On Writing for a Living (or How I Didn’t Become a Writer)

Once upon a time, I was a girl who dreamed of becoming a writer—that is, for the purposes of this post, one I will define as someone who does writing as a fulltime profession, or at least has published a book.

Since the time I was about 10 y.o., I had been an active campus journalist. I was editor-in-chief of our school publication in both my elementary and high school years. I competed in numerous essay-writing and journalism contests, and in the course of it have received several writing awards. My proudest accomplishment was placing second in the feature-writing category of the country’s premier competition for student journalists, the National Schools Press Conference (NSPC).

To my young mind, all that was a pretty big deal. See, when you’re a child tossed in a sea of innumerable other faces in the arena called school, you try to figure out what makes you different. You try to figure out who you are. You cling to activities and subjects you either find enjoyable or have some degree of success at, as a sort of reassurance that this life thing ain’t so bad and that you don’t totally suck as a person. And when you find something that you enjoy doing AND at the same time actually do well in, it feels like you hit the jackpot. Writing was that something for me. I felt so lucky to have found something I not only enjoyed doing with a passion, but apparently was also good at. It felt to me like I had found my path. I was going to be a writer.

Interviewers ask famous writers why they write, and it was (if I remember correctly) the poet John Ashbery who answered, ‘Because I want to.’ Flannery O’Connor answered, ‘Because I’m good at it,’ and when the occasional interviewer asks me, I quote them both. Then I add that other than writing, I am completely unemployable. But really, secretly, when I’m not being smart-alecky, it’s because I want to and I’m good at it.” ~ Anne Lamott

But sometime around my junior year in high school, when people started to ask what I intended to do with my life, the reactions I received upon telling people I planned to become a writer weren’t exactly encouraging. In fact, many were horrified. “But writers starve!” they all said. And by ‘they,’ I mean the adults—you know, the section of the world’s population who’s “been there, done that,” so I was told I would maybe do well to listen to what they had to say.

I came to learn that when you’re a Filipino girl from a middle-class background, who’s expected to lead a financially stable career and live a non-starving life, you’re not supposed to aspire to become a writer. You should become either a teacher, a bank teller, or a nurse, or if you’re really smart and not averse to extra years of studying, you’re told you should go be a doctor or a lawyer. Writer was simply not in the list of the things you can or should aspire to become, because it was neither a “stable” nor a “practical” choice. I was told writers earn so little for so much work, and cautioned that the competition would be so stiff that only the insanely talented ever get to have some real success in that field. In a way, there too was the subliminal message, “Do you think people would really care to pay just to read what you have to say about things?

I understood the concern behind those cautions. In my life as a campus journalist, I got a taste of just how much work it took to produce a truly credible and worthy article. In my years competing in essay- and article-writing contests, I got to see the intimidating level of talent required for a piece of writing to stand out from the rest. I knew I could write, but I also knew I wasn’t insanely good at it. Why on earth would people care to read—much more pay for—words and sentences my brain just happened to piece together? In an ocean of written content already existing and continually added to by people way more talented than I was, why would my stories matter?

So in a way, I did understand why people tended to dissuade me from pursuing writing as a profession.

I understood…but at the same time, I didn’t. I didn’t understand why all these people didn’t understand. They didn’t understand how, to me, writing wasn’t simply something I wanted to do; it was who I was. It wasn’t just a way to earn money; it was a way of life. And to be told it wasn’t a “good” or “wise” choice for a profession took some processing in my mind. It took some kneading to accept in my heart.

Oprah: “This happens all the time. Anybody who can sing just a little bit, or they can write a piece of a poem, they think they’re supposed to be Maya Angelou all of a sudden. And you say people confuse talent with purpose.”

Bishop T.D. Jakes: “Yes, because so many times you have a modicum of talents in an area, maybe just enough talent to appreciate people who are really called to that area. It doesn’t mean that you need to necessarily go out and do that thing.”

The above exchange in one of Oprah’s Lifeclasses really struck me, because it touched on the reason why I didn’t pursue writing as a profession. Just because I could write, didn’t mean I would be good enough to make a living doing it. Now, on the one hand, we can chalk that up to acute self-awareness and a good sense of practicality that saved me from a lifelong struggle trying to make ends meet as the quintessential starving artist. On the other hand, we can just call it as it is—cowardice.

