I’ve done pretty much every kind of writing there is, apart from features writing and underwriting. My current day job is digital strategy and web content writing – I translate complex technical concepts into plain English and make sure people can find them when they search in Google.
I’ve also done copywriting, article writing, fiction writing, poetry, historical pieces, scriptwriting, social media writing, blogging, newsletters, emails, correspondence, contracts, speeches, research reports and more than my fair share of meeting minutes and memos. They all allow me to play with words and I love them all for different reasons.
But if you’ve only recently decided that you want to be a writer, how do you decide which sort of writing you should do? And how do you overcome the writing snobs who will tell you that it’s not ‘real’ writing unless it’s been shortlisted for a Man Booker Prize or Pulitzer?
Let’s deal with this myth of what ‘real’ writing is first.
Literary fiction is not the only writing that has value
A couple of years ago I sat through a session at a literary festival where a panel of writers spent copious amounts of time moaning to a couple of hundred aspiring and practising writers that there was ‘no money’ in ‘writing’.
This made me gnash my teeth to the point where I felt I had to speak up on behalf of ‘other writing’. Partly because the whole thing was making me feel depressed and partly because I could hear the disheartened murmurs all around me. So I stuck my hand up and noted that I worked as a corporate writer and actually made quite a good living, thank you very much.
Pretty sure I didn’t make any friends on that panel.
Don’t get me wrong, I love literary fiction. I have a degree in English literature and I regularly review incredible new works of literary fiction here on Seeing the Lighter Side. But as a genre of writing it’s teeny tiny. It’s a niche market – I can’t think of a single person who has emailed me or accosted me at the school gate asking me to recommend some really dense and heavy barely-comprehensible new work of fiction that they can sit down and relax with.
Dealing with the pressure to WRITE A NOVEL
Actually, I’ll go one step further – if you want to be a writer, you don’t even have to write a novel. *Cue horrified gasps.*
The problem with being someone who’s good at writing is that your friends, family and teachers will expect you to WRITE THE NEXT GREAT AUSTRALIAN NOVEL. Or American or British or wherever you happen to hail from.
Here’s what you should tell them:
- Australian authors earn, on average, $12,900 per year
- the average novel sells just a few thousand copies in its lifetime
- it can take many, many, many years to get a novel from first draft to bookstore shelf.
I’m not telling you this to put you off writing novels. Please, by all means – write a book. Write an amazing novel. Have your publisher send it to me so I can read it and sing its praises on this here humble book blog!
BUT if you love writing and you don’t love book-length narrative fiction writing, do not despair. Don’t try to be a novelist just because you love words and everyone is telling you that writing novels is the only really worthy way to use your word nerd brain.
It’s not. Not by a long shot.
If you want to a writer because you want millions of people to read your words, then literary fiction is actually rather a bad choice. Which brings me to my next point…
Why do you want to be a writer?
What is your WHY? Your ‘why’ is so important because it will help you figure out the ‘what’ to concentrate your efforts on.
If your ‘why’ is that you want to write beautiful literary art and win the Miles Franklin Award, then great. Go for it. I wish you all the best.
However, here are just a few other – equally worthy – ‘why’s. Why do you want to be a writer? Because:
- I want to be able to earn a decent living while doing something I love
- I want to entertain people
- I want to change the way people think
- I want to shine a light on inequity and injustice in the world
- I want to make my friends laugh
- I want to expose frauds and swindlers
- I want to help people learn something new
- I want to get my thoughts out of my head so they stop keeping me awake at night
- I want to make people feel less isolated and alone.
How can you achieve your writing ‘why’?
If you’re struggling to write the next Great Australian Novel and you’re miserably beating yourself over the head because you’re just not loving it, stop now and ask yourself ‘why’. Are you struggling because you really want to do this and every writer struggles anyway (they do – nobody finds writing easy)?
Or are you struggling because your heart’s just not in it?
Is there some other way you can achieve your writing ‘why’? Do you have to write a novel? Could you write a memoir instead? Or start a blog? Write a few articles and submit them to another website? Find a job writing contracts or process documents (don’t groan – some people love it!).
I don’t have a single writing ‘why’
I’ve been writing here on Seeing the Lighter Side for more than 5 years now. In that time I’ve also written a novel (still out on submission – cross your fingers for me!), dozens of articles, hundreds of blog posts and thousands of words of web content.
I think I’ve ticked off every one of those ‘why’s in that list up there.
Want to know what’s had the biggest impact and the most number of eyes on it? Web content. It’s not sexy, it won’t win me awards and it won’t even win me public recognition (most of it has been written entirely anonymously). But it does make a real difference to the people who need it. It also keeps a (rather nice) roof over my family’s head and (quite tasty) food on our tables.
What have I had the most fun writing? My blog posts. I’m not accountable to anyone (except you, dear reader!), I write about whatever I want and publish it whenever I want. It also pays the least. BUT it’s worthwhile because I love it and people read it. 2,806 people came to my blog last month to read at least one of my posts. A similar number come every month to read my writing.
I will confess, the biggest sense of achievement has come from writing the novel. However, it was also the single hardest piece of writing I’ve done and required a huge, sustained commitment. I’ve often been asked how I found the time to write it. My answer: I really have no idea.
So if you want to be a writer, but writing a novel just isn’t working out for you at the moment, write something else. Write a whole bunch of somethings else. Who knows, the novel might come to you while you’re plugging away at another project. Then again, it might not. If you’re still achieving your ‘why’, then who cares?