I am not one to romanticize writing, especially as a profession. While I’m a big fan of Do What You Love as well as Follow Your Passion, I’ve agreed to not harp on that for at least a while (especially since other people like Mark Manson are doing it for me).
But the idea that you can make a living writing about what you’re passionate about? HA! I can call myself a professional writer because I have used the written word to put food on the table and a roof overhead. Some of the money has even come from work that I was passionate about. Most of it, though? Came from things like:
- Ad copy
- Tech writing (“How to plug in a projector” – exciting, eh?)
- Ghost Writing (aka “Making other people’s ideas pretty”)
- Newsletter Writing
- Turd Polishing (a shameful part of my life when I was paid to make really bad real estate look really good)
- Paid blog posts for other sites (“How to rent a fishing boat in Florida“, one of my favorites)
These are not things that could be termed passionate, at least in my own life. But writing is a craft, much like woodworking or gardening or even music: it is possible to make a living simply following the formula that gives people what they want (usually the client, incidentally, not necessarily the reader; one of marketing’s dirty secrets is that they aren’t selling items to consumers, they are selling ad campaigns to businesses that make items).
I believe there are some people who make a living – a good living – writing about things they are passionate about. I believe that their number one skill – that I’m still working on – is getting out of their own way. But even then it’s work; as Mark Manson says in that article I linked to, “I am living my dream job…and I still hate about 30% of it. Some days more…that’s just life.” Or take the way my favorite writer, Kameron Hurley, described her “success”:
At the current rate of my own book advances, I’d have to write twelve or thirteen books a year just to maintain my current income level – an income level I achieve now with a day job, freelancing jobs on the side, and writing a fiction novel, a short story or two, a column for Locus, and some other paid essays every year…I’ve been poor before. I don’t fucking like it. I work hard to stay as far ahead of it as I can. And that’s yet another reason I likely won’t ever give up my day job, even if I only keep it part time: I like money. I don’t like being poor.
No, I do not romanticize the profession of writing at all. For me, it just beats the alternatives. Then again, I also have a higher tolerance for being poor than Ms. Hurley.
NaNoWriMo is Disneyland for Writers
Guess what? When you’re doing NaNoWriMo, none of that matters. You’re not writing to support yourself; yes, you have a deadline and a word count, but it’s one you chose. You’ve given yourself a vacation in the writing world where you can just write about what you love! Nobody – seriously, nobody – ever has to read it. This is where you can say screw the quarterly reports and the keynote speech and the company newsletter and write about the rocketship piloted by a unicorn zooming through Jessica Jones‘ inner ear, pursued by an evil clone of N.K. Jemisin and Ferrett Steinmetz. You can write that love story about young Gandalf and Saruman. You can daydream about yourself thrown into one of those action movie stereotypes where you have to save your daughters and you kick ass all over town (that was my first NaNoWriMo).
None of it has to be any good.
Don’t worry about it being good. You have the luxury of having a writing assignment that’s kind of like Las Vegas: what happens there can stay there. No consequences, no editors, no rewrites (unless you choose to). So indulge yourself! Write what you want, write it in any style you like, just get it out of your brain and into language. This is the time to really wallow in writing for your own sake.
Write what you love. Because that way, when you’ve spent too much time writing what you don’t love, you remember what it’s like…and you can slip back into it, like that guilty pleasure comic book or that hot fudge sundae. Writing is magic. It’s just that it’s also work, and that makes it hard to remember the rainbows and glitter sometimes.