Yep, I didn’t pursue writing as a fulltime career because I was too chicken. Bok-bok-bok. I loved writing more than any other occupation—and I still do—but it was a pretty scary thing for me to stake my entire future on. The thing is, although I knew I could write, I feared that I didn’t have the talent, skill, and motivation enough to dish out consistently great write-ups for the rest of my life. Did I doubt my own talent/skill even before it had a chance to flourish? I don’t know. Maybe I’ll never know.

The artist uses the talent he has, wishing he had more talent. The talent uses the artist it has, wishing it had more artist.” ~ Robert Brault

Now, I continue to write, but more as a leisure and for my own sanity, not as a profession. Occasionally, during career transitions and breaks, I get to feel like a professional writer when I take on freelance ghostwriting projects. From time to time, I also get to have articles with my own name in the byline published in national publications (thus far, I’ve contributed three articles in newspapers and one in a teen magazine). During those times, the part of me that dreamed of doing writing as a fulltime career comes alive and pretends like it’s living the dream—getting a brief from editors, researching the topic, interviewing resource persons, having just words and words and words to grapple with all day long, daydreaming in coffee shops, overdosing on caffeine, putting the “pro” in procrastination, then hearing the footsteps of the deadline get close enough to jolt me back to grappling with words again—you get the picture.

Then when that phase is over, I go back to practicing my actual fulltime profession, which at this time is clinical psychology. And don’t get me wrong—I don’t resent being in the psychology field instead of being a fulltime writer. I have a passion for psychology and couldn’t be more thrilled that I get to practice it for a living. I truly feel that this is what I’m called to do at this leg of my life. I have so much I want to accomplish in terms of promoting mental well-being (especially at the community level), helping people cope with mental health issues, and eliminating the stigma against mental disorders. I want to get to do all these things, and I’m prepared to dedicate a considerable portion of my life to it.

Even though I currently don’t write for a living, writing remains to be an integral part of my life, my ever-constant friend and my saving grace. Writing isn’t a less worthy pursuit just because it’s not for publication/professional purposes. And here’s the thing: Just because I didn’t become a professional writer, doesn’t mean I won’t ever get to be one.

Because you know that girl who dreamed of becoming a writer—of doing writing as a profession and getting to publish a book someday? She continues to live on, inside of me. And one day, when the time is right, she will be called to come up to the surface again and write the way she was always meant to. This time, not just long enough to write a blog post or a journal entry. This time, not just to complete a freelance ghostwriting assignment. This time, not just as a pretend-life or a fantasy.

This time for real. This time, to fulfill her purpose.

You must understand that purpose is an underlying chemistry that makes you live your life…You may start out doing something that was not ‘the thing’ that you were created to do. It may only be the thing that leads to the thing you were created to do. So don’t stop at where you are as if it were the destination, when in fact in reality it may be the transportation that brings you into that thing you were created to do.” ~ Bishop T.D. Jakes

So if you too have a dream you’ve set aside at this time because—well, because life—don’t fret. Don’t lose hope. Don’t stop doing what you love, even if you only get to do it on the side or as a hobby. Don’t resent all the life choices you’ve already made. You may think those choices have only brought you farther and farther away from your dream, but you never know how the steps you’ve taken might actually turn out to be leading you to a full-circle moment, back to the opportunity to realize your dream—this time with you as a wiser, more capable person. This time not just as a fantasy.

This time for real. ♦

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something—your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.” ~ Steve Jobs

About the Author •

79 thoughts on “On Writing for a Living (or How I Didn’t Become a Writer)

  1. I have 5 flat “gratitude rocks” on my desk by my laptop (as my dream, also, is to become a writer who has several published books well behind her.) The rocks say “everything” “is” “falling” “into” place.” And everything is…it’s just not always possible to connect the dots until the full picture is in place. I LOVE your writing…

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you so much! Love the message of those gratitude rocks. Yes, I also believe there is an order in the way things are going, even though we may not see it yet from our perspective. We just gotta trust the process…our process of becoming. 🙂

      Liked by 3 people

      • Your reply just made my day! Thank you so much. ❤ I guess that is possible. Since I don't write fiction and am not inclined to doing novels, I've considered that if I were to publish anything on print one day, it would have to be some sort of a collection of essays. Thank you for the encouragement boost! 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Once every few years or so, someone says to me “You should write for a living” after they’ve seen something I’ve written. Working as a psychotherapist took up my entire mind, so I ignored them.
    I had a spell of home publishing after my mind burned out and I absolutely loved it. My readership niche was too small and eventually it failed.
    I’ve some so many other things since then, but I just keep coming back to writing.
    It’s in me, like it’s in you. I agree. Never give up.

