writing. It’s a commonly-believed fallacy. When people hear I’m working on a book, they often say, “Pretty soon you’ll be rich and famous!” Which leads me to point number two. . .
- You won’t become famous from your first publication. (There are exceptions to this rule, but they are rare.) One of the best moments of my writing career happened twenty years ago when a local journalist came to my house to interview my daughter, who’d participated in a poetry workshop at the local library. The reporter turned to me and said, “And you write for Raising Arizona Kids.” I’d had ten or twelve freelance articles printed in the magazine over the course of ten years. It was the first (and only) time a stranger recognized me because of my work. So much for fame.
- How hard it is to explain to someone you live with that his frequent, brief interruptions sabotage your work. I love my husband dearly, but he’s retired, and I long for the days when he had a day job. He is always home, and he loves having someone to talk to. 99% of the time, that someone is me. He calls me from the other side of the house if there’s something funny on TV that he thinks I should see. He comes into my office to show me the progress he’s making on a gunstock he’s carving. And then he comes back a half hour later to show me again. Sometimes he talks to me while I’m feverishly typing, hoping to get a thought down while it’s still in my mind. Speaking of which. . .
- How much you forget. If I get an idea, or I think of a clever way to phrase something, I have to write it down immediately or I can’t remember it five minutes later. I have lots of notebooks full of ideas. Sometimes I’ll reread something I wrote long ago that I thought was a masterpiece—and I’ll discover it was not nearly as well-written as I remembered. Or I’ll come across something I journaled that is brilliant—and I have no recollection of ever writing it. (How come I used to be that smart, but I’m not anymore?)
- How long it takes between the time something is accepted for publication and it actually comes out in print. My first freelance article came out almost a year after the editor accepted it. Seeing it in print was anticlimactic. I had waited for the moment for so long that it wasn’t satisfying at all. Even the check seemed dinky after all that waiting.
- How procrastination plagues writers. I am a firm believer in establishing a daily writing time. Mine is noon to 4:00 pm. I am usually in my office doing writing-related work—sharing my blog posts on social media, rewriting my WIP, or looking through my files for a piece to enter in a writing contest. Or I might be straightening my desk, playing Full Deck Solitaire, or clicking through folk dance videos. As much as I want to devote my writing time to writing, I’m often distracted. Or I just don’t feel like writing. Maybe I’ve started my next blog post and I’m not sure which direction to continue it. It’s incredibly difficult to stay focused every day, especially if you’re your own boss; it takes discipline.
- You might have to write several novels before you have one that is publishable. I completed three novels that never sold. Maybe they’ll never be salable; maybe I can resurrect them someday. I have another one that I’ve been working on for twenty years; it’s changed a lot, and I truly believe in it. I have two others that are outlined and started, but they are on the back burner until I finish The Unicornologist. It’s my dream book. If someone had explained to me that some people have a long learning curve and may take decades to get their first novel published, maybe I would have gone to med school or law school or astronaut training, you know, something you can learn quickly. . .
Maybe you haven’t committed yourself to writing yet. In that case, I’ve done you a service by telling you the downside I didn’t know before I became a writer. You’ve been warned. Run away now. Fast! Or proceed at your own risk.
If you are a writer, now it’s your turn. Have you experienced disappointments along the way? Has your profession failed to live up to your expectations? Is there something I didn’t list that you wish you had known before you started writing? Share in the comments below.
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