My Lifelong Writing Lesson

images   I’ve received a good deal of positive reinforcement over the years when it comes to my ability to write.

From winning the English Award as a senior in high school to getting an A in creative writing my freshman year of college; from snagging first place in a Christmas short story writing contest sponsored by my local newspaper to selling a handful of articles to small business publications; from feedback I’ve received on blog articles to ghost-blogging for others, I can pretty much say that my writing has received more than its fair share of validation.

And yet, I’ve walked away from writing time and time again, leaving a decades-long trail of unfinished short stories, novels, essays and blogs in my wake.

Now, as I approach my sixtieth birthday (how did that happen??  A topic for another post), having written my very first short story 50 years ago, I think I’ve finally figured out why I kept giving up on writing, only to keep returning to it.

Actually, I think there are a few reasons.

Mainly, though, I wanted my writing to support me financially, so I kept casting about for ways to accomplish that. I read dozens of books over the years on how to make money writing, and dabbled in everything from stringing for newspapers to attempting to write a romance novel (the first, while fun, paid pennies, and I found the latter to be some of the worst writing I ever did in my life).

I submitted article queries to magazines, back when writers waited weeks, even months, for snail mail replies, and while some of the rejection slips were encouraging, they still stung. And they didn’t make me any money.

I briefly considered writing song lyrics and greeting card verses, but never seriously pursued those avenues. I finished a couple of short stories, but those withered away in my file cabinet because I had no idea where to send them (remember, I only wanted to consider paying markets; non-paying literary magazines and honorable mentions  in contests were of no interest to me, and paying markets for short stories were rapidly drying up and therefore highly competitive…or was I simply afraid to compete?).

For a short period I even quit my day job and struck out on my own as a full-time freelancer. Armed with rolls of postage stamps, packages of large envelopes and photocopies of resumes and writing samples, I hawked my services to ad agencies, corporate communications departments and small businesses, looking every bit the unfocused and desperate amateur that I was. Miraculously, I even picked up a few assignments, which I woefully underpriced for fear of losing them.

It wasn’t all that long before I threw in the towel and scurried back to a steady paycheck and benefits.  I just didn’t like doing all that marketing for so little return, I reasoned. Freelance writing turned out to be 90 percent marketing and 10 percent writing, I lamented. Excuses, excuses.

Then came the advent of the internet. I marveled at the seemingly infinite new possibilities for writers to make money. The World Wide Web needed words; who better to feed this hungry giant, this global market, than those of us who excelled at stringing them together? Like a kid with a twenty dollar bill in a candy store, I gorged myself on learning about all of the ways writers could cash in on the ‘net.

Again I was all over the place, trying this and that, looking for that vein of gold, that oil deposit that could provide writers in general and myself in particular with an unending supply of riches…or at the very least a comfortably steady income. I bought courses that told me exactly what to do. I created a website and an ezine for writers, filled with content and affiliate links that most certainly would send rivers of cash my way.  I exchanged ads with other ezines and articles with other websites. I grew my subscriber list. Sold ad space. Bought more courses.

I made little, spent more and, after nearly a decade, gave up. I abandoned the ezine and eventually dismantled the website. Again, I threw in the towel.

For a time.

In recent years I’ve made some nice side money as a ghost-blogger, a pursuit that I daresay could produce (and most certainly does) a full-time income for writers who put their minds to it. I’ve written an ebook and dabbled with a few blogs of my own. Now I’ve started this one.

If you’ve been following my story and have gotten this far, you may already know why I’ve never been able to realize my dream as a self-sustaining freelance writer. Yet.

Believe it or not, I’ve only just recently realized the reasons myself.

  1. I never decided what kind of writer I truly wanted to be. Over the years, I flirted with all sorts of writing pursuits, and except for the website and ezine, never stuck with any of them long enough to develop any sort of traction. I was a writing jack of all trades, a fickle writer, a dilettante. Tough to admit. Writing has always been more faithful to me than I ever was to it.
  2. Similarly, I never committed to what I wanted my writing to Oh, I knew it when I produced pieces that felt genuine, that I could look back on proudly and say yes, I wrote that. Pieces I knew that wound their way into the hearts of those who read them as well. But I never stuck with that type of writing. It never seemed commercially viable, so what was the point?

The point was, of course, that I kept missing the point of what I loved most about being able to put thoughts into words and onto a page, then sending them out into the world. In my desperate attempts to make my writing pay off, I kept pimping it. Small wonder I kept losing interest in most the types of writing I attempted.

Small wonder that I kept coming back to the kind of writing my heart yearned to do.

See, I love writing about writing—the challenges, joy, possibilities and sense of fulfillment that writing evokes.

And I love writing to and for the creatives of the world—other writers, as well as artists, musicians and dream chasers of every ilk who were made to believe at a young age that what we loved to do most was worthless unless we learned how to make money doing it. Or that we never could make any sort of living doing it. That explains the real reason why I lovingly labored on the original WriteSuccess site and newsletter for nearly ten years. And why I’ve come back to it.

Last but indeed not least, I love writing about things that I feel, experience, notice or wonder about, in the hope that I can connect with at least one reader who has felt, experienced, noticed or wondered about the same thing. Or perhaps to help someone look at an old something in a new way.

I still want to show writers (and prove to myself) that we can generate decent incomes with our craft. Many writers do just that. But I think it begins with the lessons it took me decades to learn: deciding what kind of writer we want to be, and what it is we want our writing to do. Trying on different writing hats for the sole purpose of making a living just doesn’t cut it. It doesn’t create a consistent income, and it certainly doesn’t bring out the best in our writing. At least it never did for me.

Will I still play and experiment with my writing now and then? Sure. But will I ever again abandon the kind of writing that I know and love?

I think we both know the answer to that.




4 responses to “My Lifelong Writing Lesson

  1. Nice post Mary. I have been doing a search for writing work by using indeed. We’ll see how it goes. Keep going, thanks.

  2. To be a good writer is to start writing everyday. My favorite quote – “The writing life is essentially one of solitary confinement – if you can’t deal with this you needn’t apply.” — Will Self

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