Can I still make a career out of writing?
When I was in college and I told people I was an English major, I’d typically get asked the same question. But what will you do?
Even worse, when I’d say that I wanted to write, they’d get a funny look on their face, like I was an alien from another planet. Write? For a living? Preposterous!
But fast forward almost eight years, and here I am. Making a living out of writing. And as much as I love to write and feel so lucky than I can have a career doing it, I sometimes wonder, were those people a little bit right?
Is a writing career too good to be true?
Yes, I get paid to write, but does that mean I have a writing career? Some might argue yes. But the truth is I don’t really love what I do. So can I really call it my career?
Writing in the Real World
Before I entered the corporate world, I had several ideas of what my career might look like. I thought about being a book editor, paging through manuscripts and discovering the next great talent, all while writing my own masterpiece on the side. I thought about being a hard-hitting journalist covering the top stories of the day. And I thought about working in advertising and coming up with award-winning taglines for memorable campaigns.
But none of these ever became a reality. Book publishing was in NYC, a place I didn’t want to move. And after an internship, I discovered journalism just wasn’t for me. I decided to go the advertising route, and ended up in a marketing career.
I don’t love marketing. I’ve had a total of four professional jobs since I’ve left college, and I haven’t loved any of them. But I have been paid to write for all of them.
I never really decided to become a marketing copywriter. It was kind of just what was available. You want to make a living as a writer? That’s where the money is.
It’s Not Easy Being a Pro Writer
Sure, I’m lucky to be a copywriter. I know I am. But writing as a day job isn’t all sunshine and roses.
First, there are the people who think they know everything about writing. These are the managers, creative directors or CMOs. They think they’re writers too, but they’re really not as good as they think.
I’ve only had one great manager, and that’s because he was a writer too. But I’m a better writer than everyone else who’s been my boss. And that can be hard when you’re just starting out and looking to someone to be a mentor. How can you improve when there’s no one to learn from?
Because of this, work often feels stale. It’s tough to find a position that’s challenging enough to allow me to grow as a writer. It’s not enough for me to just write copy, to do a job just to do it. I want to be learning something. I want to be having fun.
People also often overestimate how much time writing actually takes. I’m sometimes given weeks for a project, when it’ll only take me a couple of hours to complete. This results in the dreaded “make myself look busy” ritual. I hate trying to look like I’m working when I have nothing to do. For the amount of work I’m given, I could be working part-time. But I’m not going to tell my employer that.
Professional Writers are a Dying Breed
I think creative directors and managers will eventually find us out. In fact, some already have. I’ve seen so many job postings for writer/designer/editor/coder hybrids. Employers don’t want just professional writers. They want someone who can do it all.
But me? I am writer. And only a writer. And when there’s not a lot of writing work on my plate, it makes me think I might be on the chopping block. All of us writers might be.
And there’s so many of us. So many different kinds. There’s the Instagram influencers and the bloggers and the freelance writers. Those of us tied to a full-time corporate job are kind of old-fashioned. It’s not how it’s done these days. It’s a freelance world, and we’re just playing in it.
I’m not sure where my career will take me, but I hope wherever this road leads that I’ll still be writing. But maybe I’ll find something interesting to write about. And maybe there’ll be enough writing to keep me busy. And maybe I’ll even still have the steady full-time job. But maybe that kind of writing career really is extinct.