“The best time to be a writer is now”

I know. Starting with a post about why bring a writer sucks might seem counterintuitive for a newsletter aiming to help writers and, you know, not bum them out. I get it. But, my hope is that by pointing out and sizing up commonly-encountered obstacles right out of the gate, we’ll be doing ourselves a huge favor in the long term because it means we’ll have put that which is “negative” out into the open. And that’s huge. Whether the “negative” is to be confronted head-on, or it’s to be held up to the light and reassessed, it simply cannot be done when hidden, or unspoken.

So, let’s start here, with what I consider to be a toxically-positive statement I’ve seen published by several people over the years: “The best time to be a writer is now.”

Personally, I think there’s some truth that statement, at least in terms of accessibility— to instruction, to community, to publication, and to promotion, all of which lies inexpensively at the power of your fingertips, if you so choose. Want to take a fiction course? Go to Udemy, or to Masterclass. Want to find a community? Go to your local library, or bookstore, go to Reddit, to Twitter, Goodreads or Facebook. Want to publish your own work? Want to find an agent? You can do that too, in just seconds. Want to promote your work? Chat up that community you’ve established in just a few more seconds, and you can also create an email list, for which, depending upon your platform of choice, you can require people to pay.

Oh, and you don’t want to do any of it on your own dime? You can find grants here, here and here, and ask for money from fans on Patreon, Indiegogo, Kickstarter, or elsewhere.

In other words, compared to the pre-21st century writers you’ve read, the barrier to enter professional writerhood is low. That barrier, in fact, has been—and will continue to be—sledgehammered over and over and over again.

Yet, as it is with any other profession or pursuit, it’s inescapable: despite previously unmatched accessibility, being a writer occasionally sucks. I mean, there are times where it really, really, really sucks.

I’ve gone ahead and highlighted some of the suckiness I’ve encountered over the years. It’s very possible that you’ve encountered something similar, and felt a similar way. But it’s also possible that you encountered something similar and walked away with a completely different feeling.

What I’ve listed, in other words, is not meant to be taken universally. Nor will the few paragraphs I’ve shared for each cover everything there is to say (for many, individual blog posts will be coming soon enough).

Nor is what I’ve listed meant to encapsulate every bad experience in the writing world. There’s no way it could. And that’s why I invite you to share those experiences in the comment section at the end of the post. I’d love to hear about them.

Okay, off we go.

Homework every night

Since becoming a father, my memory hasn’t been what it once was (daily it seems like I watch memories good and bad slip off of the conveyor belt and into the ether), but something that sticks out from college is a quote from a writing professor about how opting to become a writer meant opting into assigning homework to yourself every night for the rest of your life.

Well, now I’m wondering if it was a fellow student who’d heard that from someone else and was paraphrasing?

I don’t know. It doesn’t matter who said it, nor what class I was sitting in when it was said. The point is that I’ve found it to be true.

I continue to work a full-time day job. I’m in a committed partnership. I’m a father. I have interests outside of writing. And yet, every single night that I don’t write, I feel guilty. Like I have an assignment I’m supposed to be handing in tomorrow that I have neglected to do. There isn’t dread, necessarily, like I’m to be punished for something by an external force. But I, the writer, beat myself up, and can at times turn into quite the grump if I let that guilt—and the pressure it brings along—build and build and build.

To be clear, I don’t think this is something experienced by only writers, or even primarily writers. I suspect that anyone who pursues an art form experiences this—this near-masochistic feeling, this torment of, “I am the only one who has control over this, and I am not doing everything that I can to be the best that I can.”

Tell me that doesn’t suck and I’ll tell you you’re talking nonsense.

Entering the lottery

Yeah, about all that sledgehammering I mentioned in the intro…

Removing the barrier to professional writerhood entry, well, it is not without some really big drawbacks, and one of those is that the pool of writers is larger than it ever has been. Look around on Twitter, or on Medium, on Substack or Goodreads. There are thousands and thousands and thousands of writers, and there are thousands and thousands of people who are using their skills as a writer to simply broaden the impact of that which they’re truly passionate about (for example, Barack Obama regularly uses Medium).

