There is a romantic notion that comes with being a writer. The moment you announce ‘I’m a writer’, people come up with different ideas about you. That you’re clever, that you’re creative, that you work everywhere, that you’re poor.
That last bit is closer to the truth, actually. These days everyone is a writer. The market is so saturated already that we’re paid next to nothing – mainly because we accept next to nothing.
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I’ve been a writer for over 15 years now – maybe even more if you counted the years I was learning to be a writer. So let me tell you what it’s really like to be one.
We make mistakes
Oh that we do. We are only humans and we do struggle with topics that are beyond our comprehension. For instance, when I first started out in Australia, the first work I got was as a journalist for the IT industry – an industry that was totally foreign to me. All I knew about the industry was that Apple owns Mac and the rest are PC.
But I did my work and read up on the topics I had to write on to familiarise myself. There were many times I had to ask a colleague for help but that’s okay. There is no shame in asking for help when you need it. Writers always end up bumping into topics they have no idea about, but if you do the work, you’ll end up understanding it. And if you don’t, just quote the people who know their shit.
It’s hard to get rich if your only skill is writing
When I told my father what I wanted to study in college, he asked if I was sure. “Because there’s no money in it,” he said. I didn’t believe him then but I do believe him now. Over the years, I’ve had to add to my skills in order to stay relevant and competitive in the industry. I learned how to use InDesign and Photoshop. I upgraded my photography skills and learned social media management.
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I educated myself on digital marketing and even fiction writing. Because of up-skilling I landed myself several jobs. It gave me an edge from my competitors. Harsh as it may be, in today’s world you need more than just one skill.
Writing is always like pulling teeth
When we sit down, the words don’t just flow right off our fingers without effort. There are moments, many many moments, when writing is indeed like the proverbial pulling of teeth. The blank page stares back at us, taunting us, mocking us – making us feel like our career as a writer is finally over. We dread those days. But even though the page (and our mind) is blank, we still have a deadline to beat.
The deadline never goes away. Sometimes, we write even when we think what we’re writing is utter rubbish – because it’s our job. The funny thing is that it’s a hit-and-miss with the audience too. Sometimes, when we think we’ve written our best, the feedback is mediocre. Then when we write something that we’ve pulled out of our asses at the last minute, the feedback from readers is fantastic. We don’t hit the target every single time, but we do try.
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So next time you meet someone who says he or she is a writer, give them a reassuring pat on the back. It’s never all rainbows.
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Kristyn M. Levis is a freelance writer, author and photographer based in Sydney. She is currently the managing editor of Her Collective and creative director of 3C Digital. Her first novel, The Girl Between Two Worlds, was published in 2016. Book two, The Girl Between Light and Dark, is set for release this year.