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Writing: It’s a Nice Hobby, But I Wouldn’t Want to Do it for a Living.

August 9, 2011

The other day my boss approached me and asked if I wanted to take on a side gig as a consultant, facilitating an off-site board meeting for a friend’s company. This is the type of thing I used to do before I started working for him.

“Sure,” I said, as he filled me in on the details. “That would be fun.” I was thinking about the change of pace from the routine of my company and the challenge of working with an entirely different business and management team.

“Yeah, it is fun,” my boss replied. He has done his fair share of side-bar consulting with businesses seeking his counsel. “But I wouldn’t want to do it for a living.”

We laughed together, a strange laugh of recognition – thankful that we were gainfully employed in a well-established, profitable company, rather than some washed up, wannabe-leadership-guru freelancers trying to hustle our next gig to make ends meet, like so many we have run across in our careers.

There was a time when I truly wondered if I would be more fulfilled pursuing the creative life as a full time writer and speaker instead of continuing with this uneventful management position I’m in. Just thinking about it got me all starry-eyed: The creative freedom! The best-selling e-book! The recognition! Managing my own schedule! And all those people I would inspire!

But I have come to realize that most writers hardly make any money, and that usually stops me dead in my tracks.

I don’t think that would be fun. Nor would it be fair to my family, forcing them into a life of poverty to accommodate my creative whims.

Since I started blogging, I have discovered that there is a whole world teeming with people who think they are writers. I read something recently that said, when surveyed, 23% of the American population consider themselves  to be writers.

Doesn’t that make you throw up inside your mouth a little bit?

There’s nothing wrong with being a starving artist, I guess, but I would pretty  much hate the not making money part. I’d prefer to be a contributing member of society, comfortably supporting myself and my family doing something I liked, rather than wandering off into some creative fantasy-world that I “loved.”

Or, what I once told myself that I loved.

Writing is a wonderful creative outlet. It suits me at this stage of my life. But as a living? I don’t think I would enjoy it the same if my livelihood depended on it.

To be continued….

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21 Comments leave one →
  1. August 9, 2011 7:57 am

    What an interesting post. I actually love being a consultant and counselor. It is where I think God has called me…..and faithfully, he has provided fruit (making money) along with it. I don’t feel washed up…I feel like I am just beginning. I may even be having an impact. In the corporate setting I had a pretty big role, but still didn’t feel like I was serving His Kingdom. Maybe it was just me or my company.

    Now working with small business owners who have a choice, I feel like together we can seek God and His will for their business. Hopefully, on occasion, glorifying Him in the process.

    The best thing, as I interact with others in this work, it provides stuff to write about. When I was in high school I was going to be a journalist. I was quickly disillusioned in college and chickened out. In the end, i guess it was all part of God’s plan.

    Ultimately, I feel blessed to be able to consult a little, counsel a bit, and write as I can.

    Thankfully, God has continued to provide for our family.

    Just another vantage point!

    • August 10, 2011 4:53 am

      Sue, yours is a fantastic vantage point! And the “washed up” consultant thing, well that’s more my issue, not yours. 🙂 You are blessed to be expressing all the areas of your strengths and desires PLUS making some money at it. Striking out on my own — well, It’s just not for me.

  2. August 9, 2011 8:38 am

    I like your objective approach here, Brad. But what if you weren’t cut out for management? What if your artistic tendencies had a greater driving force, such that you just had to pursue them?

    • August 10, 2011 4:55 am

      Objective? Have you got me confused with some other journalistic enterprise? 🙂

      You are one step ahead of me, young man… I will be addressing this exact question in the next post, so hold on to your seat for a couple more days.

  3. August 9, 2011 8:46 am

    You made me laugh!

    I have enjoyed being a writer a lot more now that I have a steady gig (writing/editing for a monthly magazine). My ambitions have dimmed, but my joy has brightened. Besides, the thought of actually promoting any book I might write makes me “throw up inside my mouth a little bit.”

    • August 10, 2011 4:57 am

      Glad to hear it, Megan.
      I was so disapointed over that statistic that says 23% of adults thought of themselves as “writers”. I thought I was special!!

  4. August 9, 2011 9:34 am

    I do have the priveledge of being paid to be a corporate writer. And it’s not as glamorous as it seems. When someone else pays your wage, you lose your freedom. I was hired because I can make words click, but the ideas, direction and tone are often set by my masters.

    I have had occassion to meet many writers throughout the years — the dreamers who had a big book in their head just ready for the world. I encourage them to write, write, write. But I always tell them, “Keep your day job.”

    Very few writers make a living at it, as you say. So just do it for fun.

  5. August 9, 2011 10:00 am

    You had an interesting characterization of some writers as those chasing their creative whims to do the job they love. That’s a pretty accurate portrayal of some – it seems many enter the creative lifestyle out of selfish motives. They may sacrifice the riches, even labeling themselves as non-materialistic in the process. But they’re merely just pursuing another idol, be it fame or comfort or the pride of not being a sell-out.
    The answer, I believe, is to determine God’s calling for your life first and foremost, apart from selfish motives. Then, the joy and the provision comes.

    • August 10, 2011 5:00 am

      But how can anyone determine God’s calling for their life without selfish motive? I always found that hard to seperate, because even when we “spiritualize” our choices, the motive is still ulitmately selfish. Even going into the ministry, missions, etc. People do it because they WANT to (i.e. they are “called” to it.)

      Another topic for another post, I guess…

      Thanks for your thoughts, Loren.

