What are the downsides of being a professional writer?

What are the downsides of being a professional writer?

I’ve been a professional writer for two years now. And I was a semi-professional writer for three years before that.

There are many perks that come with working as a writer. For example, I can work from anywhere (last week I was working in Dublin. This week, I’m back home in London) and I can pretty much choose the hours I work.

I mostly work alone, too, which means I can actually turn off from the outside world when I need to to do my job to a standard I feel happy with, instead of constantly facing distractions (like I know I would working in an office).

But, being a professional writer isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a gruelling industry that takes more than it gives back back. It demands ideas when ideas don’t flow, and requires all of your attention for most of the day.

Here are a few downsides to being a professional writer that I’ve come across.

1. Inspiration doesn’t strike between 9 and 5

Writing is a creative pursuit, no matter what form you choose. I mostly write commercial copy and blog posts for big technology companies, and although the term ‘commercial’ could imply a lack of creative direction, it’s very much the opposite.

These companies want something new and different at all times. Switching the brain off from thinking about new titles and ideas, then, is hard to do. If I feel inspired to work on a piece at 9 at night on a Sunday, I probably will stop what I’m doing to do so.

There’s no clock-in/clock-out method to writing. You just write when the moment takes you, regardless of who it’s for.

2. You have no time or energy to work on your own writing

I used to work in a coffee shop. After a long, hard day of making coffee for other people, it was usually the last thing I wanted to do when I returned home.

Sometimes (and not all the time, I still find time), it’s hard to motivate yourself to work on your book or short story when you’ve been writing for eight hours in a day.

This is a mental game, more than anything. My advice is to build a writing routine that works for you. For example, put your professional writing tasks at the beginning of your day and spend your afternoons doing the busy work (replying to emails, booking interviews etc) so that when the evening strikes and you want to work on your book, you’re at least a little refreshed from your morning writing session.

Of course, all of this implies that problem number one doesn’t affect you. If it does, you’ll likely have to just make do and write on your own stuff when you can.

3. Your work will never be good enough

Both in your eyes, in your editor’s eyes and in the eyes of your client.

Hemingway once said:

The only kind of writing is rewriting.

I spend my life rewriting and reworking pieces. And that’s okay. Nothing is perfect on the first go, I accept that.

But it’ll get to you when it’s a constant uphill battle. Some clients are relentless. Some clients think they can write better (why hire a writer, then?) and some clients will let their ego get in the way of good work.

Point is, your first draft (ie the first draft you send to a client) will likely be shit. Accept it.

4. It’s a lonely life

Despite what I said above about how working alone is a positive thing, it can also be a negative, too. Office culture means you have someone to buddy around with, to bounce ideas off, to help you take a break when a break is needed.

As a professional writer (especially as a work-from-home writer), you have to take your breaks alone, often eat alone and then return to work, alone.

I personally have no problem with it. I like working alone and my social life is active enough that I see enough people in the week to talk with and ‘escape the words’.

But, sometimes the solitary life can get to you. Be active, join groups, speak with friends. I often dedicate a day or two a week to work in coffee shops just so that I can be in a stimulating social environment (needless to say, these are days where I often don’t have to write too much).

5. You’re no longer writing for just the reader

If you publish online, you need to search engine-optimise your blog posts, articles, website copy or whatever else you write so that it can be seen on Google.

You’re no longer just writing for the reader, but for Google, too.

Clients have hired a professional writer to develop their inbound marketing strategy. It’s your job to provide value to readers, yes, but to also make people aware of the client by helping them index on Google.

Be sure to compromise your writing and write for the internet, too. It’s a tough compromise to face, but more often than not, you’ll be rewarded with more readers and more visibility. And that’s a win for everyone.

It’s not all bad, I promise

Despite everything I’ve said above, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. My job is highly rewarding.

I get to see my published work go out all over the internet (and elsewhere), I receive kind words from readers who are grateful, and I get to pursue the thing I love most.

If you want to get paid to write and turn it into a full-time job, I recommend writing for free, first. I wrote for free for two years throughout university; it’s the best portfolio-building technique, and you need a portfolio to prove you should be paid.

It’s a hard thing to hear and muscle through, I know, but I promise it’s worth it.