I Wanna Stop Writing For A Living

Black and white photo of woman walking away on a beach

Photo: Lori Grimshaw

You know, there comes a time when you start questioning if a path is right for you, and I’ve been pondering over this for quite some time now: Do I really want to keep writing for a living?

Let’s clear this up, the title isn’t clickbait, but it also isn’t technically 100% correct. I don’t think I want to write for a living anymore, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to earn a living from my writing.

Why the sudden thought? Because I was offered a freelance gig the other day, yet I found myself thinking more than I should have when my friend came to me with the offer.

“It’s a news publication,” she said. “It pays well, and all you have to do is to write what they tell you to.”

A younger me would’ve jumped at that opportunity. I am writer, after all. This is what I’m supposed to do, right?

Weirdly enough, as I stared at my friend’s WhatsApp message, the only answer I could come up with was no.

Do what you love

…and you’ll never work a day in your life. I used to think that writing was my saying out, seeing how I loved it and all. But as I explored the various paths of wordsmithery, I’ve learned that perhaps it’s not writing that excites me, but writing what I want. Getting paid for it would just be a bonus.

Perhaps I’ve been going at this all wrong. Maybe I’m not supposed to hop from one gig to another, trying to find the big break that’ll net me a managerial position.

Instead, maybe I’m supposed to hone my chops in a particular writing niche and become so good at it that people start noticing.

And if I go along with this train of thought, then perhaps I’ve been wrong about everything else in life. All this time I was looking at end results, but where did that get me?

I wanted a million bucks before I turned thirty, I wanted to have the luxury of idle days spent playing games and sipping on whiskey, I wanted to have washboard abs.

I never once wondered how I could improve, what value I could to bring into the world, or what journey I wanted to take.

And that brings us to the next point.

Stop Writing Love - Element5 Digital

Do what you love for a living and you’ll probably end up hating it. Photo: Element5 Digital

Have a craft to hone

In his book So Good They Can’t Ignore You, Cal Newport explores how the adage of ‘follow your passion’ is flawed, and what you can do instead to build a rewarding career.

He starts by saying that the craftsman mindset takes you much further than mere passions, and I’m starting to see the merit of this idea.

It’s not just my career, but life as well. How much quality time do I actually have? Am I improving with every passing day, or am I just dicking around? Can I build rare and valuable skills to give myself the best opportunities in life?

I don’t know about the first two, but the answer to that final question is yes, according to Newport, and the acquiring of valuable skills is also known as creating career capital.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why we need to have a craft. Without one, we have no career capital to build.

Providing value

Now, I’m blessed to have a few things going my way these past few months.

First, I’ve come across a teaching gig that has nothing to do with writing. That’s allowed me to reserve my writing muscles for my personal projects.

Second, I’ve started volunteering for a local NGO, and am part of a group of mentors who are encouraging budding journalists to find their voice in the industry.

Third, I’ve started to feel what providing value feels like, and it’s not in the form of another press release or a social media post for a random company.

And this is the reason why, when my friend had approached me for the writing gig, I felt like maybe writing solely for money isn’t my jam anymore.

Newport seems to back me up, as he’d mentioned the conditions that don’t fit the craftsman mindset:

  • Jobs that don’t allow me to develop and display my skills
  • Things that I think are useless to the world
  • Situations that force me to work with people I don’t like

Should I take up that writing offer, I’ll be effectively ticking the first two conditions right off the bat, and you know what they say, two out of three is just sad.

Hands holding golden eggs

It’s always about value, isn’t it? Photo: Sharon Mccutcheon

Take control

There are many great ideas brought up in So Good They Can’t Ignore You, one of which being that control is one of the greatest things you can have in your life.

But to do that, you have to first have career capital, and once I’ve garnered the necessary valuable skills, then perhaps I can have my say on what I want to do professionally.

For now though, all I can do is to fall back to the craftsman mindset, and focus on improving my favourite parts of the craft. And for me that’s fiction and creative non-fiction.

Maybe someday I’ll be able to make a living out of my work, but until then, I’m going to stop accepting every writing gig that comes my way. I’ll still write my heart out, but just not for a living.

