For the most part...
“Don't romanticise your "vocation". You can either write good sentences or you can't. There is no "writer's lifestyle". All that matters is what you leave on the page.” — Zadie Smith
Why did you become a writer?
Maybe you love writing. Or reading. Or everything related to the written word.
Maybe you want to work in a profession that’s flooding with praise, validation, art, and big paychecks. Writing by day and drinking by night, and the other things that tend to accompany a romanticized writing lifestyle.
For most of us, it’s somewhere in the middle: We like to write and want a piece of the lifestyle.
When you have written long enough, you realize the only type of lifestyle that exists involves depression, loneliness, low income (if any income), no one reading your work or your work not selling … yet still being fulfilled from having written.
You have to keep writing along — sometimes for years — before a big break comes your way (that’s what they say, at least).
I started my writing career in Irvine, CA as a sportswriter in 2014. I wrote “for a living” well before 2014, but this was my first full-time gig.
I don’t want to go into too much detail — because I pitched this story to a publication and am still hoping they accept it (writers and all their hope, I tell ya) — but I will say this: It didn’t take long for me to despise writing for a living.
It wasn’t the writing part that turned me off from sports “journalism” — it was writing about bullshit topics and scrambling for clicks based on other people’s missteps and failures.
So I packed my bags and booked my ticket to an MFA in creative writing destination.
During those days, I would write four-plus articles a day and also complete schoolwork at night, which consisted of short stories, reading, and workshop.
I was writing for a living and also following my dream (writing books/fiction) via an MFA.
It was stressful. I was one of those writers who complained about writing too much yet didn’t realize how lucky I was because I was a “working writer.”
I had the pleasure of living in Marina del Rey during most of my MFA. I wasn’t making six figures. I wasn’t even making $50,000 a year, although I did have a couple of $7,000 months from freelancing. But I could afford rent and I went out on most weekends and drank myself stupid. I can thank my roommates for having the credit (and paying extra) for my three-bedroom apartment in Marina del Reh.
While I spent a lot of that time complaining about how much I was writing, I, realistically, only wrote for four to seven hours a day. I also had freedom since I worked from home and was self-employed/an entrepreneur/didn’t have a real job/whatever you want to call it.
I thought those were the dark days.
Looking back now, they were filled with shades of security and happiness because I had an accepting friend group and writing paid the bills. I also had the opportunity to write and read fiction for two years without pressure.
Fast forward to 2018 and I bitched and moaned myself broke, while applying to jobs, burning bridges, freelancing, and wishing an essay (or the book I started and finished for my thesis) would lead to a book deal.
How in the hell does this relate to a glamorous writer’s lifestyle not existing?
I can only speak from my own experiences. After all, I’ve never published a book in my own name. I did, however, help ghostwrite a book for a celebrity entrepreneur that hit electronic shelves. I’ve yet to write for a publication like The New York Times. I’m not famous. I don’t make six figures a year.
Here’s what I know... During the “good times” when I worked for a sportswriting company, I complained. During the “better times” when I was freelancing, MFAing, and paying bills on time, I complained. During the “dark times” of 2018 and 2019 when I was freelancing, had the time to write about whatever I wanted to write about yet couldn’t pay bills on time, I complained.
The constant: I. Complained.
I imagine I would also complain if I published essays on Salon, Slate, or The New York Times, started and finished a novel that led to a book deal, and had the freedom (financially and creatively) to work on whatever the hell I wanted to work on.
Even when I can travel and write — because I work from home and can write whenever I want — I complain. I've even written on cruise ships while vacationing, which was kind of awesome. And, admittedly, I didn't complain as much. Writing is hard and this epic lifestyle that we've created in our heads doesn't exist. No matter how writers live their lives, they still have to write... they still have to do the work.
We always want more. Because we're humans and we’re selfish creatures who suffer from FOMO and always having to one-up each other. Until we figure out our true values, we'll never be happy. Plus, sometimes we need to get our asses kicked by life to appreciate what we used to have, currently have, and will ever have.
No matter where writers are at in their careers, they'll likely endure writer’s block, be in seeking mode when it comes to validation, want more money, and deal with other writer’s struggles that all writers deal with.
At the time of writing, I work full-time as a pop culture writer for companies that pay on time. I know I’ll be able to pay rent next month with my own money — and that’s the type of win I’ve craved for a long time.
I now write features and essays for work and squeeze in fiction whenever I can. The words don't come any easier, yet, frankly, I haven’t been this happy about my writing life in a long time.