Writing is hard, lonely, low paid work

I think we need to spread the following meme as far and wide as possible:

“Writing is hard, lonely, low paid work.”

It’s a stark message, and perhaps lacking some nuance. But it needs to be to impact the growing legions attracted to writing as a pathway to celebrity, status and wealth. Those people need deterring for their own good, so I believe those of us who know better should start propagating this meme.

So why would anybody want to write? Especially smart people who could probably do better if they just concentrated their effort on their day job?

I work with a lot of people who want to be writers. Over the years I’ve had to try and explain to myself what that desire is about. Writing has become confused with celebrity and status. But the truth is I think we write to learn and grow as people. Mastering the skills of writing, finding your story and your meaning, even making the long hard journey towards publication, are all good for our spirit and soul.

(I mean good here in the way Spartan society believed exposing babies was good for them because it turned those who survived in to hardy souls.)

If you learn and grow enough, you might write something which contributes a little or a lot to other peoples growth. At which point, such things as success, acclaim, wealth may start falling in to your lap. But it doesn’t matter if you ever get to that point, as long as you get the growth you need from your own writing. Sure, your ego will take a hell of bashing along the way. But maybe a good hard kicking is exactly what your ego needs. Maybe thats why you are putting yourself through all this anyway?

Which is why its so damn sad when people enter in to this endeavour purely for the ego trip. Because they are condemning them self to a hell of a lot of pain until they learn better.


Published by Damien Walter

Writer and storyteller. Contributor to The Guardian, Independent, BBC, Wired, Buzzfeed and Aeon magazine. Special forces librarian (retired). Teaches the Rhetoric of Story to over 35,000 students worldwide.

13 thoughts on “Writing is hard, lonely, low paid work

  1. Thanks! It’s good to hear and/or read succinct thoughts from published writers on why they write…now on to a long-awaited project. Thanks for the bump.



  2. Hard, lonely, low-paid, oh yes indeed. Also, see what happens if you replace the word ‘want’ with the word ‘have’. Do you to write? If the answer’s ‘yes’ then great, go do it, have fun, knock yourself out. Do you to write? If the answer’s ‘yes’ to that one, everything else becomes secondary. Everything. You’re writing because the engine inside you gives you no choice. Which is the best reason of all.


  3. The Complaint of Chaucer to his Purse

    To yow, my purse, and to noon other wight
    Complaine I, for ye be my lady dere.
    I am so sory now that ye be light,
    For certes but if ye make me hevy chere,
    Me were as leef be leyd upon my bere,
    For which unto your mercy thus I crye
    Beth hevy ageyn or elles mot I dye.

    Now voucheth-sauf this day er it be night
    That I of yow the blisful soun may here,
    Or see your colour lyke the sonne bright
    That of yelownesse hadde never pere.
    Ye be my lyf, ye be myn hertes stere,
    Quene of comfort and of good companye,
    Beth hevy ageyn or elles mot I dye.

    Now purse that been to me my lyves lyght
    And saveour as doun in this worlde here
    Out of this toune help me thurgh your might
    Sin that ye wole nat been my tresorere
    For I am shave as nye as any frere;
    But yet I prey unto your curtesye,
    Beth hevy ageyn or elles mot I dye.


      1. Here’s the corollary:

        Coach fencing: Meet new people, have them stab you.
        Write: Meet new people have them reject you.

        What a pleasant thought for the day!


  4. On the other hand:

    “No one is obliged to become an author. Every author is, in a sense, showing off; and in the view of the world he has elected a very easy job. He works at his own pace and on his schedule, supervised by no boss and under no obligation to be nice to people he doesn’t like; he pursues his own trade comfortably sitting down in private while others are carrying hods or sweating in front of klieg lights forgetting their lines, or arguing in the courtroom or being squirted with blood at an operating table or being beaten up every Sunday on a football field. The writer has it soft, and his moans must strike the more active part of the world as funny.”

    — Paul Fussell, “Being Reviewed”


  5. Just don’t say that we “take risks,” okay? I can’t stand that one.

    I liked the part about comparing us to Spartan babies (though I’m soft enough to hope that a few were rescued and raised by some far-wandering wolves or barren queens longing for a child.)


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