Now, while you might not be in direct competition with any one of these writers, you’re in many ways actually in competition with every writer if your goal is for your writing to become your primary source of income.

For those not wanting to hear that, I’m sorry. Acknowledging that fact—that you are, or that you will be at some point, in competition with them—doesn’t mean that you can’t support one another.

In order for your writing to become your primary source of income, the first step may still be writing something meaningful, but it’s becoming clearer and clearer that the more important step is getting heard, period, whether you want to publish your work traditionally or non-traditionally. You have to find your way through the noise—so that an agent actually reads your first chapters; so that someone scrolling #Bookstagram actually likes your post; so that someone not in your inner circle buys your book.

It’s hard.

And, if you are heard, and you’re on your way up the writing mountain, I hate to say it but there are so many things that have to go right in order for you and your work to take off.

For example, with the traditional route, it isn’t enough to get just any agent. You have to have a good one, and that agent has to get your work in front of the right editor at the right publishing house at the right time. And the cover designer they employ needs to knock it out of the park, and so does the marketing team, and so does the event coordinator calling up bookstores for the tour, and so does the warehouse manager in charge of shipping copies on time, and all the workers actually making that happen in the warehouse and at the hundreds of stores… on and on and on.

The book industry traditionally does not possess a short supply chain, which means there’s a lot of room for humanness to take over, in both beautiful and disappointing ways.

If one of the listed persons falters along the way, does that spell disaster for you and your book? No. Not necessarily. But getting your written work into the world in both traditional and non-traditional ways, and having people actually take notice, well, it takes a lot of things to go right. It takes talent, consistency, and, maybe most important, luck.

You can’t win the lottery without it.

Paths are endless

Again, about all that sledgehammering…

It might be best to start with the visual of a mountain. Let’s call that mountain, “Writing Success”. Pre-21st century, at least from my obviously-biased view, that mountain stood tall. Very, very tall. There were few paths up that mountain, and, despite those paths being pretty well trodden, there weren’t very many people that made it to the top.

Today, I’m not sure there’s a mountain at all, but rather, that what used to be the mountain has been halved, and quartered, and that what stands now is a series of small hills with a seemingly endless amount of paths up each one of them, and over, across and down. The paths to the tops of these hills are far less treacherous, but the payoff of reaching those hilltops might not amount to as much either.

“For those not wanting to hear that, I’m sorry. Acknowledging that fact—that you are, or that you will be at some point, in competition with them—doesn’t mean that you can’t support one another.”

Or, wait. Maybe it’s more accurate to say that that mountain still exists, but that batches of foothills have emerged all around it? And maybe it’s more accurate to say that no paths exist at all, and it’s up to the 21st century writer to entirely carve their own, to wade through all of the options and figure out what works best for them?

Take this batch of questions, for example—ever heard them asked? Ever asked them yourself?

  • Are you going to publish the traditional route? Independently? How do you feel about self-publishing?
  • Should you get an MFA? Or should you pursue alternative methods of writing education? Or, wait, do you need to spend money on writing education at all? Do you already have the tools you need? Can you get by with just a few writing books as guidance?
  • Should you start a blog? Should you charge people to read that blog? What about a newsletter? Should you charge for that too? Will anyone actually pay for that?
  • What about a podcast? What about Tik Tok? Should I have social media at all? Who really cares what I have to say?
  • How important are readings, really? Should I book some? Should I just read over Zoom? Maybe I can just post videos of me reading to YouTube?

I’m sure you get the point by now. And, it’s up to you as to whether or not you see this level of fracturing as a problem, or as a gift. It can be both, as far as I’m concerned. But there most certainly are some days where I truly, truly wish I had a writing mentor in my life—a trail guide, if you will—that could grab me by the shoulders and point me where it is that I should be right here, right now. And hell, tomorrow too while they’re at it.


