Writing Is The Greatest Job
The perceived pros and cons of a writer's life.
15th June 2006 · Last updated: 5th October 2016
Surely writing must be one of the greatest jobs you could have. By writing I mean book writing, whether it be fiction, fact, poetry, research, or anything to do with putting words on a page. Providing you can make enough money from writing alone, I can't personally think of a better job. Here are some of the reasons why I came to this conclusion:
The Pros Of Writing
- You can set the hours you work! All day, half a day, all evening, it's up to you. Only a looming deadline, or a sheer love of writing dictates how many hours you put in each day. And if you want to take a day off, or a week, or a month, who's to stop you? This must mean more opportunities to spend doing other activities, like going on holidays, and spending more time with your family and friends.
I see writing as something that goes on in your head all the time anyway. Even when you're out, ideas are emerging when you least expect them. Often I have to stop what I'm doing, in order to jot down an idea onto paper before it's lost.
The key point is, you are self-employed, but not tied down to the telephone, fax or computer, like you would be running your own business. There are no preset number of working hours per day. Don't get me wrong - I don't think writers are therefore lazy by comparison - they probably put in more hours than office workers, plus they might start work much earlier. Author Dan Brown likes to begin writing before most of us are even awake. While Elmore Leonard used to get up early to write before he set off for work.
"Sometimes I'm writing in the afternoon, I look at the clock and it's 3 o'clock, and I say, I think 'Good. I've got three more hours.'; and that's the best kind of a job you could have."
(The Culture Show, BBC2 June 2006)
- The 'office' where you work can be anywhere. At home, on the beach, in your bedroom, on the sofa, any place you can take a writing device like a pen and paper, or a laptop.
- There's no boss looking over your shoulder. If you want to take a break, get up and walk around, or go outside for some fresh air, there's nothing stopping you. How many us who work in offices have longed to escape from our desks on a hot day?
Of course you're still accountable to a publisher and an agent, but they don't sit next to you all day long as you're writing.
- There are no staff problems due to overcrowded offices. No new employees to worry if you'll like or not, no dreaded team-building events, no dull meetings. Much as you might like the staff you're forced to work with, it can seem like you spend more time with them than their families do. And what about those times when you long for a few minutes on your own?
- You can justify doing things in the name of 'research'. I heard of a writer on a holiday getting 'research' for their next novel. And why not? Combine work and play and you could have the best of both worlds.
- Fame. Or secrecy. The choice is yours. Authors like Stephen King and JK Rowling are extremely famous, but the author John Twelve Hawks chooses to remain hidden. I can't think of another career where that would be possible. With acting, everyone knows your face. Even if you do voice-overs, your voice will become known. With music, you can create a character to hide behind, even wearing a mask. But you still have to promote yourself at some point, or face obscurity. That usually means live performances, tours and interviews. While it's true that authors likewise can benefit from promoting themselves in those ways, image is a lot less important than it is in music or acting.
- Words are fun! Since writing is an art form, it's a great method of creative expression.
- Writing can be done by blind or deaf people too. In fact, even extreme physical disability can still result in the ability to write a book, however painfully slow it might be to do. Journalist Joel Biroco wrote:
I have just read Jean-Dominique Bauby's 'The Diving Bell & the Butterfly'. Bauby was editor-in-chief of Elle in Paris when at the age of 42 he had a massive stroke and sank into a coma. When he regained consciousness three weeks later he was paralysed, couldn't speak, and could only move his left eyelid. His book he dictated by signalling with his eyelid as letters were repeatedly read out to him. He died 6 months after he finished it.
(Thoughts on reading Jean-Dominique Bauby, 14th October 2004)
A truly amazing effort.
The Cons Of Writing
So what are the drawbacks to this seemingly perfect job?
- Some people thrive on teamwork and being around others day after day. These people are likely to find the idea of working alone for long periods too much to endure.
- Boredom or loneliness may affect the solitary writer. Perhaps this may also lead to depression. Luckily a writer is able to break off when they wish, but in the early years of writing may feel pressured to write as much as possible, just to pay the bills, or meet a deadline.
- Distractions can hamper the writing process. Some authors, like Philip K Dick used to do, take themselves away from the family home to another building, such as a farmhouse, where they can work for long hours undisturbed. It might also be that they find there are too many temptations at home, such as TV, kids to look after, music, and so on. By getting out of the house they are forcing themselves to concentrate solely on writing.
