Is the Writing Life Worth It?
In my day-to-day work as an agent, I am the bearer of far too much “bad news” to authors. I strategize futures in an industry where the future is anything but certain. I answer unanswerable questions, balance realism with optimism, and do my best to soothe troubled souls. In my brand-new role as self-published author, I experience the angst of writing a book and then desperately hoping people will read it. I’m well aware that the writing and publishing life isn’t an easy road.
Advice to authors always seems to be along the lines of persevere, don’t give up, keep trying, be patient. But there is an aspect we don’t talk much about, and that is the very real heartbreak that seems to be part and parcel of the publishing journey. I think we all have to ask ourselves: What is this writing life worth to us?
This quote from Umair Haque (slightly edited) says it beautifully, although it wasn’t written about the writing life—it was written about LIFE:
What’s it worth? … here’s the inconvenient truth: it’s going to take more than the tired old refrains of hard work, dedication, commitment, and perseverance. It’s going to take very real heartbreak, sorrow, grief, and disappointment. Only you can decide how much is too much…. A life well lived always demands one asks of one’s self: is it worth it? Is the heartache worth the breakthrough; is the desolation worth the accomplishment; is the anguish balanced by the jubilation; perhaps, even, are the moments of bitter despair, sometimes, finally, the very instants we treasure most? There’s no easy answer, no simplistic rule of thumb. The scales of life always hang before us — and always ask us to weigh the burden of our choices carefully.*
I am especially intrigued by the notion that our moments of bitter despair might end up to be the ones we treasure most — possibly because of their tendency to be turning points for us.
The last line of the quote — imploring us to weigh the burden of our choices carefully — weighs on me especially heavily. I must count the cost daily, and choose, again and again, which way I will go.
Is is worth it? Is your heartache worth the possibility of readers connecting with your work? Is the desolation worth the accomplishment of writing “The End”? How do you know if it’s worth it or not?
*Umair Haque quote from HBR blogs, 1/22/13, “How to Have a Year That Matters”
* * *
If you’re thinking about getting published, you may be interested in my e-book: How Do I Decide? Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing, available now on Amazon.
For someone who writes as a day job, I can understand the frustration of not getting published and getting your work “out there” for people to read and enjoy. For me, the reason I started up my blog(s) is because I have a passion for writing. Whether people are reading or not, I still enjoy it, just for the fun of it. =)
I’m still holding out for a chance at traditional publishing. I know how hard it is to get published, and with self publishing offering new opportunities and a chance to be in charge of all aspects of your book, it seems fruitless to hold on to an all but forgotten industry. Still even after rejections and unanswered queries, my heart tells me that I must continue to pursue a traditional route. I am not ready to give in; maybe because not enough time has passed or maybe I just need time to learn and grow. In the meantime I continue to reach out; social media provides a vast audience and I believe that with time the right opportunity will arise. Therefore I will pursue my dream in the way that I envisioned it, and only after all avenues are exhausted will I explore other options. So for now I remain cautiously optimistic and continue my pursuit.
I find writing to be exceptionally worthwhile if I’m sitting in a comfortable chair at Starbucks, drinking a bold grande.
Thanks to many of you who caused me to look back over my life and see so many wonderful things that have happened through my writing, even though there have been many disappointments that sometimes were so devastating, I didn’t think I wanted to go on.
From one letter I wrote, a publisher took a chance on me years ago as a writer of Sunday School curriculum. I wrote for them for 20+ years. Also wrote for some other Sunday School publishers who sent me to writers’ conferences, all expenses paid. This was not glamorous writing but still attended by many blessings and a little money to have some nice Christmases for my big family and pay a few bills.
I had to lay aside that kind of writing for another. God opened the door to pastoral ministry, so then when somebody asked me if I was still writing,I would say, “Just sermons and worship materials.” But now I know I’ve touched many and helped them have the courage to continue in the Christian way of life.
Finally, I had time to finish my Bible storybook and self-published it. I never knew how much work it would be to promote and sell it. But I do receive many wonderful comments from those who are using the book with children. Nothing can top that blessing! So I keep pushing on asking God for strength to keep going.
I’m sure I have been led in the way of my life. Thanks, God. And thank you all for listening to the ramblings of and older person who’s been there and back.
I doubt that traditional publishing concepts hold very well these days. So in that sense, no, it’s not worth it! Face it, very few people will read your works. But on another plane, yes, it is worth it. Just knowing that you’ve taken a story from concept to edited completion is quite an accomplishment. And no one can really say if you’ll succeed or not. In that sense, writing is a gift that you’ve correctly utilized. There’s more reward than immediately meets the eye for using one’s talents.
