Writing for a living is generally a poor way to make a living, especially if you live in regions where the craft itself is often under-appreciated.
So when USD 300 was credited into my account today for what would essentially qualify as a blog post, I can finally say that for the first time in almost a decade of writing for a living, I actually earned money from something I wanted to write.
But Stuart, you may ask, don’t you already write for a living? What’s the big deal?
Yes, it may be a paltry sum compared to what a full-time job gets you. But all the words I’ve sold—newspaper articles, ad copy, social media posts—were merely assignments handed down to me. I never had any choice in what to write.
This latest gig, in contrast, is the equivalent of someone giving me money just because they liked my blog post. It was a piece I had written out of pure desire and nothing else. So getting paid for it is the equivalent of being paid for fiction.
So what’s the point?
Until today, the most I’ve ever earned from an unsolicited blog post was USD 30 on Medium, and even then I felt like I was in the big leagues (especially since that’s the equivalent of a week’s worth of groceries for me as a Malaysian).
Which brings me to the point of this post—to remind all the budding writers out there to keep grinding away at their craft, even though it may seem like you’re not making progress.
It’s to remind you that just because none of the doors are opening doesn’t mean you can’t go ahead and try knocking on another one.
And along with that, I’d also like to add a few points extra points for the aspiring writer to keep in mind, and I think I’ll start that off by being a total killjoy.
Be a realist
As much as I think that I’ll never reach the upper echelons of writing solely because of my circumstances, I have to admit that the universe was also kind enough to nudge me towards writerdom.
For one, my parents had left books around the house, which I prompted me to start reading from a very young age. I also come from a lower middle-class family, which means that my struggles were few. I didn’t have many responsibilities when I quit my job to write a novel either, so that’s another plus.
Could you do the same thing and take a couple of years off work just so you could pursue your writing dreams? Sure you can. Should you do it, especially if you have a family to take care of? Maybe not.
Maybe you’ll have to take the slow-and-steady route and write during your lunch breaks instead. I personally know a mother of two who’d written an award-winning book by making the most out of her children’s nap time.
So don’t feel bummed out if you can’t drop everything and write full-time, or that finding the time to write would mean you getting up two hours earlier, because that just means you have your own path to forge.
You can’t think about the money, even if it is about the money
I’ve always dreamed to one day become an Allie Brosh, or a Mark Manson, to be able to profit from my creative fancies. Maybe that’s why I’ve chosen to try fiction.
The thing is though, once that becomes your goal, you’ll need to not think about the potential contracts you’d score, or how you’ll be living off your royalties by 2022.
The paradox of making a living off your writing (and not work writing) is that you can’t go into it wanting to profit right off the bat. Or ever, even.
So yes, keep your day job (and health insurance), be practical, then pursue your writing goals on the side.
And I say this as someone who’s quit his job to write a novel. Having learned what I needed to from that experience, I can safely say that I could’ve done the same thing even while holding down a day job.
To be fair, I suck at having faith in myself. Every day I wake up doubting my writing dreams. Will I die without writing anything substantial? Am I just wasting my time? Do I have a different calling in life and just not know it?
I’ve written three more manuscripts ever since I got published, and two out of those have already been rejected. Maybe my luck has run out. Or maybe it was just a fluke. Either way, I find it hard to maintain the belief in myself that what I’m doing has a purpose, and if you feel it too, just know that it’s perfectly normal.
It won’t go away when you get your first byline, and it sure as hell won’t when you see your first book in print.
Still, if this is really your dream, the best thing you can do is to soldier on and keep putting in the work even when the odds seem stacked against you.
Don’t be afraid to dream
During my time as a hairdresser, I remember how I pined to see my name in a magazine one day. I never thought I’d ever be able to do exactly that—to enjoy cool life experiences, write about them, and see my name in print.
Then I dreamt about writing a book, which couldn’t have been a more impossible goal in my eyes. But then I reached that goal, and I ended up writing a few more. I dreamt of being published, and of being paid for unsolicited work.
Now I dream to be known as a sci-fi writer at least in my home country of Malaysia. Will I ever get there? I have no idea. But what I do know is that I reached all my previous goals because I had first dared to dream.
Be kind to yourself
I’ve taken to following people like David Goggins, Wes Watson, and Gary Vaynerchuk in recent years, and I’ve totally bought into the hustle culture, of pushing yourself to see where your limits lie.
But I’ve also spent thirty-five years of my life basically slacking and always finding the easy way out, so it’s natural for me to fall back to my old ways, and my journey to self-improvement can best be categorised as ‘two steps forward, one step back’.
When those moments hit—say I woke up late or drank one too many beers—I’ve found that the best thing to do is to forgive myself, because I’ve spilled the milk, and we all know there’s no use crying over that.
So if you find yourself not meeting your weekly word count yet again, or if you chose to rest instead of writing during your lunchtime, don’t beat yourself up over it.
The worst thing you could do is to ruminate, and the best is to just pick up where you’d left off.
Which brings us to the end of this post. If there’s anything you take away from this, it’s this: I’m probably one of the least-qualified people to be writing for a living today, and if I can make a decent amount of change on a blog post, then so can you.