88 thoughts on “I Wanna Stop Writing For A Living

  1. Life sometimes feels like questioning us, and there’s only so much we can do other than face it head-on and just accept that the path we want might not be what we’ve got in store. I loved the post, Stuart!
    P.S. So IDK why I’m not going on with the long commenting thing anymore but writing a brief, straightforward comment seemed suitable for a brief, meaningful post. Thanks!

    • No worries about the length, no need to apologise for that. You showing up is awesome enough. Thanks so much for your thoughts, and yeah, sometimes grabbing the bull by the horns is the best thing to do.

  2. I like what Victoria Schwab said, “Overnight success is almost always a myth. Half of this industry is luck and half is the refusal to quit.” Whatever your endeavors stay dilligent—Blessings and Peace!

  3. I agree with your decision. I have turned down writing jobs this past year because the joy was gone. I wasn’t proud of the work. Then I got a new referral from a friend. After investigating, I found the person who I’d report to was very difficult and not ethical. No. My friend and author Gerry Petievich of “To Live and Die in LA” believes writing is a craft, not an art, and we need to hone our craft. Good luck!

    • Aw yis. To me, right now, it seems like accepting any writing gig that comes by seems like more effort than it’s worth. Sometimes I wonder if I’m being spoiled by thinking that way. Anyway, thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, and here’s to honing our craft!

  4. I always thought “writing for a living” was too broad a thing to say. I write fiction/short stories/romance/movies/whatever is necessary for me. Although, to those who know no better, “writer” works just fine.

    • Lol, I’m definitely guilty of using the other cheesy synonyms to define myself: storyteller, author, starving artist.

      But yeah, ‘writing for a living’ is broad indeed, yet I hope to break that mould and ‘make something out of my writing’ instead. Thanks so much for stopping by!

  5. You made the right choice. It can be so tempting, like yes! I can get paid to write! But being told to what to write and not being able to write what you want can kill creativity.

    I have always wanted to live in my happy place. I visit it often – every chance I get. And I think about living there a lot. But then I think – living there and visiting are 2 different things. Would I love it as much if I lived there?

    • Oh yeah, I love how you say “being told what to write can kill creativity”, because that’s exactly what I’m feeling with my freelance gigs.

      Great to have someone who understands. Thanks so much for your thoughts, Janina!

  6. Good for you. I need to start doing the same thing. I have a habit of being distracted by the next shiny thing while still committed to a huge writing project. I wonder which one will suffer…well, me actually. I stew over it and I go around in circles with anxiety and doubt. Focus on what you want to do and do it.

  7. Great post! And great decision about turning down a job that didn’t jive with you. We sleep better making decisions like that when we can. Then again, we stay up all night working on a project we love. Congratulations on the teaching gig and good luck!

    • Oh yeah. I’m lucky because I have something to tide me over while I make these decisions. My heart goes out to those who aren’t so lucky. Thanks for the support, Robin!

  8. Love this! Definitely do what you like. Hopefully you post some of the things you’re into writing, on here ❤️. Can’t wait to see what happens next.

  9. Ya know…if you asked me, I would say, “Don’t go for it…if your heart isn’t there.”

    Many places have the need…they need people who have the skills that we have, but I guess…they want us for our skills…for what we can do…but not really, for who we are…
    …and that is why we have to follow their way, rather than freely express our heart, ideas, creativity, and inspiration.

    To do what we ‘Love’…I can’t say for sure, but to share about…sort of an advice that someone gave me. I mean, it’s not really an advice…but he would ask me if I was feeling comfortable…or tell me to make myself comfortable.
    The word ‘comfortable’…I think it equates to ‘Love’, because when we do it…we would smile and open our heart out.

    I mean…for example, if I am very comfortable with you, then I would easily open myself up to you…and probably tell you things about me which I don’t usually tell others.

    Initially, when I started at the current workplace…it was meant to be temporary and not about comfort nor LOVE. I was just going with the flow and even though DEEP DOWN, I wasn’t comfortable due to the mentality and not having the like-minded people around me…I started to think that…I would just endure it, because it is not like I have to be there for the whole day.
    That means, once the shift…once my shift is over for the day, I can go and do the things which I Love/Comfortable doing.

