At what point does one give up? It’s a reasonable question with an answer that almost never is certain. “It depends” seems to be the most reasonable reply. Even still, that brings forward more questions — meaning that it isn’t an adequate answer. So how then does one answer the question?
This question slides into my thoughts at least once every few months. It revolves around my writing life, on whether I should give up this fervent dream of becoming a self-sustaining writer — or whether I should give up on this whole idea of being a writer at all. One could call the latter debate a part of that insidious villain, impostor syndrome, but the former… that is something else.
To be clear, those who make a sustainable living (much less a lucrative career) from writing are few. Very few. By far, most writers who make any income at writing must also hold a full-time job. Maybe in some cases this is because these folk are like me and they have always held full-time employment and the writing is this side gig — a hobby — where earning an income through it is nothing more than a wistful dream. Maybe that dream began a journey that led with promise only to reveal that in order to survive, they had to relent to the idea of working a job to sustain their life. There are likely more variations of that story than there are books in a bookstore, but the idea remains that most, if not all, writers yearn for the ability to earn their livelihoods from the art of writing. And the shitty thing is (or not shitty, depending on how one views it), is that it is possible. Why do I say shitty?
Nothing is a guarantee. For as many people as make a living from their writing, far more do not. And for every success story, they tell varying tales to how they achieved it. Some acknowledge that it is nothing more than chance, but too many insist on any number of methods that in their minds are “guarantees”, each conflicting with the next. “Write for your readers.” “Write for you only!” “Publish a book a month!” “Publish only once a year.” “Follow the trends.” “Ignore the trends.” “Make sure to have an editor.” “Editors be damned!” On and on the list goes. Then, every so often you get the writer who speaks truth: “this is how I found success, but it is only my story and will not have the same results for you.” In other words, we can try the methods that this or that writer used, but it doesn’t mean shit.
It’s all chance. Yet it isn’t. To say that there aren’t things that can be done to increase one’s chances at success would be just as ignorant. For one thing, actually putting work out there is an obvious one. Then, one should put out more than one. How many and how far apart is debatable, but I am certain that the once-every-five-or-so-years like I have done is not the right amount.
Whatever the right amount is, getting to that point is hard. There are many factors that go into even achieving it. When one already has all the hallmarks of a busy life, then writing is less a hobby and more a struggle. The only semblance of reliable time can be made by neglecting things like sleep — which is also crucial! When whatever time is found, then there is that sense of hoping that the muse will visit and what is written (if we are able to write at all) isn’t crap — and then we realize that no matter what, it is all crap anyway. But it was fun right? Right? Right?
Like a dream, the whole idea of being a full-time writer is tantalizing. I mean, doing something that I am not only compelled to do, but also love doing — and doing it as my job? Wow! Well… it’s actually kindof scary too. Still. If I were to really think about it, it’s no more or less scary than looking for another job, of worrying each day if you’re going to be fired, the business will go under, etc etc. Knowing that the possibility exists to earn a livable income as a writer, and that it is possible for someone like me, is enchanting. To rely on that enchantment… I have better uses for my time.
And that’s been a big part of my problem: time. The amount of time that I have to put into this whole endeavor was thus far beyond my abilities. Add that to my near zero skills or desires in sales and marketing and I have reduced the chances of my chances to near zero. Writing itself takes time. Then there’s everything after: revisions, edits, more of both, cover design, formatting, and more — all before there’s any opportunity to sell or market the work. Misuse that time and the chances become smaller. I’ve definitely misused what time I had.
As I got older, the idealist dreams of being some superstar (or at least reasonably successful) at writing gave way to the more pragmatic understanding that things are not going to be easy. Understanding that no matter how hard I try, getting a viable career as a writer was likely not going to happen — the idea to quit trying has become less a question of giving up and more a question of saving my own sanity. Why am I spending so much time slamming my head against the keys of my computer? Well… because I need to write. And I believe I need to make it as a full-time writer. Yet I don’t.
Writing is fun. It is a passion, a drive, that I cannot seem to escape from. But as much as I would love to call it my career rather than a pipe-dream, it has come to the time that I have to stop trying so damn hard. (It can be argued that I am not trying hard enough, nor am I being smart about any of my moves — but that hasn’t changed how I feel about it.) I have to adopt the understanding that writing is going to always be a side-gig. Sometimes I’ll be productive; other times not. In other words, it’s time to give up.
Giving up doesn’t really describe it well though. I don’t want to give up on writing; I am going to write. I am going to publish. The difference is that I am not going to stress too much on all the details anymore. Don’t have an editor? Fine. I’ll do the best I can with what I have. Can’t afford (or don’t want to afford) a cover designer? Make the cover myself — and don’t try to be ornate or complicated, make it simple. Don’t like marketing? Then don’t stress too much about it. Did I get a book out? No? So what. Do what I can, at my leisure.
The long story short in this now exceedingly long diatribe is that I need to give up on the idea that I am going to make it as a full-time, successful writer. And in giving up that dream, I can give up on this insane idea that I need to follow advice A, B, C, or whatever to “make it”. Being comfortable as having writing as a side-gig will free me to make the writing more the priority. In other words: giving up isn’t so much giving up — it’s re-prioritizing and decoupling the dream (or the stress of insisting on that dream) from the activity I am driven to so much.
Who knows, maybe I will find that I strike gold during this whole thing. Maybe by getting away from the whole ordeal of marketing, sales, and chasing the ideas of being a successful self-published writer, maybe I’ll ironically become one. Or more likely: I’ll continue to operate as I do now. I’m still a writer. I still write and publish. But I only do it as a fun thing to do on the side. And I don’t expect that will ever change.