This article belongs to The Writing Life—The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly column.

The Beginning


After months or years of planning, you have finally done it. You have weaned yourself from your pay-the-bills job to pursue a career that will pay less than half (and half is if you're lucky) of what you made before. In your new life as a freelance writer you will have to contend with jealous types who will question your motives, ask if you have really thought this through, offer (useless) tips on organizing your time (i.e. "Are you working so much because you are watching TV all day? Perhaps you should shut the tube off"), and generally not be as supportive as you have hoped.


I am here to welcome you into this new world and lifestyle. Revel in it. Congratulate yourself on making this courageous leap. Spend a week appreciating how great life can be when you make your own hours. And once you have done all this, take a deep breath, because this freelancing gig is not easy. But let's keep that between us, OK? We don't need to give those naysayers extra ammo.


Since you are a writer, you already know about the crosses we bear. The low self-esteem, never thinking a finished assignment is good enough, the pressure to live up to some Emersonian ideal of someone who is content just writing. This last one, where we are expected to write and revise for no other reason than the love of the craft is what outsiders think defines "true" writers. I am here to say that's a load of garbage.


Purists reading this will scoff at me. They will say that I should just write because I love to write. That is what real artists do. Then again, purists would be in some cabin in the middle of the woods, with no access to the Internet or electricity, surviving only on their inner passion to put words down on paper. So this must mean there is no one to judge me or the rest of you honest enough to admit that you will not be truly happy until your book is published or your short story is printed in The New Yorker.


This is not to say that you have made the wrong decision, so put that resume back in the trash. I chose this field — deadlines and all — and, for the most part, I like what I do. But, let's be real, shall we? Does an architect say, "I don't care if I never design a real building. I'm just happy sitting in my basement and making sketches?" Of course not! It's fantastic if we can do a job we like; that's not always possible. But why, just because it's an artistic field, should we apologize for wanting to get paid for it or to have dreams that don't consist of eating Ramen noodles for the rest of our lives?


My goal with this column is to give a glimpse into the writing life — good (yes, sometimes we can hang in our pajamas all day) and bad — provide tips on publication, answer all those burning questions new writers must have like "Were my four years of college wasted?" (The quick answer is no; so breathe easy). And to let other writers know that their neurosis, self-doubt, and aspirations are all normal. They are, after all, what makes us so unique and lovable.