You bet it’s worth it. Sometimes I can’t sleep until I get that idea out of my head and onto the page. It might never be published, but at least I can now fall sleep.
I hate to say it, but I think that one has to write for one’s own benefit, with the actual publishing being a prize for only those wonderfully crafted few books. Not everyone is due the prize, so in order to continue to write, there must be another reason for doing so. In my case, writing is cathartic, calming…
I may never get the prize, but I still enjoy the journey!
It’s worth it on an emotional level, can’t think of anything more rewarding in fact. If I was in it for the money I would be very heart broken and most of the time would make more in a Chinese factory. I write what I want to read though, luckily there are some others that like reading the same thing I do.
Loved the quote. Simply said, and I think most writers will say, “Yes, it is worth it.”
[…] Is the Writing Life Worth It? […]
facebook:sidney ross [. …]sydrycalworks
Absolutely writing is worth it. Those times when I get a tidbit that my writing has a positive impact on people’s lives are more precious to me than gold. I can’t think of any profession where things go well all the time. It only feels different when it comes to writng because we put our hearts and souls into our work. I imagine artists, musicians, and others in the creative professions have similar ups and downs.
I think we just have to put self-doubt in its place – right in the trash bin.
Wonderful post and just what I needed to hear this week. I love it so much that I included it in my top blog posts for this week.
Thank you for sharing!
Is it worth it? Some days I’m not sure, but the risk of not trying is too big of a risk for me to take.
By faith, I write. God has gifted me and called me to do it. Out of my heart flow the words he inspires, words that help others and that express the message he has built into my life. On the day when he evaluates my motives, my efforts, and my heart, I hope to hear his “Well done, good and faithful servant!”
In this wonderful world of duality with which we are always faced (and should leave behind) the next question is:
If it’s not worth it, do you have the courage to leave it behind?
If you do, then yes it has been worth it as you are closer to finding out what you are, and value, by discover that which you aren’t and don’t.
But if writing calls you back and you just can’t ignore it’s whispers, then it is worth every moment…until it’s not.
I found every step of this journey a valuable and worthy of part my life.
[…] Gardner Is the Writing Life Worth It? 8 Ways to Help Your Favorite Author 3 Ways to Change Your Thinking […]
[…] I write to give glory to God, to use the gifts he has given me, and to encourage others who have been wounded or are struggling. God sees my husband’s generosity, and God sees my heart overflowing onto paper. I write for him. Writing is my act of praise, love, and adoration of the One who redeemed me. How do I know it is worth it? […]
Ultimately, writing is something I have to do for my own mental and spiritual health. No matter how frustrating it is—and with four completed, well-written, unpublished novels sitting on my hard drive, I know how frustrating it is—I know that if I quit, I’ll never become the person I want to be.
Thanks – I needed that today! My poetry book is 90% complete for the self-pulbisher, but that last 10% has escaped me. I only need the permissions for scripture I used, the back of the front page and an afterword. Having a broken leg has derailed me, but it is no excuse. I’ve got to focus!
My bottom line of worthiness-
On my last day, do I want to go having been safe from discouragement or face the discouragement of my cowardice? I guess I’ve resisted the call long enough.
A question I’ve asked myself a lot, especially when it seems I have too much other on my plate. To write, I have to make sacrifices in other areas. My house isn’t going to be clean. The kids might have to stay with a sitter or I’ll give up a night of quality time with my husband. And if I don’t ever get paid for it, will I think I’ve wasted my time? Donald Miller says the more conflict in a story, the better the story. So, if the writing life is filled with pain, grief, desperation, disappointment, etc., in the end, it makes for a better story. Not the easiest thing to hear, but sometimes it makes the next step a little easier.
Yes, GRIEF is real in this industry. I was unaware of this side effect of being a writer when I started out. But I’ve experienced those prolonged lulls (and by prolonged, I mean years) of not having that “Yes, we’re publishing your book” time. You wrestle with God. You wrestle with yourself. You wrestle with comparison. And in the end, you either commit to keep wrestling or you give up. I teeter between those extremes frequently. But I guess I’m still wrestling for now.
You have to decide for yourself the value you get out of writing. Some people simply want to do it to get rich or become famous. They don’t stay around long because that’s an unsustainable goal. Plus, writing is HARD. Me? I HAVE to write. I have to open up a vein and let the creativity flow out of me or else I don’t function as well. Do I want people to read what I’ve written? Yes. Would I love to support my family doing what I love most in the world? Absolutely. But its value to me isn’t monetary, it is deeper than that, and therefore worth all the struggles and pain and hassles that occasionally come along with writing.