    Liked by 6 people

  3. Really good article!
    I completely agree with you but I did a somehow opposite path. I am a mechanical engineer because to me it seemed the most reasonable thing to study when I was younger. Now I dream of something different and I recently started writing a book, even though I have no real expectation on publishing it any sooner (or ever). But I like to dream and my dreams will only end when I will stop trying.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Thank you, Mario! You’re absolutely right about our dreams only coming to an end when we stop trying. As Orson Welles said, “If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.”

      All the best on your writing journey, especially on your book! Whether it gets published or not, I believe there’s still incredible satisfaction at having created something out of nothing. Keep going. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  4. This is a wonderfully honest and heartfelt piece, one that many can relate to, whether they want to be writers or some other “starving” profession. Don’t let that light die out in you, because your writing is excellent.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Eilene! That means a lot. I really believe in encouraging writers and other artists to not give up on their craft. Sometimes I myself lose motivation, but encouragement from people like you remind me to keep going. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I had two of my ‘bits’ come together when I was in my 40’s. In the middle of a divorce, all hell breaking loose around me, I asked God where was the meaning in all this, where was my purpose in life.
    So it was at that point I did something I’ve always wanted to do…healing. So I jumped right outside my comfort zone and took up a Diploma in Remedial Massage and off I went. It was the greatest thing I ever did, going to work was never ‘work’, I enjoyed it…so much so that my other work friends couldn’t believe the happy face as I walked in the door each morning.
    But the greatest ‘bit’ was about to combine the two. For many years I had got ‘messages’ that came through, just bits and pieces that I would realise, shrug my shoulders and move on.
    But one day, in the middle of a massage, spirit passed on something for my client. I almost had a heart attack, and wouldn’t believe in myself enough to pass it on. Nor a few times after that.
    But eventually I realised it had purpose, the very thing I had asked for. The first time I passed something on to a client, after I did it I was waiting for her to call the police or come back to my place of work with an older brother to have a piece of me.
    But all that happened was she came back to thank me because the medical condition (that spirit passed onto me) had been found to be true and probably saved her from becoming very ill.
    It is a process of believing in yourself my friend, enough to love yourself by standing in that truth and being guided by your heart ❤

    Liked by 3 people

  6. I loved this so much. And I could relate! Since I was a kid I wanted to be a writer. And that’s just because I honestly don’t have many other talents. And funnily enough I also considered a career in psychology! But I ended up doing a writing degree and working as a journalist so I am writing for a living. Still looking forward to pursuing that same girlhood dream you had being ‘A Writer’ and publish a book. Maybe one day. Here’s to us dreamers xxxx

    Liked by 3 people

  7. You ARE a writer, and you are even a published writer who has made money doing it. So many steps ahead of those of us who dreamed of becoming a writer when we were younger. I find it fascinating how many people who commented here have been watching people and thinking about what makes them tick (a writer’s skill), and wound up in psychology and other healing professions. Am sure you have read bits about people who wrote books and eventually were considered authors after age 40 (if not, do a quick search on the internet). Don’t give up. And thank you for writing this blog, especially this posting, to encourage the rest of us and let us know we are not alone.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you very much, Judith! Your encouragement and reminders mean a lot. Yes, I’ve heard of authors who started writing and published later in their lives. They inspire me to not lose hope. Maybe sometimes we get to gain the wisdom and insight required for writing a book only after we’ve lived a good number of years, have watched enough people, and have pondered enough about what makes them tick. Thanks for reminding me that! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you! Your post was an encouragement; telling me to remind myself often of the reason I write. Writing for me is a way of processing ever more deeply what I’m learning about this thing I know as Trueness. I love my coaching clients, and I learn from them as I work with them. I write to share their stories in order to help others – whom I’ll never meet – live more consciously and fully their own story.

    Liked by 4 people

    • My pleasure, Jeff! Writing this was my way of encouraging myself too, and I’m so happy it can encourage people other than myself. It sounds like your writing has reached a point where it’s fulfilling a higher purpose, as an instrument to nobler ends. Bless you for pursuing that path. Wishing you all the best!

