Stop Saying Writing is an "Impractical" Profession
If you hang around the writing world, it won’t take you long before you hear an endless litany of depress-inducing sayings. Among them:
“Don’t be a writer if you can help it. If you can do anything else, do that.”
“Being a writer is so hard. I don’t recommend it.”
“Yeah, I used to be a writer, but I quit because I was tired of being broke.”
“Why do you want to be a writer? It’s so impractical.”
The list goes on, but you get the point.
I get the sense that most of the people who say things like this are trying to weed out the people who they don’t seem “serious” enough about their craft. Like, if they can instill how near-impossible being a successful writer is in people’s heads then they’ll scare off all the poseurs or something. Or maybe they do it because they’re insecure about their own work and want to squash competition.
Well, I think that’s just shitty. And I’m tired of hearing it.
When I was a little kid, I was constantly told to dream big and that I could be anything I wanted to be. I trusted the constant stream of adults who told me this, thought hard about it, and landed on writing. Everyone said that was great! So cute! Maybe I’d be the next Harper Lee! They said I could do anything I set my mind to and I believed them.
Then something happened about the time I started applying to colleges. Suddenly the idea of me being a writer wasn’t so cute anymore. I was told I needed to choose a practical profession. Something that makes money. That I could only be a writer if I could persuade a doctor, lawyer, or engineer to marry me so I could live off his income.
The prevailing sentiment was: they already decided I’d fail.
Here are the facts: However difficult the profession is and however rare successful writers might be, there are people who do it. There are people who write full time and pay their bills by doing so. The fact is that SOMEBODY gets to write. So I couldn’t understand why all these adults in my life had suddenly decided that “somebody” wasn’t going to be me.
I thought this nonsense would stop when I graduated college and made it clear that, yeah, I’m still a writer. You didn’t frighten me. But the only difference now is that instead of coming from parents, teachers, and guardians, the warnings come from the writers themselves.
I don’t doubt that the profession is hard. Hell, I know it is! I live it every day. 80% of the essays, poetry, and short story submissions I sent out in 2018 were rejected. Another 15% are pending. 5% were accepted. Those are terrible odds. Competition is fierce. I’m not making much money at this and still have a day job. I know writing is difficult firsthand. If it were easy, it wouldn’t be art.
But I still stand by what I’ve been saying for years: Someone gets to do it, so why not me?
When people, even other writers, have this attitude of trying to dissuade people from writing, all I can think is what audacity they must have to decide I’m going to fail or that I already have.
Imagine if the authors of all your favorite books had listened when people told them to go into another profession. What if they’d been tailors or programmers or architects instead. What if all the books you loved didn’t exist because it simply wasn’t practical to make them.
The funny thing is that all the people who have ever told me writing is impractical have a favorite book. And if you ask them what their favorite book is they’ll tell you in the very next breath, in all seriousness without a trace of irony. The point is lost on them.
(If it weren’t for writers, this book blog would be awfully boring.)
I appreciate writers who are honest about the challenges of the industry and warn up-and-coming authors about what to expect. What I don’t appreciate is when authors take that too far by telling aspiring writers to give up and do something else. Every industry has its challenges, so you might as well do something that makes you happy.
No one decides I’ve failed but me. No one gets to decide I’m not going to be a successful writer but me. So to these folks I say take your practicality and shove it. I’ve got writing to do.