1. Writing for a living turns you into a different kind of writer. All writers are intricately tied to our work. We all view our identities as writers first and people second, but once you are a professional this identity takes on a new, heavier meaning. Slumps and blocks are no longer just frustrating aspects of the writing life, they are harbingers of disaster, notices from the universe that you should never have had the guts to call yourself a writer in the first place. When you are a professional writer who isn’t writing, you are certain you are nothing short of a failure. And, this failure isn’t restricted to work. For a professional writer, failure at work means—absolutely and without question—failure at life.
2. This perspective on failure is flawed, of course. Enormously flawed. We writers know this. It is also why so many of us get blocked, when we do. (After all, all writing blocks are psychological.) We know this too. Knowing it, however, rarely changes anything. Not when we’re in that hated, hated place where our work is either not going well or isn’t going at all.
3. Writing, like most things in life, is a cyclical process. Making peace with this process, and its times of ebb and flow, planting and harvest, is one of the hardest things any of us have to do, especially we professionals who believe that because someone has paid us for our work, and often, we should be able to make the muse show up any time we want.
4. This is another flawed belief. The muse cannot be tamed. Hell, she can barely be named. She will show up if and when she wants, wherever she wants, in whatever manner she wants. Our only hope is to be where she can find us, pen or other instrument in hand, when she chooses to arrive.
5. Waiting for the muse is dangerous. It has driven the best of us to despair, to drink, to drugs, to gambling, to any number of toxic behaviors. We must wait anyway.
6. The best method of waiting is butt in chair, pen in hand, words on paper. Even if the words suck. Even if they are uninspired and listless. Still, it is the healthiest way to wait, and the most likely to result in something worthwhile when the muse does show up. Of course, like so much of a writer’s life, knowing this rarely helps us do it.
7. Exchanging words for money will sometimes make you feel like a fraud. After all, most people assume you’re doing little more than sitting in front of a computer and typing. (This is, as a side note, what my seven-year-old daughter once told her teacher I did for a living: “My mom types. All day.”) Conversely, not being paid, once you have been paid, makes you feel like an even bigger fraud. Like you and your work suck, it’s just no one knew it and now they do, and you’ll never get paid again.
8. If you cannot handle rejection, insecurity, intense self-doubt, and bouts of minor work-induced depression, writing for a living is not for you. Being an artist of any kind is not for you. This is part of the process. It’s part of the job. You must be able to handle it—somehow.
9. You will need professional writer friends. People who do this for a living, and know what it means do this for a living. No one else can understand. And, you will need that understanding. On the days when you are feeling like throwing it all in and going to stand behind the counter at the nearest deli, filling drinks and ringing up sandwiches, you will need someone who understands why you feel this way and why you could never, ever do it.
10. And you can’t—you can’t trade it all in for something else. This is your dream. It is your life. It is who you are. That is why it is simultaneously so scary and so exhilarating. Your only hope is to embrace it—all of it—for what it is.