NON FICTION: This Is Your Life As A Struggling Writer

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Photo: The Climate Reality Project

You wake up, you check your phone. You want to know the latest stats for the article you’d posted yesterday. Two views. No likes on Facebook. One spam comment.

An e-mail comes in. It’s from that fiction competition you joined five months ago. “Thank you for your participation,” it reads. That’s always a bad sign, and a quick scroll through the rest of the message proves it.

You still have your manuscript to work on, and your main character has been stuck in the same boring room for the past seven chapters.

All this, and your morning hasn’t even started. You dread waking up today. Is this really all there is to the writer’s life? Is this what you’d signed up for?

What does a writer do anyway? Do they just write and hope someone discovers them, or do they need to learn a bit of marketing to be seen?

You briefly think about the myriad other things you could’ve done.

You could’ve picked programming. Those tech guys seem to be raking in the dough. At least writing code gives you immediate feedback. It either works or it doesn’t. But when it comes to prose, you could like it one day and totally hate it the next.

Or you could’ve studied hard and followed the cookie-cutter way up the corporate ladder.

But no, you chose to become a writer, and most of the jobs available in the market requires to you think up quirky social-media posts that you can post and monitor throughout your entire waking day.

That wasn’t what you had in mind when you thought of selling words for a living, so you’ve quit and you’re trying to make it on your own. Better to let the market decide your worth rather than one boss who doesn’t even enjoy reading to begin with.

You’re a shit negotiator though, and after commanding a week’s worth of pay for two months’ worth of work, a full-time job in a cubicle doesn’t seem so bad after all.

But you dig your heels in and you embrace the hustle life. You burn the midnight oil and you take ownership for your work now—something you never did during your time in the great machine.

The months pass and it’s time to get paid, but what’s this? The payment’s delayed? Okay, you wait another month. And another. Your credit card bill’s stacking up. You call them for the seventeenth time, and they tell you that the payment’s still being processed.

Then the coronavirus comes to town, and suddenly, that tourism company that you did all that work for has a real reason not to pay you this time. “We’re laying people off,” they’d say, “so maybe we’ll pay our vendors once we put this fire out. We don’t even know if we’ll be operating anymore.”

At this point, you try and muster up every damn reason you can think of for being a writer. “It’s my passion,” you tell yourself. “I’m a creative and this is my industry. I can succeed and I want to be an inspiration to other budding writers in the country.”

Yet those words ring thin. You’re all worded out. All you’ve been doing is writing, and you don’t even know if you’re any good. Sure, a publisher did express interest in your manuscript, and you did get some short stories published, but those things do nothing to curb the piling debt.

You look up to your heroes for inspiration. Bukowski was an alcoholic, Plath stuck her head in an oven, and Hemingway blew his off with a shotgun. Maybe you need better role models.

Your alarm rings again. It’s another day. The same abysmal figures show up. Your pay cheque’s still not in. You have no idea what you’re doing. And you still get up to face the day’s task of filling a new blank page.

This is you. This is what you do. Not because you want to see your name in the bookstores one day, but because you can’t imagine yourself doing anything else.

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