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What You Believe... That Isn't True

Most aspiring writers harbor two huge, false ideas.

If you want to be a writer but you're not (or not yet) doing it for a living, you probably have these two ideas floating around.

First, you think of a writer as someone who gets paid to write down their clever thoughts in clever ways.

Second, you dwell more on how it feels to have written something than you do on how it feels sitting down to write. 

There’s a lot of illusion in that. It also explains why so many talk about becoming a writer and so few end up in this business.

I post frequently about the fun things I write: stage plays, screenplays, fiction, comic essays, scripts, jokes, my neuroscience book. Unless you knew me first as a speechwriter, that’s probably what you think of when it comes to my writing. 

Yet most of what I write is nothing like that. It doesn’t even have my name on it: I’m talking about op-eds, speeches, public relations material, editing articles for publication, and, lately, writing entire books in collaboration with other people.

The truth is that professional writers are usually writing in support of their clients, not paying the bills with intensely personal one-act plays. 

You can be a better writer for only a few bucks a week.
Join The Magic Show.

As for the second characterization, that writers prefer having written to the writing itself? Again, no. Most writers I know love the process. I enjoy working through the problems of organization and entry points, of being clear about complicated thoughts, of saying things in original ways. The way you enjoy tennis or cooking is the way I enjoy solving writing problems.

What trips up aspiring writers is that the job has a high ratio of imagined glamor to real glamor. You’ll never overcome that unless you love the work. You have to love it the way a plumber loves plumbing a house. The way a guy who mows lawns loves the smell of the grass. The way a doctor loves sussing out the problem of a kid with a runny nose in the same way he loves doing complex surgery.

If you’re in it to get published and that’s it, the odds are against you like you can’t imagine. (It’s fun and it happens, but it’s a small part of this and it won’t sustain you.) 

If the writing itself is something to endure instead of savor, and you can’t imagine getting past that feeling, there’s another reason to hang it up. 

Yes, many writers will tell you that to sit down at the keyboard (“and open a vein,” goes the saying) is a mighty struggle. Doesn’t mean they can live without doing it.

Think of it like this: some writers are artists, but few of us are only artists. We’re workers for hire who, like you, dream of a someday when everything we do is about the art. But we’re fine even if that never happens. We love the work. 

If you’re aspiring and you too love the work, good news: you can drop the “aspiring” part. You’re in. See you at the meetings.


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