- Low pay. A business-based job may pay more in the short term, while a writer struggles to become recognised. This could lead to a combination of working part-time and writing each day. Or worse, the writer may simply be earning nothing at all from their writing, and may have to resort to using their spare time at evenings and weekends to write. Hopefully after getting a book published, they will then get an advance before starting on a second book.
- Writers' block can occur, where the writer simply cannot write anything. This should be temporary, else external help may be needed to enable them to continue.
- The physical aspect of mass writing must be considered. If writing is with a pen, the hand will soon tire, and the words start to become unreadable. If the writer prefers typing on a keyboard, they may simply get sick of staring at a computer screen. Not to mention the time it will take using the computer to go back over the work during the editing stage.
- There's no guarantee of success. You may write one or a hundred books, but if nobody is willing to publish them, it may appear a waste of time. You might have to resort to vanity publishing, or find a different job you feel you're good at.
- The length of time it takes to produce a full novel must be daunting. Months can turn into years. All that time, you're effectively out of the limelight. You can build up hype for the book you're writing, like JK Rowling does, by releasing snippets of information and questions about characters that the book will answer. Or you may release part or all of a sample chapter, assuming you're not likely to change it before publication.
Having pointed out both sides of the argument, I still think writing appears to me as the ideal job. It's not for everyone of course. But the results must surely be very satisfying. So why don't more people become writers? Simply that it is a risk. If you spend two years writing a book that doesn't sell, you can't easily become a full-time writer. I imagine it takes some authors many years to become successful enough to afford to make a living out of writing. The determined author will plow ahead regardless - it's what they're born to do. Others probably give up in despair, or try something else for a while, before returning to writing later in life. Each writer will also work at a different pace, so what takes one person ten years may take another one year. The most prolific of writers may also write for more than one medium, spawning plays, movie scripts, shows, reviews, newspaper columns and so on. In fact they may only become a successful book writer after finding fame first in another area, such as comedy. A few famous authors are probably only bestsellers because we love them for their other work.
I think the main lesson is to keep writing, as you can only improve. If it doesn't work out, who knows how more acceptable the market may be to your work in the future? Plus new media arrives, like the internet and mobile computing, opening up whole new potential areas to market your work.
Sadly I didn't stick to the above advice myself. I was hooked on science-fiction at school, so I started writing my own novel. After I got about seventy-five percent of the way through it, I realised it was beyond hope, so I abandoned it. After that I wrote several short stories on and off, some of which I still rate highly. I will aim to type some of these up soon. I also have newer stories I've written in various forms. Some are just notes, others sketchy attempts at the full story. Again, I want to publish these properly if I can.
What I have found is that the daily routine of work followed by housework, coupled with so much time required just to manage this website, that I write something, only to not look at it again for years. Although I may not have the dedication of some writers, I have always adored writing. If I can focus more on it, I might be able to produce something tangible one day. But as I say in point 3 above, there are just so many distractions. One day I want to make music (but never get round to it - I sold my synthesizer as I was no longer playing it at all), another day I want to code web demos, another day I want to watch TV, another day... well you get the picture. I can't help feeling that being solely a book writer is increasingly hard in today's media-saturated society. Yet ironically people are writing more with the explosion of blogs. Writing blogs is a different experience altogether however, despite the new wave of 'blooks' - books based on blogs. The writing on a blog is almost instant. You type, edit, then publish, usually all on the same day. Great! But not the same as writing for months before you publish a single word. It must take a strong resistance to other tempting hobbies, along with a disciplined determination to write a set amount each day, to succeed. Perhaps in today's world, only the most serious of book writers can manage this.
Time to turn off the TV and surf less then. Time to get back to the joy of handwriting on lined notepaper. I did that this week, writing this post out first on an A4 pad. It felt great.
I'll leave you with one last quote from Elmore Leonard:
"I've had such a good time writing over the last fifty-five years that I can't imagine doing anything else. I get such a good feeling about it, (it's) so pleasing to be able to write something that I read and it works; and it makes me happy, it pleases me."
(The Culture Show, BBC2 June 2006)
Comments are locked on this topic. Thanks to everyone who posted a comment.
I stumbled into your website via the WSG "light links" post :)
Just had to comment on this statement:
"If the writer prefers typing on a keyboard, they may simply get sick of staring at a computer screen. Not to mention the time it will take using the computer to go back over the work during the editing stage."
You forgot about carpal tunnel, tendonitis and arthritis. These are the banes of many of us that make our living on the computer!
Your essay was a thoughtful, fun read.
Posted on 26th June 2006 at 8:19 pm ¶