    Honestly, I am not comfortable with…going with the word ‘Comfortable’. I don’t know, but I associate it with living in luxury, comfort, or a life without obstacles…like the sensation of being in a hotel bed…very thick, soft, and smooth blanket. It felt like wanting to always have that…be like that.
    When I was there, it was nice…but when I was out of there, I realized that it was all just temporary…like an illusion, but the reality…the life that I am actually living in…is not like that at all.

    I guess, that is why I am against eating at an expensive restaurant…because even though it may be very delicious, comforting, and exciting…it’s all very temporary. It’s like, once it is all over…gotta go back to the life that I am actually in.

    So, these days still…I would think of…”What to do today?”, rather than “What do I Love to do today?”…or “Feel Comfortable Doing Today”.
    I know and I understand that if I go either Love or Comfortable, I would deep down…smile…but, I guess…I find it hard to relate myself to that, because that is not how I see my life right now.

    To write and post poem for the sake of ‘Giving Love and Light’…but, not really about ‘Receiving It’.
    As to why, it is just…personal experiences. So, I would imagine myself coming to give…and disappear right after…and whether there is something for me in return for what I have given…I just…don’t want to bother about it.

    If there is anything to say next, posting this comment on your post…is something that I Feel…That I Love To Do.

    • Wow, that final sentence really got me. What an amazing comment you’ve shared.

      I can totally relate to having a nice meal in a nice restaurant, only to realise that the temporary pleasure is going to end soon, and I’ll have to go back to my previous state. I feel that way about everything—massages, drinking, holidays…

      And sometimes, at the end of the day, I’m most happy when I’ve pushed myself to do the uncomfortable things.

      And that’s where I have to rethink things. Picking the uncomfortable things I’ll be happy doing.

      Anyway, always a treat to have you here. Thanks for stopping by!

  10. Ok… this post.. It will help me. I can’t really express how, but I just wanna tell you this is hitting home. Giving me a lot to think about; things I have been deliberately ignoring. :)

    • Wow, I’m honoured that you’d feel this way. I hope that a string of good comes out from your reflections. Thanks for taking the time to stop by and leaving this wonderful comment, Romika!

  11. Just started reading your blog Stuart and I loved this post! So honest and open. You definitely made the right decision. I’m considering a career in writing and this was food for thought. Please don’t stop writing on here whatever you do!! 😵

  12. saying no can be a game changer, as it forces you to focus on what you want to do. I am also a fan of Newport’s books, he’s written a few good ones…

  13. Inciteful, as usual! I recently heard the phrase, “Don’t quit your day job,” in a writing Master Class. And their reasoning was just as you described. You don’t want to use all of your writing energy, writing about things you don’t care about. They suggested getting a job that inspires in a different way to pay the bills. Freeing your creativity to hone your craft.

    This is probably more applicable to a beginner like me, but reminiscent of your post nonetheless 😊

    • Oh I can certainly use the advice from said Masterclass too, since I don’t know what I’d actually do for a living once my teaching contract ends. But yeah, an ideal world would be one where I can write freely AND make a living out of that, instead of the other way round. Thanks so much for stopping by, Christina! Always great to have you here.

  14. Nice piece..You know saying no sometimes gives you a little push in the right direction…being able to write on what really matters to you,your experiences is much better than having to write what you’re told to write…i wish you the very best especially in your teaching gig as you set to find your way

  15. Wow, I feel like you are writing what’s in my own heart. I was in college for a writing degree and shortly before my last semester I opted not to finish because I only want to write for myself, not what others want me to write..this resonated with me on so many levels

    • Whoa, that’s a brave thing you did. I hope that you’ve managed to find your own way since then?

      I myself am still trying to find my way, because what happens when my teaching gig is over?

      But I’m grateful that you’re able to relate, because now I feel less alone. Thanks for stopping by, Melissa!