Let’s say you want to go the traditional route. And let’s say you found yourself a good agent and that that good agent set you up with a good editor at a good publishing house and helped you secure a good advance.

Let’s say, from many views, everything is good.

Even so, you, the writer, are going to be expected to promote your work. Maybe that means that you make a few posts across your social media profiles per week, and that’s all. Maybe it means that you’re putting together a book trailer, and setting up ads on Goodreads.

But maybe, instead, what that means is that you’re the one that’s actually in charge of putting together a book tour, you know, on top of performing your day job well enough to not get canned, being a good partner, parent and friend. Oh, and also on top of writing “the next thing” that your good agent is telling you to keep plugging away at.

Double oh: you know what, turns out the publisher can’t flip the bill for travel expenses and now you have to figure out how you’re going to get to the coast and maneuver from city to city. Or, you have to cancel that leg of the tour altogether.

Cool. Cool, cool, cool.

Okay, let’s say you decide to publish your work with an independent publisher, or you decide to publish it yourself.

Well, I’m not sure what else there is to say other than: all of that self-promotion intensifies. But that’s probably obvious. Unless you have the advantage of there being a Publishing PR/Marketing professional in your inner circle (who gives you a huge discount or works for free), or you possess a level of wealth that allows you to hire a firm straight up, well every little bit of promotion is on you. Which, from my experience, is daunting. It has the potential to be crushing, even. The idea and execution of self-promotion played a key role in me almost quitting writing entirely.

More on that at a later date.

For now, I want to build a bit upon self-promotion along the traditional publishing route. I’ve found that writers don’t seem to fully grasp the idea that even when you publish traditionally you’re expected to promote the work yourself. I mean, I graduated with a degree in creative writing in 2012, and I didn’t grasp that. I assumed that when you published traditionally one of the enormous benefits was that you then had a built-in marketing network so that you, the writer, could focus on writing. After all, you didn’t study public relations or marketing. And now you’re being asked to not only learn them, but to do them well or else your book—something you’ve poured your soul into—won’t actually be read?

To try to get a sense of what it might look like from the other side, I suspect the reasoning from traditional publishers is something along the lines of 1) we can’t afford to have a marketing team, 2) if we do have a full marketing team, they’re working on our entire catalog and not just on your book, 3) in that catalog is one or two headliners whose new releases demand the majority of our marketing team’s attention, 4) readers today desire behind-the-scenes access to authors that social media platforms and the like enable, and 5) there’s so much noise “out there” today that having the author promote their work as well can only help break through it all.

Does the demand of self-promotion change when you are no longer the debut writer and have instead published a few notable books? I can’t speak from experience, but… maybe?

What I know is that for me this has been one of the most disappointing things to discover along the way—that no matter what path you choose, it’s very, very unlikely that the dynamic will truly involve you as the writer, and only the writer.

If you feel similarly, and are very uncomfortable with shouting through a megaphone to loved ones and strangers alike to “BUY MY BOOK!” perhaps it’ll be nice to know that you’re not the only other one white-knuckling it.

Haters, and the indifferent

You’ve probably heard a version of it somewhere, but Austrian psychologist Wilhelm Stekel said in 1921: “The opposite of love is not hate, but indifference; the opposite of feeling can only be the absence of feeling.”

It’s that—that absence of feeling—that you, the writer, must be acutely aware of as a critical threat to your career. Not the haters you’ll find on Twitter, or Facebook, or wherever. Haters will always be there, and they can serve your work purposefully (as fuel, for example, or for affirmation of your past or future decisions).

