No-Nonsense Realities of Working as a Full-time Creative Writer

Gillian Sisley

These are some everyday aspects of this dynamic career choice.

Photo by Aleksander Vlad on Unsplash

When I was in school, no one prepared me for what it would look like to be a professional writer.

In fact, I spent most of my schooling being told that a profession such as creative writing was unlikely to pay the bills, and for that reason, I needed to find I’m more realistic career choice.

I initially went with a career that lined up with my love for words, interest in storytelling and a desire to help people — I became a communications and public relations professional.

But even in the time that I was building my social media marketing company, the dream to be a professional writer was always top-of-mind. I never knew if it would become a reality in my lifetime, but it was my ultimate dream and I wasn’t ready to give up on it.

Now, four years out of school and at the age of 26, I am incredibly blessed to say that creative writing is currently my full-time job.

And I can truly say that, now living in this working atmosphere every day, it looks nothing like I expected when I imagined working as a creative writer full-time.

Here are some of the aspects that gave me an unexpected reality check:

Creative fuel runs low very quickly.

When you’re not getting a lot of creative expression in your 9–5 corporate job and are inherently a creative person, you truly believe you’d never run out of ideas if you were a full-time creative.

At least, that was my naive way of thinking.

Reality is that we only have so much energy in one day, and our creative energy is especially limited.

I’ve experienced the risks of overexerting myself and draining my creative fuel entirely — burnout, exhaustion, and resentfulness for having to pull more from my already-shrivelled creative soul.

It’s all about balance, and being self-aware enough to recognize when you need to stop creating and give yourself a break.

While administrative tasks can be quite boring, they can also be a relief because they give our creative side time to recharge, while still getting other important tasks out of the way.

I have to be even more mindful than ever of the amount of sleep I get, restricting my intentional creating time to preserve not only my motivation but also the quality of what I have to offer, and balancing other job requirements.

Creative energy is as precious as gold in this job. We must be very intentional and careful not to waste it on something that does not directly benefit our overall production process.

Writing itself is only 25% of the overall process.

When we tell non-writers what we do for a living, they assume that 75% of our time is spent writing, and the other 25% is spent doing other little necessary things.

When actually, the reality is the flip of that.

I personally only spend about 25% of my overall creative writing process directly writing.

The other 75% of the time, aka. the large majority, is spent planning, strategizing, and most of all, editing.

Editing over, and over, and over again.

Editing even when we're happy with the results, because it’s all too easy to miss something. A spelling or grammatical error, a weird phrasing, etc.

I’m lucky in that I don’t actually resent the editing process and can enjoy it, sometimes as much as I enjoy writing.

But I know many fellow writers who loathe the editing process, and have a really tough time coming to terms with the fact that a majority of their job as a writer isn’t even spent writing.

For a job focused on writing, I find myself talking a lot.

Like many in careers that involve sitting at a computer and typing, I have some health issues because of the many years of this process.

Mainly, my biggest issue is the state of weak and dainty my wrists.

The repetitive strain on my wrists from spending the last decade typing away on a laptop in settings that were not ergonomically friendly has really come back to bite me.

By this point, there’s not much that can be done about the damage my wrists have already gone through. At the age of 26, my biggest concern is preserving the quality that is left in my wrists and ensuring I don’t cause any further unnecessary damage.

This meant I had to make a lot of changes — the most notable being that I try to avoid writing and typing in my workday as much as possible.

But how does one do that when they are a full-time creative writer?

The answer is I voice transcribe my writing as much as possible.

That means, much like I’m doing right now, I pace or walk around my house, talking out loud to a device that transcribes my words directly into text.

I go more into this process in the below article, if you’re interested.

Use Voice Transcription to Skyrocket Your Writing Productivity

Daydreaming is part of the job description.

If I could go back in time and tell my 13-year-old self this fact, she would be absolutely overjoyed.

In my over two decades of living, I’ve experienced thousands of epic love affairs. I’ve been the hero in more narratives than I can count. I’ve explored the world, explored different universes, and learned new facets of my personality based on the expertly crafted storylines in my brain.

As a young adult fiction writer, daydreaming is the main source I use to plan out the plot of my novels.

Generally, I turn on some music that fits the theme or feel of my idea, and let my overactive imagination take full control of my consciousness and start building a storyline.

I run through a storyline dozens of times, with many alternate events and possibilities, until I land on one that feels right for my characters and the tone of the piece of writing.

I get paid to daydream.

How cool is that?

Final word.

If you talk to another creative writer, their day isn’t going to look exactly like mine does.

That’s the beauty behind being a creative — we are diverse and intricate in how we go through our creation process, and that can be so colourfully different from one person to another.

You’ve got to find the process that works best for you and harness your strengths to create the highest quality possible.

If you’re working towards becoming a full-time creative writer, my advice is to be open to the diverse ways you can pursue this profession and innovative ways you can make money.

Be flexible and willing to entertain any and all opportunities that come your way.

It’s the most unlikely ones that might just leave you with your most perfect professional fit.

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