My “writing” came only as a result of people asking for the content they were hearing me speak about in Sunday School classes and other events. I have never written and then hoped someone would like it. I only write as expansions on what people have already responded to in my blogs, podcasts and speaking events. So my writing is a response and amplification – not something never heard before.
“Is it worth it?” Yes – because the writing is only one method of the communication I’m doing anyway. I’m not dependent on the writing being a central focus for sharing my message.
Yes. Simple as that. If it’s the passion placed on your heart, nothing else is more fulfilling than pursuing it. As Ms. Meyer said earlier, we are a society that gives up way too easily. It’s the things we strive, sweat, and struggle for that are of the greatest value when the day is done.
Great points and great responses. I agree wholeheartedly that it is worth it. It’s funny, twenty years ago I was an aspiring artist. I stayed the course and became one of the lucky few who was able to make a decent living from my art. Today, I’m suffering the physical and mental results of that effort and switching course. I’m starting out all over again as a writer. Somebody asked me last year, when I published my first book, what my goals were. I said,”If I could change one life, that would be worth it.” Well, the book did change some lives and when I got those emails from those readers, something in me changed. I just finished writing my second book and am getting ready for the rejections. They’re just stepping stones. I’ll get there. I did it once before and I’ll do it again and then, some day, when I’m tired of the commercial aspects, frustrated with having to crank out the same kind of work over and over again, I’ll do something else. It’s what keeps me alive.
I started writing when I was in high school…a few more decades have passed since then. I’ve been rejected and done the questioning that all comes with it, just like every writer does.
BUT… last week, I walked into my local Walmart and looked at the book section, and there it was. My book. On the top shelf of the Harlequin section.
I started to cry, and in that moment…every little bit along the way was worth it.
I’ve asked myself this so many times, often with tears. The problem is that I can’t not write. But I want to be read, too. Not that I’m a great writer, just that I have something to say and would like someone to hear/read it. If they don’t, it would be sort of like speaking to an empty room.
So I’ve given up over and over. But then I’ve begun again over and over. In December, for different reasons, I decided to self-publish my first mystery. I’m glad I didn’t walk away from writing forever.
I’ve had several good experiences, but this one is special. A friend that I never expected to read it did read it. This person has been through some especially rough times, and he has developed some very negative attitudes about everything. So I didn’t expect much from him.
He loved the book! He was so into it that, because he couldn’t download it anywhere else, he read the whole book on his cell phone (i-phone or something like that). He loved it! Knowing I gave him a little break from reality that he actuality enjoyed crosses out many of those bad/sad days.
Will it all balance out? I don’t know. But for today, it is worth it.
Yes because it’s what I do. It would be great to be recognized as some great writer with millions reading it. It would be great just to get it published. But it’s what I do. I do it anyway. Life is a gift as is story telling.
Yesterday and today it’s not. Hoping tomorrow will be different. Not real hopeful.
I’ve had two books agented out and editors loved them both. What they hated was that my books were memoirs and I’m not a celebrity
4 years of work and they said they wouldn’t take a chance on me and that they needed money from celebrity memoirs to make money to take chances on novel writers
I sold over 4,000 of them as a self published writer and still hate the books, the process and the ridiculous notion that only celebrity memoirs sell
Most of the really good memoirs were written by nobodys like me
The heartbreak is much more palpable if an agent can tell me why they didn’t like my work.
Marriage is hard work, but because my husband lets me know where I need improvement, it’s not as difficult than if he just said “I can’t do this anymore” while throwing his hands in the air in frustration without any explanation.
That’s the hardest part to stomach as a writer – not knowing what needs improvement or if it needs it at all (meaning I’ve just stumbled upon an agent who *just* signed someone on with a similar storyline or maybe someone who’s having a bad day).
My need to write is too overwhelming to ignore, so in a word, YES, the heartache is worth it, but some days those rejections are harder to take than other days.
Writing comes from a Source far greater than myself. It is my purpose to write because It tells me so; therefore, I am worthy to write and thus my work has value.
Thanks for your post.
Great post, Rachelle! Saw the HBR piece last week and it blew me away. Certainly generated a lot of comment over there, as it has – and is still ongoing – here. Thanks to all who are adding their thoughts because this goes far beyond writing. It’s all about life.
“Only you can decide how much is too much….” We really need to exercise extreme caution not to compare our journeys with everyone else’s. (I’m reminding myself here.) Everyone has different circumstances, and one writer might endure for ten years while another might for two. What matters is being in God’s will. Thanks, Rachelle, for sharing such a great quote.
