Some people say writing’s the only thing that feels natural to them. Others call it cathartic. You’ve even heard people claiming that they’d die if they couldn’t write. You, on the other hand, do away with such frivolities. After all, you’re doing it just to earn a living.
The industry, in general, pays peanuts. But it’s your highest-paying career to date. This includes the six years you spent as a hairdresser and the one in auditing. Your first writing gig paid USD600 per month. Not exactly high-roller money, but it’s still double your salary during your hairdressing days.
You slowly discover you actually have a knack for writing. You write advertorials for the newspapers. Then you write for the business section of the papers. Then you freelance for the papers. You write whatever you have to, for whomever you have to write for — and that’s usually the person who pays the highest.
The next step
Then you score a travel-writing gig, and it’s off to Boracay. Hokkaido. India. You find yourself in expensive places without the money to actually enjoy the trips. The hotels comp your meals, but you don’t dare order anything above USD50, because you won’t be able to afford the checkout bill if they go back on their word.
After a few years at it, you receive calls asking if you’d like to be an editor, a manager, something beyond the void that is the rungs of ‘Writer’. You jump on that, because money. Your entire life was spent making up for all that lost time, and your chance is finally here. You’re really going places now. And all you needed to sacrifice were just your authorly dreams.
You get a bigger desk and you actually have the priority to choose which work laptop you want, but something just seems wrong. It’s not that you hate the job, but it doesn’t involve that much writing anymore, and you’re starting to feel a little antsy. Maybe you do need to write to live after all.
You hand in your resignation letter. You say you’re going to write a novel. “That’s stupid,” one colleague says. “I wouldn’t give up such a cushy job,” says another. You agree with them, but something’s just begging for you to give it a try. You’ve already put your novel off for eight years. You don’t want another eight years to pass without giving it a fair shot. So you go ahead. And you smack your face against a wall.
Chasing your dreams
First of all, you start freelancing to fund your time as a novelist. You spend some time on big projects, and the pay’s due in 2020. Then Covid-19 hits and no one’s answering the phone anymore. Fine. You focus on your novel. Freelancing was procrastination anyway.
Then, as it turns out, writing a novel isn’t as easy as ‘just doing it’. Your first chapter’s a cliché. Your main character — Calen — wakes up from a dream. You delete that draft, you try again. Calen looks at the weather. Then you finally get one: Calen sells drugs.
You don’t know what a character arc is, and your novel reads more like twenty short stories of Calen fumbling around rather than one whole journey, so you consider deleting that damn manuscript and going back to a desk job. But hey, you’re already 60,000 words in. Might as well polish it and send it out.
Queries and novel competitions take forever, and it’s a long three months of living frugally, and you get the email saying that they’d like to publish your work. All throughout your career, you’ve steeled yourself for countless queries and years of collecting rejection slips that you don’t actually believe you’re going to be traditionally published.
You look up to the likes of Neil Gaiman and David Sedaris, wondering if you’d ever be able to follow in their footsteps, but now you’re starting to realise that you have your unique writing journey to live. You might write hundreds of manuscripts and not sell another one, but you’ve made peace with it, because even that will be a part of your journey.
Embrace your path, wherever you are
Everyone has their place in the world, even in the writing industry. Some people become poster boys and girls for all things fiction. Others make a comfortable living ghostwriting memoirs, never to see their name on the books they’d so tirelessly worked on.
There might be kids who’ve discovered their passion for writing when they were barely out of the womb, and there’ll also be people who stumble on this vocation later on in life. What binds all these writers together is that everybody has their own unique path to take.
And you want people to know that if you’re only now finding your stride in fiction—at the age of thirty-seven, in a country where publishing isn’t that great of an industry, after multiple failed careers—then perhaps they can in their own writerly journeys as well. The way of getting there might be different, but the destination is almost always the same.
Maybe that’s why you write. You want to inspire people, to tell stories, to show other writers what’s possible. So you write another book. And another one. And you continue biting your nails through those long waiting times. And maybe you’ll make it, and maybe you won’t.
But you’ve given it a fair shot now, and you wish for others to do the same. Because no matter which path you’re on in your writing journey, the worst thing you could do is not taking a single step at all.
How’s your writing journey been so far? I’d love to know. Do share them in the comments below :)