Since becoming a published author, I have often been asked if that had always been my life plan. The answer is both yes and no!
I have always been a writer – the act itself is to me as vital as breathing. Back in my own high school days, I wrote short stories for my friends, for fun. I hoped that one day I would be a published writer.
Sometimes, I still picture a future self as used to do, sat at a beautiful writing desk, surrounded by inspirational treasured objects, a cup of coffee nearby as I type away, effortlessly penning a Great Novel. Perhaps in this vision I receive awards, accolades, adoring fan mail…
This is not my life, and no, this was not the plan! The plan I made as a young adult was to find a way to make my life and my writing work together. This plan came into being because over the years I learnt a lot about the realities of being a writer – in contrast to the expectations I may have once had. If you want to make the writing life work for you too, then I hope these nuggets of expectations vs reality will be of use.
Expectation: Writing is glamorous and lucrative
One of the most common expectations people have about being a writer is that it is glamorous and lucrative. They imagine authors jet-setting around the world, signing books for adoring fans, and raking in piles of cash from their bestselling novels.
While it's true that some writers are able to make a comfortable living from their craft, the reality is that most writers struggle to make ends meet. I have certainly enjoyed some wonderful opportunities through my craft – I have had events at book festivals, met incredible people, travelled the breadth (not yet the length but maybe one day!) of Scotland. I do not earn many literary pounds. In fact, I freelance to pay the bills: I am a publisher, an editor, a ghost-writer, a copywriter, publicist and MC. I tutor languages. Most of what I do is in and around the world of writing. This works for me. I have many author friends who have a full or part-time job as well as write. The trick is finding what works for you. The publishing industry can be difficult to break into and even successful writers find their income fluctuates year on year. A portfolio career works for me.
Writing is a solitary and often isolating profession. While there are opportunities to network and collaborate with other writers, most of the work is done alone, sitting in front of a computer or notebook. This isolation can be difficult for some writers to deal with, especially if they are used to more social and collaborative work environments. This is another reason why I enjoy my freelance work – I enjoy working with others.
Expectation: Writing is easy and anyone can do it
When my debut came out, I was amazed by how many people said they would write a book one day. It would seem to be widely accepted that writing is easy and anyone can do it - that writing is simply a matter of putting words on a page, and that if they just sit down and start typing, they will be able to produce a bestselling novel in no time. To some extent, that is true. Anyone can. Anyone can compete in a heptathlon. I am not an athlete, but I know that to complete a heptathlon I will need to put in time and work.
Likewise, writing is a complex and challenging craft that requires skill and practice. Beyond putting words on a page, crafting a compelling story, developing well-rounded characters, and creating a narrative arc that keeps readers engaged from beginning to end, editing the work and then finding the right output for it, a writer needs to also be a project manager. It is important to hone the craft and build up the skills throughout. It takes years of practice and dedication to become a skilled and successful writer.
Expectation: writers have an exciting lifestyle
I am not typing this from an arty Paris garret overlooking the Seine, nor am I hidden in rural retreat gazing over a bucolic scene. Of course, some writers are bohemian artists, living in trendy neighbourhoods, attending literary events, and enjoying a never-ending stream of creative inspiration. While there are certainly opportunities for exciting events and experiences, such as book tours and literary festivals, much of the work of writing is done alone, in front of a computer or notebook.
In my case, more often than not, I am on the sofa beside my snoring labradoodle. I write while my children attend swimming lessons. I grab moments in soft play cafes. On a typical day, I tidy the kids’ room as they get ready, the kitchen while breakfast happens, combine the school run with the dog walk, try to squeeze in a quick 15min work out, get my (paying) work done, walk the dog, try to bash out 500 words before running for school pick up (this is a rushed run rather than an exercise run!), get home and spend an hour on emails, then it’s the tea time / activity / bath time gauntlet, another hour of work, and if I have the time, it’s a pitch & sub session. I do go to literary events and festivals, but they are part of the weekly routine. I take notebooks with me wherever I think I may have the opportunity to write. I love it. It works for me and I do find it exciting. The way I work my week might sound hellish to you. I have writer friends who work their days differently – a whole day set aside for writing maybe, or leave it for week long bursts.
The great thing with writing, is that you can be the architect of your time.
Expectation: Writing is a quick path to success and fame
Writing a book and getting in published is a huge achievement in an of itself. Writing a bestselling novel is an even bigger one.
Writing a bestselling novel does not equate to being catapulted to the top of the literary world, with adoring fans and lucrative book deals falling at your feet.
Success in writing takes time, dedication, and hard work, and those are no guarantee to fame and fortune. If you want fame & fortune, this may not be the career for you! It’s true that some writers achieve success and fame quickly, however for most writers, success is a slow and gradual process, if it happens at all. It takes time, dedication, and hard work to develop the skills and experience necessary to become a successful writer.
The rise of self-publishing and digital platforms has made it easier for writers to get their work in front of readers, but it has also created new challenges. Self-publishing requires writers to take on many roles beyond just writing, such as marketing, design, and distribution. This can be overwhelming for writers who are not familiar with these aspects of the publishing process. I am both a publisher and writer and I find self-publishing overwhelming! It's not for everyone.
Expectation: Writing is a fulfilling career
This is one is certainly also the reality for me. Despite the challenges, I find that being a writer is incredibly rewarding. Writers have the ability to create worlds, explore complex ideas, and inspire readers. They have the freedom to express themselves in ways that may not be possible in other professions. Writing can be a way to make sense of the world and to connect with others.
I love the process of writing itself – this is why I blog as well as write prose and poetry. The act of writing can be cathartic and therapeutic, and it can provide a sense of purpose and meaning. Writing can also be a way to learn new things and to explore different perspectives.
I love my writing life. I love my portfolio “kaleidoscope” career. It is a way to connect with others and to make a difference in the world. It is time-consuming, requires dedication and self-motivation, daily. I have received some wonderful accolades and mail from critics and readers, I have also been on the receiving end of many (many) rejections and criticism from publishers and readers. I do not make a living from the writing itself, but from everything around it. I find it deeply fulfilling – I work with poets and authors, publishers and book festival organisers, bookshops and literary freelancers. It’s fantastic and varied.
It is challenging, but being a writer has exceeded any expectations I may have had many years ago as I wrote my short stories. That said, I have a great many big dreams as to what comes next!