      • August 10, 2011 10:12 am

        That’s a good question. I think it really comes down to how we define selfish motives. Have you read “Desiring God” by John Piper? In it, he talks about how God has wired us to want to delight in things – and what it looks like to delight in God and not the things of this world.
        When I spoke of selfish motives, I was thinking more of pride and the love of comfort. Idols, basically. You make a good point that pursuing missions because of a calling gives us joy – and pursuing this as a means to give God glory is a great thing. I think you’ve really hit on some good points. It sounds like nit-picky semantics, but I think it’s crucial for us all to process these issues and know why we do what we do. Good stuff!

  6. August 9, 2011 11:07 am

    Yes, once I was a starry eyed ‘photo-journalist’ with a few book ideas and wanted an Arts degree, but my father stopped me at the door with “All the starving artist in the world, and you want to join them”…I figured along the way he had a similar dream and had to feed three babies, and gave up. So I went to college, stumbled around trying to find something I could live with, found other creative jobs till my kids were gone. Now I eat a lot less and write when I want. My office door happily reads- Happy Starving Artist Is In.

    Still working on my writing skills though, I spent way too much time talking and stirring on the job all those years and not enough reading…

  7. August 9, 2011 12:30 pm

    it is nice to be able to make money, to be able to support…self, family, and some interests.

    the things that we support are continually changing as are we.

    something that we have been able to financially support might become our new means of income,

    or become that “something” that we or someone needs along the way.

    then of course… ALL that we do… well, you know.

    as far as writing goes for me, well, i like to communicate with words.
    i am learning
    about how they can be used to mend or to break a heart.
    how they can cause someone joy or pain… comfort or distress.

    we use words,
    all day.
    the reasons
    for using words are many and diverse.
    and each one of us must make
    the choices
    of how
    we are going to use them.

    i like how you use your writing as a creative outlet…

    and i like the light and reflection in the photograph at the top of your post.

    • August 10, 2011 5:03 am

      Thanks Nance, about the photo. I took that in Boston when i was there a few months ago. That is the John Hancock building, where I used to work..

      And your reminder about words… they can be powerful, it is true, in how they impact people. We are not writing in a void, are we?

  8. August 9, 2011 12:38 pm

    I’ve been a writer since the sixth grade when I was assigned a 5000 word essay as punishment. It was to be titled “Why I Should Not Throw Rocks at the Water Tank”. The teacher, who made me do it, thought it would be punishment. I thought it would be punishment, and I couldn’t imagine how I was going to get through it. Could anyone write 5000 words in the day or two I had to complete the assignment? But, a funny thing happened in the middle of that essay. I started to enjoy writing and making little inventions with words. Suddenly I was having a wonderful time. It took me another thirty years to begin making a living as a writer, but I wrote hundreds of thousands of words in the interim just because… .
    It is often said that most people who say they want to write, really mean they want to “have written.” You are a good writer Bradley. I suspect that now you are hooked on the exploration itself and that most of the time you do it for the same reason I do. With or without financial compensation, a writer writes, and writes, and writes, just because… .

    • August 10, 2011 5:10 am

      Mike, that is a hilarious story! What a way to discover a love of words. When I was in 6th grade I sat at a typewriter all summer long and wrote a mystery novel. I was a true prodigy with the speed of typing on the typewriter, but not so much with the story-writing!

      I do enjoy it. Just because. It’s amazing how these things can get you hooked.

      And regarding the saying about writers want to “have written”, I can now officially take my place as a writing geek, because I can give you the reference for that saying… I read it (and remembered it) in an articly by the executive editor of the New York Times about the demise of books. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/17/magazine/bill-keller-wants-to-ban-books.html?_r=2&src=me&ref=magazine
      It’s a great quote, and so true. The blank page can be so intimidating… but the feeling afterwards is what we relish in.

  9. August 9, 2011 1:11 pm

    “It is often said that most people who say they want to write, really mean they want to ‘have written.’”

    Well said, Mike.

    • August 9, 2011 1:50 pm

      It is quite right and I wish I had said it first. There are too many reasons not to write to wear out your body in the writing postion if you don’t like it.

      Now, about those reasons not to write: a friend who had a long successful career as an executive at Swiss Air told me it was conventional wisdom that an exec should never put anything in writing. I found out why when I began my career as a technical writer.

      Writing documentation that isn’t just puff requires operational knowledge of the product. Often enough, the product doesn’t work as the specification indicates that it should work, so writers find problems that some stakeholders don’t want anybody to find until after their reviews are completed and they have moved to a new project. Stakeholders do not even want to review documentation because, if they do, they must approve it or correct mistakes, and if something gets past them that is wrong, they are accountable.

      Publishing documentation is a commitment that many fear because there are changes planned or already implemented will break the product such that what is in the documentation will not perform as advertised.

      Am I being too cynical again. Why should I worry about meetings to which I won’t be invited, in which the PMs will say the problems customers are having are simply the result of bad documentation… .

  10. August 9, 2011 1:46 pm

    Hmmm…I’m wondering about part two. Will you shock us after this by saying you’ve quit your job to write full time? And that you love it?

  11. August 11, 2011 6:28 pm

    Bradley – This was wonderfully insightful. I have spent a great deal of my life hating my day job because I wanted to write full time. Recently, I even started investigating again what it would take to be a full-time writer. When I realized that I would probably end up writing a lot of things that I would not necessarily choose to write, I decided that I could just as easily make money in my day job and spend my writing time composing the things that I really wanted. And, as surprising as it is to me to say, I have found that I actually like my job, especially with a recent change in position.

    Basically, I always thought I needed to be a full-time writer or no writer at all. Now, I realize that my life it meant for something much different. And I like it.

    Also looking forward to part 2!

  12. August 12, 2011 10:19 pm

    Wait – what about “do what you love and the money will follow”? this post is so contrary to the 4 Hour Work Week and all the popular lit. Rather, you’re approaching it as I do and the thing I always second guess myself for doing. I still romanticize the writer’s life.

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