  16. I always appreciate how honest you are about the writing life. People often get their romanticized hopes up about what they think writing for a living would be like. Through many blog posts, you’ve shown the practical realities of it. I think you made a good decision. I wish I read your post way back in college because I never approached employment with a “craftsman” mindset. That’s a story for another day. But you’ve given many important things to think about, and I believe lots of new doors are going to open. And you’ll still get to keep doing the writing you love.

    • Wow, this was a very deep comment, and I never expected to highlight the realities of the writing life as all I wanted to do was share my story.

      But I’m glad you brought that up because now I see this post in a different (and better) light, and I’m grateful for that.

      Thanks for your wonderful thoughts, Hetty!

  17. Very nice one Stuart, thought provoking. I can completely resonate with your thoughts on doing what you love and reconsidering writing as a job. I’ve often been at the crossroads considering what I should do and still not deciding to pick up. The point on honing a skill is a beautiful one and perhaps time for me to introspect a little more. Thank you for this line of thought

    • Ooo yeah. It’s hard to see writing as a skill that you hone, because many people want to get into it just for the clout, and also because it’s so hard to see improvement on your own.

      To be fair, I’m probably still at a crossroads like you, but here’s to finding our answers!

  18. Luv this! Thanks for reminding us that it’s for the pure love of writing itself that we do what we do. Not bowing to trends or a paycheque. So keep on writing from your heart Stu! We got your back!!

    • Hahaha. I talk a big game until I run out of funds. Then it’s time to go back to writing for a living. Can’t say I know exactly where I’m headed but yeah, I hope I can keep writing from the heart. Thanks so much for stopping by so regularly, Kelvin!

  19. Love this! I also realized recently after the most recent round of job hunting, that I had reached a milestone in my career in that I was no longer willing to take just any job. Thirteen years ago when I was unemployed and more desperate, I would have been willing to take anything, and I realized recently that I’ve reached a point where that just isn’t the case anymore; the opportunity had to align better with my (admittedly still poorly defined) goals. It is an underappreciated element of success that gets swept under the rug because everyone is so focused on money.
    Your teaching and volunteering work sounds awesome! Good luck with it!

    • Your comment has made me realise that perhaps what’s needed to reach this point is putting in the work in the first place. We can’t choose what we want to do without first earning the skills or even the vision we’re looking for in a job. Thanks so much for this thoughtful comment, and for constantly being here to support!

  20. Its an amazing thought. We also write for a living. We write stuff we want to… Sometimes what others want us to. Overall writing has been a big part of my life. Love your spirit! Keep it up! Your words have given me a new perspective to my career. #mywordskraft

    • It’s so cool you get the best of both worlds! I myself haven’t really found my answers just yet. Anyway, thanks so much for your kind words. I really appreciate it!

  21. This was a great read! Also, happy birthday! I know you mentioned the 3rd of June was yours, depending on what time it is where you are, of course. Nonetheless, hope you had a great day!

      • Despite my bad memory at times, I always seem to remember birthdays well haha. It’s honestly the small details in life that can make a difference to someone’s day, I know it has made a difference to mine often enough. Glad you had a great day! Also, Happy Friday!

  22. I just discovered your blog, and you gave me much to consider. I have been considering trying to build a career in writing. Yet, I am not sure I could be happy writing what doesn’t interst me or to support something I feel isn’t important. Thanks for giving me something to consider!

    • Oh yeah, I truly wish that you won’t have to face the prospects of writing what you don’t want, though it comes with the territory when writing for a living’s involved. Hope you find your answers soon!

  23. I completely agree with your choice for the reason you explained. Being told what you should and what you shoudn’t write kills creativity and takes all the joy out of the writing process.
    However, I think that if you could continue writing what you love to write and people actually read it and love it and offer you money that could support your living, I don’t think that you would disagree.
    At least I wouldn’t :)

    • Yup, glad we see eye to eye on that, lol. I would love to make a living out of my writing, but not write for a living. Though typing that now does make it seem like I’m a spoiled brat. Thanks so much for stopping by!

  24. I really enjoyed this post and I think a lot of writers will find it relatable. I have always enjoyed writing but I find that the joy is sucked out of it when someone tells me what to write and leaves room for me to be creative.