      Like

  9. Sometimes you meet people who discourage you to write, that there is no future in it. I write blogs just for the fun of it. Life would not be that stressful if you have a hobby that you really love doing.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. It’s funny, I have kept journals offline for years, and then online as well, on blogs for years, but never really had much desire to try making a living at it. For one, starting out, I probably wasn’t all that good at it lol. I a little bit of talent, enough to land in a high school journalism class in high school. That was short-lived because the first story I sought out to write turned out to be too controversial for a school paper to publish, so I rebelled and refused to write the rest of the year lol. Stubbornness really ought to be my middle name.

    But also in high school I too became interested in psychology and sociology; but I had to give that dream up because I was working class poor; no money for college. I ended up dropping out of high school, getting a G.E.D. and going to work. But I kept the writing all along; I knew I wasn’t all that good but I enjoyed doing it. I figured if I practiced, maybe I would improve and I have. But writing quality is more in the eye of the beholder; we are never really good at judging ourselves. I read once that Stephen King wrote “Carrie” and when he was finished he threw it in waste basket because he had been rejected so many times for his previous stories he just didn’t figure it was worth the postage to send out. His wife saved the manuscript and sent it out, never told him, and that was the story that jump started the rest of his career.

    I don’t even want to be professional writer, I am happy to just go on chronicling life in 21st century America. I would like to be able to use my ability to write in a job profession that was middle-class but who knows. I did go on to get an education, put myself into a ton of debt to do it, but I managed. My Bachelor’s is in Psychology; not clinical, but organizational behavior. My dream, which hinges entirely on getting a good enough job to be able to continue my education, is a doctorate in Clinical Psychology though. I am not giving it up either though as the years go by, it becomes less and less likely to be realized.

    Still…going to school at all was a dream once. When I started my Associates degree, I stated my goals, which included my dream of a doctorate degree and felt kind of foolish. I was cautioned to be sure to be realistic, but otherwise, I was not discouraged by my professors anyway; family was a different matter lol. I was told getting my Associate’s was realistic, maybe a Bachelor’s was also realistic but….heh, I got my Master’s before hitting the aggregate limit on borrowing for school. That is more than halfway to realizing my dream and a hell of a lot further than most people ever thought I would get.

    Never give up, never give in. Maybe you will write a book on a topic relevant to Psychology. Why not? Let me know when you do. I’ll buy it and read it.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you so much for that thoughtful sharing, Cherilyn. I think the fact that your first story was too controversial to publish was a sign that you *do* have the makings of a writer whose articles were interesting and honest! I guess sometimes it’s restrictions from people who’re afraid of stating the truth or critiquing controversial matters that hinder us from fulfilling our true potentials.

      Oh, I’m so happy to meet a fellow psychology enthusiast here! The narrative of how you surpassed discouragement and the expectations of the people around you, in order to pursue your psychology dream, is so inspiring. I’m betting we could do the same with our writing dream, if you’re ever interested in pursuing that path again.

      Yes, I do hope to someday write a book relevant to psychology… Hmm…I’ll go ahead and put your name on my List of Sure Buyers. Haha! Thank you so much! ❤ 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Wow…you certainly struck a chord with so many of us who have felt the same. I let myself become intimidated NOT to write after my first writing contest in Grade 6 – and then went on to become a grant writer in my professional life. I have NO idea where I am headed next but I AM writing and have never felt so fulfilled. Thanks (so much!) for your insights and inspiring words…

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Patti! I really feel like the WordPress community understands these sentiments, probably because as you said, many of us here have felt the same.

      It must be so fulfilling to get back to writing and do it for a living, despite having felt intimidated in the past. I guess it’s okay to not know exactly where we’re headed next…the important thing is we’re doing the best we can with the ‘now’ that we have. Your sharing has inspired me as well, so thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Wow. I can feel your passion just by reading this post. I can relate, the part where you were in Elementary and HS, you know, NSPC, OMG. That was my life when I was a student, it brought a smile to my face when you mentioned the School Paper, Competitions, Awards, God, so nostalgic. We have a little bit of similarity when it comes to sentiments about being a Writer, the only difference is that, you are a talented and amazing writer, I mean, the one who could make money just by writing something, I on the other hand is not too quite talented, I am not up to par, I can write, a little bit, but I am not that good.

