Matt Lewis

Can’t stop the hustle: The modern writer’s dilemma

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor

It has become fashionable of late for writers to bemoan choosing writing as a career.

Jeremy Lott, for example, insists: “Writing for a living—with the research, the edits, the contracts, the deadlines—will grind you down just as surely as any other job, often for little payoff. Sorry to burst your bubble, kid, but tough luck.”

Rod Dreher agrees, noting, “The thing about being a writer is in most cases, you can never stop being a writer. I mean, you are always writing, even when you’re not writing. You can’t turn the damn thing off.”

“My wife has a habit of coming to me at parties,” he continues, “and whispering in my ear, ‘Stop writing, Thurber’ — this, because she once read that James Thurber’s wife could see when he was at a social gathering apparently present, but was really lost in his head, writing something.”

You’re only as good as your next book/column/whatever. Unless you’re incredibly successful, there is very little time for resting on your laurels. There’s always a fear of being scooped. Satchel Page’s maxim: “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you,” rings especially true in this profession.

One of Dreher’s readers adds this: “The thing you fail to touch on here, which I think is the biggest issue, is the HUSTLE. Not the dance. The need to sell.”

It’s no longer enough to be a writer. Now days, one must also be a publicist, promoter, marketer, email list collector, Tweeter, etc., to break into (or stay in) the business. Whether you’re a novelist, a freelancer, or a journalist, or a blogger, this is generally true.

But isn’t this something you should discover on your own? These “buzz kill” columns serve a valuable purpose, inasmuch as writing is so often overly romanticized by society. (The danger is that naive young people will think it’s all fun and games and then be in for a rude awakening.) Having said that, I feel like there is a responsibility to point out that it is possible for one to have a happy and fulfilling life and a successful career as a writer.

No matter who you are or what you do, there will always be challenges. This is an argument for finding balance in your life — setting boundaries, taking vacations, and rediscovering why you were passionate about the craft in the first place — not for pessimism or despair — or for dropping your dreams today and choosing another profession.

So my advice to young people aspiring to become writers is this: Ignore the doom and gloom warnings.