“I’m a writer.”
Ah, the romance of the title. You declare your ownership of the pen, and suddenly whoever asked you what you “do” certainly pictures you sitting in a coffee shop, demurely sipping your cappuccino behind your fabulous (if a little weather-worn) horn-rimmed glasses, tapping away at your Macbook Pro.
Masterpieces filled with earth-shaking insights flow easily from your fingertips, soon to be delivered straight into the brainspace of the world at large via magazines like The New Yorker and The Atlantic and Vogue.
You carry around a little notebook filled with non-chicken-scratch lines of brilliance, and no one thinks it’s eccentric when you flip it open to jot down those sudden, perfect sentences, which you’ll definitely return to as leisure allows.
Writing is a terrible profession. Perhaps even the worst ever.
If you’ve been writing professionally for any length of time, this fact is probably self-evident.
But for those of you aspiring to the page — or those of you with pen in hand, looking for a way to procrastinate (that’s right, I know your tricks, and don’t try to convince yourself it’s “craft work” instead of procrastination just because this is a blog about writing) — here are five reasons writing is the actual worst.
1. It’s so flipping hard
And it never gets easy. I mean, it gets easier with practice, but “easier” still means “nearly impossible” when you’re talking about writing.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll face down every single new piece of writing without a clue on earth how you’ll ever be able to do it.
2. It takes all your energy
Think doctors and lawyers take their work home with them?
Try walking away from your keyboard while you’re thinking through a piece — and spending a whole day worrying about whether or not those two paragraphs need to be switched. Watch yourself end up cleaning your home within an inch of its life because you can’t quite get that pesky sentence right.
Try putting an essay firmly into the digital trash can, only to drag it back out after you spend a whole day out with friends, totally disengaged in everything you were doing, thinking, “UGH MAYBE I CAN MAKE THAT ESSAY WORK AFTER ALL IF I SINK 17 MORE HOURS INTO IT.”
Try pulling over to the side of a busy highway to text yourself that all-too-perfect line before you lose it.
If you’re a writer, you’re writing. All the time. Get used to it.
3. Your very best writing is probably unflattering
Pitch eight essays and I guarantee you, the embarrassing one is the one that’s gonna get snatched up. Or the one about how selfish you are.
Here’s the thing: Your writing voice is probably strongest when you’re being brutally honest with yourself. And yeah, it’s great that writing allows us to be our true selves and relate to one another through the distancing action of words on the page.
But also there’s my headshot attached to that digital page, and my mom wants to read everything I write.
And obviously I had to write about my ill-advised love affair with a stranger in a foreign country, incredibly dangerous motorcycle ride included.
4. Pitching is possibly even worse than writing
Once you’ve somehow managed to create a deeply beautiful, personal piece of work, you’ve only just begun.
Now you get to jump through a thousand hoops to figure out what outlet it even belongs in, let alone which editor to contact.
And maybe her email address isn’t listed on the website, so you should probably spend some time digi-stalking her and end up reading back 10 pages of her Twitter, and oh when you do send the email can you please make your 1,500-word essay look sexy and publishable in two paragraphs or less? We’re all very busy.
Do all that, spend even longer on the pitch than on the article itself, and then sit. And wait. And maybe just don’t ever hear back.
There is an upside, though. You’re gonna be better at dealing with rejection than any of your friends, since about 80 percent of your job is composed of running headlong into it.
5. Money? LOL
Wait, you want to get paid for your writing? Can’t you just be happy with a byline? Hell, we’ll be super generous and give you a link back to your portfolio — as if people can’t easily Google your name and find that website you spent money you didn’t have to set up for the reward of three viewers a day.
Or maybe you do find a paid gig, making $0.15 per 100 words, and dig deep into the fascinating world of automobile instruction manuals. Oh, are you OK with ghostwriting, where don’t even get credit, in lieu of a living wage, for your brilliance?
Writing is hard… but we do it anyway
Why do we put ourselves through this crazy profession that asks everything from us and sometimes gives so little in return?
Because putting what’s in my brain into your brain through black squiggles on a page is the best kind of magic we have as people.
Because it helps us find each other and ourselves. Because at its best, writing reminds us that we are never alone, and that we’re all driven by the same hopes, dreams, desires and needs.
And because, well, you just had to major in English, didn’t you?