    You totally rock!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yay, a fellow former student journalist / NSPC-mate! Hi there, Cynthia, it’s nice to connect with you here at the blogosphere. Thank you for your kind words! I’m inclined to stop you from saying you’re not that talented, “not up to par,” but I guess I’m guilty of the same kind of thinking about my own writing…

      The thing is, even though we tend to think we’re not that talented, we still gravitate towards writing. I’m sure you’ve felt the pull too; we can’t help but write. I guess having self-doubts is normal for many writers, and as long as those doubts don’t grow so big that they totally paralyze us from writing, that should be fine. Sometimes those self-doubts could drive us to continue practicing and strive to be better at writing, so that one day, when we meet the right opportunity, we would be up to par with the level it requires. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Awww. You are too kind. I am so thrilled and lucky I found your Page, I was literally drooling over your posts, and I’m still reading them. Ha ha!

        Thank you for the motivation, for someone with your caliber to say those things to me, was out of this world, I am deeply moved. I will try to change my beliefs about my writing skills, I will try to be better, and do better. I love writing, so much, people might think that I am weird or just wasting my time, but I don’t care, it keeps me sane.

        I am so happy to be following you. I know that I will learn a lot from you, I am just so happy. Thank you!!!

        Liked by 2 people

      • I’m only too happy to get to connect with and help motivate a fellow writer. Don’t worry about people who think we’re weird or just wasting our time with writing. If they had ink in their blood, they’d understand the impulse better, haha!

        Have you ever tried sending your writing to Inquirer’s Youngblood column? If you haven’t yet, you might want to look into it. 🙂

        Like

      • No. I am scared to submit anything. Ha ha! I think that my writings are merely just my view of the world, and I don’t think it’s enough and relevant to deserve a wide audience. But, thank you.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hmm… Okay, ultimately it’s your decision, but if you ever wanna try submitting, I’m here to help [just send me a line via the Contact form]! I understand how you may think your personal views of the world may not be “enough,” but Youngblood is all about publishing pieces that speak of exactly those personal views. So if you ever change your mind, you know what to do. 😉 Write. Write the truth about who you are or what you’ve experienced, not what you think the world will like. That’s more than enough. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hello. I actually did it. I sent something to Youngblood, I didn’t wanna do it, but as I was searching for writers like you, I saw this article about being published, and I was fascinated by it so I decided to give it a try. Thank you so much for pushing me. It may not get published but at least I tried.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Well at least you tried! I sent in I think three or four other articles to them that never got published. So yeah, sometimes it fits what they’re looking for, sometimes not. My love for writing still went on though, as I’m sure yours does too. 🙂

        Like

  13. Writing may be one of the best examples of an art that can be selected as an endeavor — and pursued with increasing excellence. Sure, some fundamental talent of word craft helps. But it’s not necessary. Music may also be another. And perhaps the physical arts, painting and sculpting.
    But writing, I think, is the best continuum of mastery. It’s cheap. You can do it anywhere. There a thousands of great resources and support groups. And, with perseverance, a writer may actually become renown due to the global distribution channel that is the internet.
    Luck, AM

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your thoughtful reply, Mole! I agree, writing is a skill that can be honed with practice. And yes, we’re very lucky nowadays that we get to utilize the internet to spread our work, truly beyond borders. I guess the true determining factors on whether one gets to pursue and live the writing profession are perseverance and courage. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  14. After reading this, one kicks themselves and says “ugh, she should be writing all the time, every day.” because everything here is so well said and stated. I took out a student loan to pursue a writing masters and it’s fascinating to see someone who loves writing so much, box it up and keep it on a controlled leash. It’s interesting in how we all really grapple with our own purpose and artistic needs.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for your kind words, Joseph! Yes, I think we all sense a particular purpose in us, and also some of us feel those artistic needs that beg fulfillment. I guess the way we blaze our paths as we attempt to fulfill those is ultimately what shapes our lives.

      Wishing you all the best in your writing journey! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Pingback: On Writing for a Living (or How I Didn’t Become a Writer) – Joseph Reilly Writes

  16. “You must understand that purpose is an underlying chemistry that makes you live your life…You may start out doing something that was not ‘the thing’ that you were created to do. ”
    Wise words indeed

    Liked by 3 people

  17. “Because you know that girl who dreamed of becoming a writer—of doing writing as a profession and getting to publish a book someday? She continues to live on, inside of me. And one day, when the time is right, she will be called to come up to the surface again and write the way she was always meant to. This time, not just long enough to write a blog post or a journal entry. This time, not just to complete a freelance ghostwriting assignment. This time, not just as a pretend-life or a fantasy.” – this is wonderful and encouraging!

    This time for real. This time, to fulfill her purpose.

    Liked by 2 people

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