Maybe We Should Stop Over-Romanticising Writing

Woman with semi-colon tattooed on arm

Photo: Timothy L Brock

I have no idea why people coo at the mention of me being a writer. It happens every time the conversation steers into the land of ‘What do you do’.

The replies I’ve gotten for answering truthfully could very well fill up a Twitter account, and that might just be the very thing I’ll do next. What’s that? You want a sample?

All right, how bout this gem from a guy: “You’ve just become ten percent more attractive in my eyes now that I know you’re an author.” No such luck with the ladies though, unfortunately.

That’s so cool!

I can’t remember being so heralded for a day job that anyone could start doing today if they wanted to.

I’d never once gotten that reaction when I was a hairdresser, and most certainly not when I was an auditor, but now that I’m a writer, people suddenly think I must know big words and churn out books on the daily.

Little do they know that many of my past gigs involved trawling groups on Facebook so that I could write ads under the guise of comments. Then there’s the churning of hundreds of tag lines, only to go with the one the boss blurts out at the eleventh hour.

And it’s not like we’re making bank with our careers. The pay’s pretty paltry compared to industries such as banking or tech, so there’s nothing much to shout about there.

The actual work isn’t even that exciting either. Most times, nobody even knows you exist unless they need some proofreading done.

It’s all a misunderstanding

I think I know why most of my friends think that being a writer is cool. Because it’s rare enough that I get to be their token writer friend.

Also, they probably harbour romantic visions of someone in a beret trawling through the backstreets of Europe in search of inspiration for their next magnum opus. And they wouldn’t be alone.

Because as much as I hate writer stereotypes, I must admit that I did entertain similar thoughts. Ones of me striking off a dog-eared manuscript with a red pen, then throwing it on a publisher’s desk and seeing it in print the next day.

But that picture quickly faded when I embarked on writing my first novel, which I did pretty much in a pair of shorts, all alone, with everyone around me thinking I was spending my days just bumming around.

Woman writing in forest

Yeah it’s not always adventure and inspiration. Photo: Doug Robichaud

Living the lie

My disdain for writer stereotypes didn’t start the moment I joined the industry. In fact, I’d buy more into those hackneyed ideals, holding onto them as if they were my ticket to being the next bestselling author.

One example of this would be me thinking that real writers only wrote when the inspiration struck. “If you have to force it, then it’s not real art,” I used to say.

Never mind the fact that I was simply relaying information from a press release or padding up an annual report. I seriously believed that I needed my muse’s blessings before I could even fire up the word processor.

Then there were the drinks, because what self-respecting writer would face the blank page without alcohol?

I thought that forgoing the drinks meant doing the same with my creativity, so I’d spent quite a chunk of my salary on it. I’m investing in myself, I thought. Besides, if someone like Hemingway tells me to write drunk, who am I to say otherwise?

Going nowhere

All those years I’d spent ‘living the writer’s life’, hopping from job to job and deadline to deadline, would only lead me to a dead end with nothing to show for it.

For those eight years, I’d wake up every day knowing that I wasn’t writing anything of meaning to me—a short story, a novel, not even semi-regular blog posts.

I got by with the bare minimum—putting out press releases, social media posts, ad copy—and fancied myself a writer. Yet deep down I knew I was a fraud, no matter how ‘writerly’ of a life I tried to live.

Setting things write

I don’t know how I came to the decision of quitting my job to write a novel. Maybe I finally took my mortality seriously. I was a few years shy from turning forty, so I figured it was now I never.

Was it scary? Of course. Did I know what I was getting myself into? No. Do I regret it? Not one bit.

It’s the first time I actually decided where I wanted to go with my writing, and it was also the first time I felt so empowered. I finally had my hands on the reins. I was finally going to ride off into the literary sunset.

Stop Romanticising Leap - Pau Casals

You could look before you leap or take the leap of faith. I chose the latter. Photo: Pau Casals

Going straight

Having to finish a novel did have its blessings. I learned how to write every day, how to cut down on unnecessary things in life, and how to do everything sober.

I wouldn’t earn a dime for almost half a year, but I’d finally have something I’d be proud of, my first manuscript. Then I came across this novel competition and decided to send it in.

Did I think I would win? Not a chance. After reading how many rejections people like JK Rowling had to go through, I wasn’t even hoping on making the shortlist. In my mind, I’d already achieved my biggest accomplishment: finishing.

Then they decided to publish me. Just one e-mail asking me if I was keen on making revisions. No fanfare, no money, no night out in the clubs. Just an e-mail that wouldn’t have looked out of place between two accountants discussing the year’s financial statements.

But that’s when it hit me. This is it, I thought. This is the writer’s life.

It’s just work

And here we arrive to the point of this story. You see, writing is just like any other job in life. Instead of crunching numbers, you crunch sentences. Instead of making sales on the phone, you’re trying to sell your work through your words.

It’s boring, tedious, and often unrewarding. You don’t know what’s good or bad because the standards of beauty vary from person to person. You won’t even know if you’re improving because how do you measure something so subjective?

Where writers are concerned, you should do away with the image of someone seated at their typewriter and staring out the window with a glass of scotch and cigarette in the same hand.

Think instead of a jobless man in his pyjamas, surrounded by boxes of pizza and cans of cola, with the glow of a computer screen on his face.

Think of the mother of two who’s eking out every sentence she can during her kids’ nap times.

