5 Reasons Writing is the Worst Job Ever (And Why We Do it Anyway)

5 Reasons Writing is the Worst Job Ever (And Why We Do it Anyway)

“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.

Nope.

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.

Sorry, mom.

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?

Filed Under: Craft
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18 comments

  • Deanna says:

    LOL! This post is AWESOME!

    I’m a direct response copywriter by trade, so I’m blessed to make a living writing. But instead of editors, I’m dealing with clients. And instead of struggling to get my prose just right, I’m pulling my hair out over how to word the offer. And, even though it isn’t creative writing, it does take ALL my energy. Some days, I feel exhausted – like I have no words left.

    But here’s the thing… writing copy is my job. Writing novels is my passion. So AFTER spending all day raiding my brain for just the right words to sell a product, I sit down at night and try to scrounge up enough energy to work on my book!

    Sometimes, I wonder if I’m crazy. I just might be. I certainly am tired all the time. But I didn’t want to find myself turning 80 someday and wishing I had pursued my dream to write books. Life is too short to not do what you love.

    • Good for you, Deanna!

      I’ve written two novels (so far), and even though they are unpublished, I don’t for a moment regret the time and energy I spent on them. Published or not, I am a novelist, an identity no one can take away from me, and how many things in life can we say that about?

      I think the experience has helped me a great deal in working with authors as a freelance editor. I know what it is to be a writer, and I understand the soul-plumbing expedition writing a book can be. I realize that some need extra hand-holding as we work together to make their book (the deepest form of self-expression they have ever created) the best it can be.

      Knowing what it is to be a writer makes being an editor that much more rewarding. I’ll bet that being a novelist makes being a copy writer more rewarding, too!

      I wish you success with your novel, Deanna, by whatever definition “success” is meaningful to you as an author.

      Trish O’Connor
      Epiclesis Consulting LLC
      Freelance Editorial Services and Writers’ Resources
      epiclesisconsulting.com
      epiclesisconsulting.etsy.com

      • Deanna says:

        Thank you, Trish! Yes, I do believe working as a copywriter makes me a better writer overall (mostly because all I do is write!). But, it also helps me appreciate the creative freedom of writing my own books. 🙂

        Best of luck with your writing and editing!

        • You guys are both an inspiration! I know I struggle to find creative energy for my own projects once I’ve spent all day writing paid work — but yes, more practice is always better. Keep up the great work!

  • Love the points you made, Jamie.
    A good compromise for the boring work that pays “well” is to spend 4 or 5 hours a day on ghost-writing or writing that automobile repair guide, then switch over after lunch break to fun stuff that pays little or nothing for another 4-5 hours. And that boring work better make it worth your while by paying at least $.10 a word!

  • Thanks for sharing Jamie. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one who struggles with the ups and downs of writing. I thought there was something wrong with me. I have completed one book and am working on my next. I imagined it would be easier, but it isn’t, is it? Pulling words out of thin air is bloody hard work every single day, and even when you write THE END, it’s still not done. Then you have to turn into a marketer and social media dynamo, as well as a business whiz. But I love being a writer. I can’t imagine doing anything else. It’s the one thing I do better than anything else. For me, it answers the time honored question of, “Why do I exist?” To write, that’s what.

  • Karen Ingle says:

    Loved hearing my vague feelings expressed in these perfect words. Knowing I am not alone in this strange writer’s world I love inhabiting helps me hold my head when I say, “I’m a writer.”

    I had begun to think no one else ever wrote novels with one hand and non-fiction with the other, both drawing from the same overtaxed brain. Somehow, having read this, I feel stronger. Back to the keyboard I go!

  • Alex says:

    Dear Cassandra, How do you manage to make such a huge sum of money per week? on my side I hardly make $100 per week from my freelancing services. would be in a position to help me get in tough with either clients or I do part of your work for a pay?

    • Deanna says:

      Alex, be careful of opportunities that sound too good to be true – because they usually are. I make a good living as a freelance direct response copywriter, but I don’t make that kind of money. I know few writers who do. I’m not saying to not look into it. Just use caution.

  • Jake Walker says:

    Why do I write? “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.” Your succinct summation is exactly why I write and why I struggle to express the thoughts that rattle around in my many murky layers of brain drivel. The 5 points that you make in this article are spot-on. I have been published twice. Short stories about the ‘Biker Lifestyle’, I’m working on a novel that is 3/4 done because I keep deleting pages, I have no clue if there is a market for it so I suppose I fear, not rejection but that there is no market for my work. ~sigh~
    Thank you so much for your insight, humor on the subject and your ‘black squiggly lines’ that urge me forward.

  • prof Edith p says:

    I am a business prof so my writing is that boring scholarly type and it is very quantitative as I am a statistician and i teach marketing, management, business,etc.. I write about statistics, ANOVAs, linear regression etc which I really enjoy as well as gender and STEM, and marketing related topics. I am finishing my PhD, and have four masters. My passion also is sports writing. I would love to write for sports teams like the NY Giants, Denver Broncos, NY Rangers, NY Islanders, or the like. If anyone knows the best way to do that, please email me

  • ohita says:

    Thanks, Jamie for this interesting piece. I enjoyed the humour a great deal.

    Writing is my passion- about the only thing I do really well(at least that’s what they say).However, the rigour of turning out publishable stuff is another matter. Also coupled with the business of making a living with my writing. However, whenever I feel the stress of writing coming on, I like to look at the pleasure that”putting what is in my brain into your brain through black squiggles on a page” does for people. I keep this picture constantly in view. This mindset fires me up.

    This is why I would not trade this gift of writing for anything in the world. To touch people’s lives and change my world with my writing is my dream. And I know of a certainty I will get there, God helping me!

  • Laurent says:

    A good summary of what writing is all about.

    But why work for editors who are full of strings.

    Thanks God now we have self publishing and after all we write for our readers.
    It is for the readers to judge whether they like a piece of writing or not.

    I put this as the issue of rejection is so distasteful.

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