What a great post. You ask good questions, Rachelle. Is the heartache worth it? Yes. The hope that my words, story can touch a reader’s heart and encourage them, then, yes the heartache, the desolation is worth it. Keeping the bigger picture in focus and putting in the time, effort, and sacrifice to write is worth it.
You have captured the daily writer question very well. At the end of the day sometimes the answer feels like a “no.” In the morning though, the previous answer is forgotten and a new day brings a welcome “yes.” Such is the roller coaster life of an addiction. Thanks for the piece. – John
If we find fulfillment in our writing it’s worth it. If only a few others can learn or enjoy our writing it’s worth it. If we keep writing, publishing (self in my case), and networking we will continue to gain readers and it’s worth it.
[…] Read more at Is the Writing Life Worth It? – Rachelle Gardner. […]
I like that quote — it really sums it up. And it is a question I do consider from time to time, which is really fine with me. I know I’d be questioning whatever I decided to do. As Socrates said: an unexamined life is not worth living. And for me, the same can certainly be said of the writing life.
As a far-from-established writer, the writing life is worth it to me because it is what just happens sort of naturally for me. I don’t know how to not write; it is the way I make sense of this world. I’ve made a little money at it, and I certainly hope to one day make a living at it, but even if I don’t, I’ll do it anyway because I need to write.
For years, I stood quietly in a line-up of other meek pleasers. Then I heard a line in a movie that blew me away, “a life lived in fear is a life half lived”.
God didn’t give me a spirit of fear,it was dumped on me by a few adults who mistook shyness for pliability. A few decades of “do this, because you cannot possibly think you can do that” and one either fights back or fails under the weight of it all.
I’m not writing to impress anyone who shot me down, I’m writing for those who need to be lifted up.
I already know it’s worth it, I just need to make sure the ‘half lived’ part gets rescued and put to rights.
I love this, Jennifer! Great perspective!
Great line! Something we people-pleasers need to chew on….
No complicated answer:
Yes, it is worth it. For me.
This is a question I have dealt with over and over. I feel that I have been trying for so long and not getting anywhere. I love all my books and am not sorry I wrote any of them, but do I want to keep going through the agony of submitting and being rejected over and over? It would be worth it if I knew that someday I would be successful, but I’m not sure about that at all.
And there is also the possibility that I will get published and that life as an author will not be what I want or expect, and then I will really decide that it wasn’t worth it. But for now, I keep trying…
For anyone who truly feels called by God to write, it is absolutely worth it.
In other news, I am about halfway through your new book, Rachelle. I have self-pubbed twice and have been considering traditional for my next book…your book is extremely helpful to me in weighing it all out. It’s also making me wish I had tried traditional from the start.
To write is to dream. No one starts to write a novel or a book of any kind without first dreaming of completing it. And whatever reality may prove, we all dream of readers buying our books, reading our books, and being changed in some way. The dream is worth it. Even if no one ever reads a book we’ve written, the dream is worth it.
The sad things in life happen whether we write about them or not. I began journal writing over 20 years ago, after a painful break-up. I was very lonely. My daughter was studying in Spain and the rest of my family was at least three hours away. I am still journaling.
Whatever kind of writing one does, it helps the writer deal with the tragedies and losses that are part of life. And maybe what we write will be of service to someone else who has suffered.
This is an excellent topic and one I was JUST thinking about before I saw this post. I spent much of yesterday struggling through a revision. And as if that weren’t enough, I also worried the entire time whether I was spending enough time with my kids. Do I sacrifice them to write? Do I sacrifice writing for them? Am I striking the right balance? Because, of course, there are days I spend entirely with them and do not write. It’s on my mind constantly… And as for those moments of bitter despair, I think there’s a lot of truth to that quote. Getting through some of those most difficult writing moments — when you think you have nothing — is something I am very proud of. It’s true, in some ways they are instants I treasure most. Overcoming. Conquering. Reaching deep down and finding something I didn’t know was there. It’s an amazing feeling. And, I guess in the end worth the sacrifice. But I’m sure I’ll keep worrying anyway. It’s part of my process. 🙂
Such an interesting comment discussion and a challenging question – is it worth it? There are times in my writing life when I’m desolate over rejection, especially when it looked like ‘this was it, the big breakthrough. In those times, when my sense of perspective founders and all the wonderful blessings of my life are eclipsed by an ultimate ‘no’ from an agent, I ask myself, do I need to set myself up for this much heartache?