Think of the young adult who’s waiting tables and exploring his interest in literature by writing short stories during his break.

Being a writer has never been about show business or glamour. It’s always been about the work, no matter how you choose to do it. Some pursue from the womb, while others do it after retirement.

No matter how you do it, there’ll always be the failures and the winners—or more specifically, the ones who quit and the ones who keep going.

And I guess that brings me to the only writer stereotype that I agree with. Writers write.

45 thoughts on “Maybe We Should Stop Over-Romanticising Writing

    • Oh yes it did, but you’ll be surprised how quickly impostor syndrome takes over and kills all your joy. The only way I’ve been able to get over that is by continuing to work. Thanks for stopping by again! Always great to hear your thoughts.

      • But you know, I do appreciate that you talk about the hum-drum aspects of it. It makes it feel that much more accessible through hard work, not just something intended for those whom the muses have chosen to bestow their blessings upon.

  1. what a wonderful post, Stuart. Even more impressive that you probably did it without any alcohol :)

    in the back of my mind there’s a book in me, but not until I retire in about 3-4 years. It’s good to know what I will be getting into…

  2. I’m at the ”churning of hundreds of tag lines, only to go with the one the boss blurts out at the eleventh hour” stage but I don’t mind. Writing is only a tiny part of my day job but I like to have that tiny bit of it with me. I write sales copy and send out ads in the mail, not glamorous but it’s something. 😁

  3. Great post, Stuart! I think I have failed miserably in being the stereotype writer – I don’t drink! Not when I write, anyway. Maybe that’s what I should try next, haha. Gawd, I even quit smoking several months ago. But I do have a beret … somewhere.

    • Great on you for quitting smoking! I quit my pack-a-day habit more than a decade ago and it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life. Lol at the beret, maybe you should wear it on your next backpacking trip.

      • Good for you quitting that habit so long ago! I am really happy that I did, too (better late than never, right?). One of my excuses for not quitting sooner was that I thought I had to smoke when typing…and I actually stopped writing for a while because it was such a trigger for me. Not any more! :-) My old writing shack still stinks after all this time, glad I never smoked inside the house!

  4. I couldn’t agree more on your thoughts. Publishing book and getting people to read is a long journey. In my case, it was a poetry book which always got tagged as subjective. Being an author-poet, I can understand how the exploration feels like. But its always that feeling of contentment when you write something, be it an article or a novel. When your words start appreciating your mind of contemplating great stories. It’s mystic!
    So, when is your book releasing? And all the very best!

    • It’s slated for release somewhere in April 2021! Yeah, the feeling of having written is definitely a great one, and it takes a crap-ton of effort to fill the page sometimes. Thanks for stopping by and dropping this wonderful comment!

  5. Well said. It has been written that in his early days Stephen King sat at his tiny kitchen table typing away with every spare minute he had. He cherished every opportunity he had to write.

  6. Fantastic post. Well written.
    I agree that there are many stereotypes people associate with writers & perhaps some people are keen on becoming writers because the perception rather than the act of writing itself.

  7. Great post Stuart. Gives a lot of confidence to read posts like yours to keep writing. I like read posts which aren’t too long and complicated. Prefer clean , simple and to the point.
    Thanks for coming by my blog. It helps to know there are so many talented people that we can connect with sitting at home.

  8. This is so horribly relatable. Though I will say, I’ve had several crushes start just from liking a guy’s writing and/or intellect, so there might be a little something to said romanticization after all. ;)

    • It only applies if you over-romanticise it in the first place, like I did, lol. I think you’d be on the right track if you’re already putting nose to grindstone every day when it comes to writing.

  9. “Being a writer has never been about show business or glamour. It’s always been about the work, no matter how you choose to do it. Some pursue from the womb, while others do it after retirement.” That sticks Stuart! I’m happy to read about your challenges and struggles and I like that you are very open about your hobby and profession.

  10. Thank you for sharing your failures and successes so honestly. I’m happy to hear your novel is going to be published. CON-GRA-TU-LATIONS!

  11. So true. ‘Writer’s write’, the only stereotype that applies to all writers. When people ask what I do, I prefer not to say, because of the questions and expectations. How do I explain that I have volumes of work, unpublished, unfinished, and another few works simmering away, ready for Scrivener. Posts like this are refreshing, helpful and inspiring, thank you.

    • Lol yeah. It’s hard trying to explain that just because you’ve written a book (or multiple) doesn’t mean that it’s going to get published.

      For many people, simply writing one entitles you to a spot in the bookstores.

      Thanks for your honest and insightful comment!

  12. I really liked this post. I could leave a lot in this comment box as empathy, agreement, or even “Hell yeahs’. But I’ll just say that through writing a novel, working on a second and planning three more, I have found something that keeps me clear headed, something that I have committed to doing for one of the very few times in life that I feel is original to my own thoughts and purpose.

    • I’m so envious that you have that. I myself feel as though writing is something that I was meant to do, but I don’t get that strong conviction as you have. That probably just means you’re on the right path. Wishing you all the best with your writing journey!

  13. Writers write. That is definitely the truth of it. Thank you for giving it as it is. Saw myself in the young adult description, not waiting tables yet though I have considered it so often. Staring at the computer screen is the easiest way to explain how I spend my days. Great post.

    • You don’t have to wait tables though. There are so many other things you can do to hustle while pursuing your literary dreams. But you’re already doing that I feel. Thanks for stopping by and dropping these kind words!

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