    • Oh yeah. It took me a while to realise that just because I love writing doesn’t mean I enjoy writing for others. It’s so easy to get confused between the both sometimes. Thanks so much for stopping by, Pooja!

  25. I like the way you write and your writing style inspires me. Thanks for being awesome.

    About the post, I feel the same way when I paint and people explain what they want if I am painting for them. So I have stopped doing that altogether. I would rather paint what I want and randomly share it with people instead of painting per directions.

    Artist cannot be tamed and free will can only help us reach our full potentials.

    • Oh yeah, I definitely feel like a spoilt artist whenever I tell people that I want to create what I want and share that instead of starting off a project being told what to do, but it’s hard to articulate.

      Am glad that you know exactly how it is. Thanks so much for stopping by and for your kind words! I really appreciate it!

  26. This post was really genuine and talks about what a lot of us ignore. Skills are very important, and when you can build on that, you’d definitely be successful at it.
    Because you work hard, not just cause you want it.

  27. I enjoyed this post. I totally agree on not wanting to write for a living. The funny thing is, I hated reading and writing out of an assignment. But let me go to the bookstore or library and pick out what interests me, and I’m good to go. I began writing out of curiosity when I heard the voice of a character. Writing is a passion, a calling. To take on gigs and assignments for the sake of paying bills would make me less passionate, and make writing more of a burden. Thanks for the confirmation that I’ve made the right decision!

    • Oh yeah. We all have a different purpose for writing, and perhaps some people do need to write for a living because it pays the best out of all the things they do (sure did for me).

      But if you love writing for the sake of the craft, there comes a time when you won’t want to just do it just for money. And I’m fortunate that I can think of exactly that. Anyway, thanks so much for stopping by, Julia!

  28. You’re 100% right about the value of honing craft. And writing what you love! Fiction is what I love, and I don’t do it for the paycheque (or lack thereof); I earn my living teaching piano, my second passion.

    • Heyo! Now ain’t that a happy surprise! I’m so happy you’re back, and truth be told I did stop by your site once in a while, but it was kinda empty (or had a couple of French words). Great to see it online again. Hope you’re doing well!

      • “but it was kinda empty (or had a couple of french words).” legit made me LOL. i had the site on pause for the longest—yeah. thankful you check in now and again, though. hope you’ve been keeping well. global pandemic and all that jazz.

  29. This resonates with me strongly. Not every writing gig is worth the mental stress and work put into it. Writing on your own terms is so much more fulfilling but unfortunately not always possible.

    • I’m glad to know I’m not alone! And while stress is inevitable in any job, what’s important is we pick the stresses we wish to face. It’s not always possible to live life on our own terms, but we can definitely try to find our path. Thanks so much for your thoughtful insights!

  30. Not everyone has been blessed by doing what they love; but more importantly is, that we made a difference around us.

  31. You know, someone recently asked me why it mattered if I ever got published as long as I wrote what I wanted. At first I was just dumbfounded. If someone writes, shouldn’t publishing be part of the picture? When I thought about it more, though, my answer was actually that going through the publishing process–rejection letters and all–helps motivate me to keep working on my craft. It’s easy to write something that no one’s going to see and leave it at “mostly coherent,” but I want to do more. I want to discover what I am capable of, to see how I can grow.

  32. Fantastic post Stuart, I have read Cal’s other work such as digital minimalism and deep work and they are great reads. I will check out So good they can’t ignore you. I would also check out the work of Greg McKeown if people are interested.

  33. Pingback: I Wanna Stop Writing For A Living - K.B. Krissy

  34. Great post, Stuart! I have been coming to the same conclusions lately, and really trying to hone in on what is important to me regarding my writing, rather than just jumping at any opportunity that comes my way. I was going to recommend Cal Newport’s book until I got half way through and saw you had referenced it!! I love his ideas, and his podcast gives me weekly inspiration. Good luck with honing in on your craft : )

    • It’s great that you’re at this phase in your writing journey now. The sad thing about this all is that it’s not an easy transition at all. Am wishing you all the best and here’s to finding our way!

      And thanks so much for stopping by :D

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