When I tell people what I do for a living, I can see many of them mocking up an idyllic life. They picture what being a writer would be like for them:
Sitting on a beach, or in a mountain retreat, sipping a glass of wine and staring off into the horizon enraptured by the joy of creativity. As they adjust the angle of their beret, they let their fingers glide effortlessly across the keyboard: it’s yet another bestseller for an adoring fan base.
But underlying that vision often lies another thought – easy money. No more hammer-pound of the construction business. No more endless cold calls hoping to talk to a live person instead of an answering machine. No more nagging bosses complaining about timeliness, attitude, or production level.
I’ve had more than a few people ask me to teach them the tricks of the trade so that they could become writers. They see me making good money with apparent ease. They want a piece of that. But within a few weeks, most of them drift off. They realize that like any other field, there is hard word involved.
There is no easy money. There is no shortcut to success. In any field, you must serve your time, learn the ropes, fumble your way through the inevitable mistakes, and gradually learn your profession. Over time, you become good, your pace picks up, and you start to gain from the fruits of your labors.
But most of the time, it takes years to get there. Yes, years. For myself, it was one year making nothing as a struggling fiction writer, another year and a half making an average wage as a non-fiction writer while I learned the ropes. That average wage was only attained by working long hours and gradually picking up my speed. It was into the fourth year that I achieved real success and earned very well.
And I would say I was faster than most. Few would be lucky enough to have a wife like mine willing to let me work at it and earn peanuts while she supported the whole family including two young kids. Few would have been inclined to put in 60 or 80 hours a week intent on making a breakthrough. And few would have been able to make the transition into unfamiliar fields such as engineering and IT without any background in those areas. But again, that boiled down to hard work. It took time to do the necessary homework, ensure the articles were accurate, and said something of value to readers.
Most writers, if you read the average earnings from the IRS, make very little money. A few glamorous J.K. Rowlings make millions. But they can be considered the superstars of our world. It’s similar to playing in the NBA or Champions League. Out of the many millions enjoying sports, a few make it to the top. Writing is the same. There are a very few in the Steinbeck, Rowling, or Shakespeare category. Under that, lies a solid strata of writing professionals who earn well. And then there are the rest who sadly don’t make much at all.
So if you want to get into writing to make easy money, forgot it. If you crave a career that lets you sit on the beach and Margarita your way through life, writing isn’t it. But if you put in your time, become really good at it, and have something to say, writing can be a fulfilling activity. It affords you the freedom to set your own hours, work where you want, and be your own boss.
Personally, I love it. It has given me a wonderful life. I have visited parts of the world I would have never otherwise have seen. It has enabled me to become conversant in all kinds of technologies and meet great people. I even get my expenses paid on visits to exotic places, at times. But in exchange for that, I must consistently produce good material, put in long hours when needed, and make deadlines no matter what else is going on. And Margaritas? Forget about it. Every day, you need to bring you’re A game to the keyboard. After a drink or two, you’ll be churning out gibberish that you believe is award-winning stuff.