It still isn’t easy for me to talk about (likely because it’s ongoing), but as I’ve pursued writing I’ve encountered a large percentage of what I’ve believed was my inner circle, well, not really caring all that much. For clarity, where I come from (Hart, Michigan) isn’t necessarily an arts haven, nor is where I went to college (Allendale, Michigan). If I write something and share it, for example, chances are high that it’ll go unread. And I’m not just talking about, “Hey, I wrote a blog post, check it out,” I mean: “I spent years writing this novel and it’s now published, here’s a copy” and having not even a chapter be read.

For me, that’s what has hurt the most, what has affected my writing journey the most—there’s a weight that comes with that indifference, and a voice that slips in: a “Nobody cares about what you’re doing,” and a, “What you’re doing is meaningless.” If someone reads what I’ve written and hates it, that’s fine, because at least they saw it and, by extension, me, worth some of their time and some of their energy.

By not even opening the cover, they are of course communicating the opposite.

I think it’s easy to sit back and justify that indifference as, “Hey, you know what, I know they’re really busy.” But the truth is that you shouldn’t care if they’re busy. You are too. Life is busy, it always will be, and it’s up to you how you decide to manage it. What is it that you choose to prioritize? Who do you choose to prioritize? And how?

My advice: the moment you spot indifference, nix it from your writing life. It doesn’t mean that you stop being friends with someone. But it does mean that you stop counting on them for support in your pursuit of writing. If you don’t, you run the risk of spending your time and your energy—the same time and energy you should be devoting to what you care about—to trying to convert them, into persuading them to care at all about your work.

I’ve been there, and, trust me, it’s a dead end.

It’s a marathon

At first glance, this might seem contradictory, given that just up the page I mentioned that from my view there’s no longer a mountain we’re all hiking up, but a series of small hills. Which we’d be able to sprint up…right?


But when I say “It’s a marathon” here, I only sort of mean the amount of time it’ll take to traverse those small hills and go up the mountain. And what I also mean is that signing up for this whole writer thing isn’t the same as signing up for, say, professional sports.

Ha, I know. Stay with me here for a sec.

Athletic performance, for example, peaks before the age of 30 and declines from there. It’s a sprint, therefore, because it has to be. If you don’t treat it as such, that narrow window of time will shut before you do everything you set out to do.

With writing, meanwhile, maybe you started writing seriously at 20 and you don’t hit “your peak” until you’ve been doing it for forty years. Or, maybe there is no peak. Maybe you write your first bestseller at 60, and your brain stays sound and agile and you enjoy another thirty years as a productive and successful writer.

Which is beautiful, no?

I think so. But also, as someone who at the time of this writing is 32 years old, and has already been doing this for thirteen years, well sometimes a sprint sounds pretty damn nice. And, running with my example (get it?), waiting another 28 years for the level of success I crave now, well, zoom in a bit and the day-to-day of that sounds pretty damn awful, to tell you the truth. As we continue to face both a global pandemic and a global climate crisis, I can say with zero certainty what anything will be like in 28 years, or if I will even be alive.

So yeah, marathons, huh?

And we breathe and move forward

So there you have it, writers, at long last: sometimes it sucks to be us. That might not feel okay right now to admit, but I assure you that it is. Because, as you’ll see in a soon-to-exist post, it’s also quite lovely to be us sometimes too.

I mentioned it in the intro, but wanted to bring it back around: let me know what you think sucks about being a writer. I’d love to hear all about it in the comments.

Thanks for reading. Take care, and look out for one another.

End of article

Where My Creative Writing Degree Has Fallen Short, Part 1
Pick a life, any life.
Where My Creative Writing Program Has Fallen Short, Pt. 2
Criteria for judgment.
Where My Creative Writing Degree Has Fallen Short, Part 3
Facts are facts.
How My Creative Writing Degree Has Served Me Well
Holding that expensive piece of paper up to a different light.
Why Being a Writer is Pretty Great—an essay
A dash of optimism.
Would I Send My Daughter to a Creative Writing Program?
“Do you have time for a few questions?”

The link has been copied!