Do Writers Live the Easy Life?
You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.
Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith
I recently saw an advertisement for an organization that finds writing work for writers (in reality, a content mill). I was struck by their tagline: “living the easy life.”
Now, if you’re a writer, you know how patently ridiculous this notion is. Under what circumstances is writing easy? Writing is lonely, gut-wrenching and difficult. Yes, the rewards are immense and immeasurable, but easy? Rarely. Heck, there are days I absolutely hate writing. The only thing that keeps me going is that I love having written.
Where does this idea that writing is easy come from? Why do so many people think writing is not ‘real’ work?
Words come easily to writers. They are born with the talent to combine words in beautiful evocative sentences. They are naturally gifted with a large vocabulary and can always pick the correct word easily.
Writers have lots of money and spend all their time traveling to exotic places and meeting famous people.
Writers sit in their attic room or on the beach whenever they feel like it, crank out a few words, hit save then go do something fun like walking along the Seine or diving into the ocean.
That ‘inborn’ talent actually comes from years of training and practice. The beautiful prose you read in a literary magazine takes hours to write. Break each part of that article down to its basic components and study the words the writer used – words what were chosen carefully. Consider the difference between tranquility and serenity. These words are synonyms, yet they have subtly different meanings. If the author chooses the wrong one, the meaning and rhythm of the sentence change. It can take many hours to ensure that each word is perfect for a piece of literary non-fiction. Writing is not simply about putting words down on paper. It is about rewriting those words as many times as it takes to get them just right. Once the correct words are chosen, they need to be arranged into sentences and paragraphs. Think about how each sentence is influenced by the ones that came before and will influence the ones that come after. Then, individual paragraphs need to be put in just the right order, with transitions built into them. Craft a beautiful introduction and thought-provoking conclusion, and you’ve conjured up an article, right? Wrong. Now you need to rewrite it. Then you need to edit it. Wash, rinse, and repeat.
And rich, famous authors? I don’t personally know any. True, there are those who sell millions of books and make it onto the NYT Bestsellers List consistently. But, given the number of writers in the market, these authors represent a tiny fragment of the work produced . In reality, freelancers can wait up to a year after they have pitched a piece to see any payment. If you hustle, and know what markets to pitch to, you can make a comfortable living, but I would not go so far as to say that most writers will be rich and famous.
Finally, the idea that you can sit on a sunny beach for a few minutes, write your perfect article, then play for the rest of the day? Two problems with this idea: first, writing takes far longer than a few minutes. Between reading (yes, writers must do a great deal of reading) and research, a small piece can takes days. Second problem? I don’t know about you, but I can’t get any work done in that kind of atmosphere! Can you imagine trying to concentrate with beautiful scenery, other beach-goers, and a sunny sky competing for your attention? Don’t get me wrong – if I ever get the chance, I’ll sit on that beach and try to write!
Yet. . .
The reality just isn’t as grandiose as the myth. However, I do appreciate the freedom to sit on my deck when I’m doing revisions. Or taking a break mid-day to take my dog to the off-leash park. Or, traveling to get just the right photos and interview for an article (I got to head to the Rockies in July for an interview). And I love that my research often entails a trip to the book store. So, yeah, there are definite benefits to writing for a living. But I would never call writing “living the easy life.”
Do you experience this discrepancy between myth and reality in your writing career? Most of us have some funny stories to tell. I’d love to hear about yours in the comments.