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.
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.
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.
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.