But the balance on the scales is having a job that gives me more joy and fulfilment than anything else in my varied career. It’s a job where I never clock watch, quite the opposite. Hours can flash past and they feel like minutes.It’s a job that gives me license to capitalize on my over-active imagination, to experiment endlessly with words, to exercise a precious gift when, for so many, the daily toil means putting their gifts on hold for a leisure time that never materializes. As another commenter, Andrew, pointed out ‘we’ve got it pretty good’.
The other day I was reading the well-known New Testament passage about Peter walking to Jesus across a stormy sea. I got a fresh insight into that account. At the point where Peter caved in to the impossible odds stacked against him, he must have been almost at his goal, close enough for Jesus to reach out and catch hold of him. And that’s another big reason I don’t give up. I’ve come so far – I don’t want to risk caving in when I’m within touching distance.
It’s certainly worth it to those who end up making a decent living from their writing. Hard work and perseverance won’t guarantee success, however.
As a matter of fact, I am not a big fan of hard work and have never been. I am a proponent of working smart.
These important words from one of my favorite writers apply:
“It’s better to do a sub-par job working on the right project than a great job working on the wrong project.”
— Robert J. Ringer
Working on the right project requires having the critical skills to know what projects to work on and what projects to avoid altogether. Problem is, most people think they have critical thinking skills but really don’t.
Highly successful writer Russell Blake says on one of his recent blogs:
“Yes, hard work is generally a good recipe, although not a guarantee of success, in any business. I think there are lots of authors out there with tremendous talent, but because of their day job, inadequate time resources to devote what it takes to make this happen.”
“There are also plenty who are marginal, but have the time, but lack the critical thinking skills to figure out what the best way to proceed is. These are the folks who buy the “How To Sell Blazillions!” books and then invest thousands of hours in marketing that doesn’t work for them.”
“I believe that every author’s journey is different, and no two will have the same experience. But each success will be atypical, and impossible to duplicate, which is both part of the magic, as well as the frustration, of this business. Hey, if this was easy, everyone would be doing it . . . ”
No, this business is not easy. Even so working smart is the key and not working hard.
Once you make it in this business by working smart, the monetary gains are just one of several great benefits. Another benefit is hearing from readers that you are making a difference in their lives. Even though I have received hundreds of letters, emails, and phone calls from readers over the years, I still experience great satisfaction when I hear from another reader.
This is one of the shortest and sweetest e-mails/letters sent to me recently.
“Been reading your books forever Ernie!
I still have them on my bookshelf and frisk my guests on the way out so the books won’t be ‘borrowed’.”
— Brenda Thompson, Nova Scotia
Of course, if you are writing just for the pleasure and satisfaction that comes from writing, with no desire for any other rewards, every thing I have said is totally irrevelant.
Ernie J. Zelinski
International Best-Selling Author
“Helping Adventurous Souls Live Prosperous and Free”
Author of the Bestseller “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”
(Over 175,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)
and the International Bestseller “The Joy of Not Working’
(Over 250,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)
I was going to weigh in on this post — which I greatly enjoyed reading at the end of one day and the start of another.
But then I I read the comments already logged in … ones like Gabrielle’s and Andrew’s … well, all of them.
And I find I’d rather keep listening in on the conversation.
I agree Beth 🙂 I’m listening.
Writing’s a privilege, and a voluntary activity. It has its moments of frustration, sure. It has its disappointments. And there are the lights defined by these shadows, the joys of recognition, and warm glow of accomplishment
It’s not life and death – and life and death are out there. The deepest lows in a writer’s life are nothing compared to holding a child who moments before was warm with life and hope – and whose breaths are now fading into a death rattle.
I’m not trying to rope in some good hyperbole. But I think we need to remind ourselves that we’ve got it pretty good, and avoid, in our hearts, over-dramatizing the challenges – and finding that we have spent emotional capital on moments that didn’t warrant the cost.
If we do, we’ll one day realize that we cried when we should have laughed. As writers, emotion is the currency of our trade. The danger is being caught up in it.
That, more than anything, is the potential price.
Writing’s worth it. Buying a sorrow of my own manufacture – never.
“The deepest lows in a writer’s life are nothing compared to holding a child who moments before was warm with life and hope – and whose breaths are now fading into a death rattle”.
That puts it all into perspective. Some things we choose, and some things choose us. No matter what passions drive us, writing is something we choose, suffering chooses us.
Finding we have spent emotional capitol on moments that didn’t warrant the cost – there it is, just like worry and second guessing oneself instead of moving forward.
Just do what your hand finds to do. If something is not worth the cost, it is impossible to go back and un-pay for it.
Amen, Andrew Budek-Schmeisser!
Anything worth having, is going to be hard to achieve. A good marriage, a healthy family, a deep and abiding faith, becoming published – all of it is hard. I think so often in our culture we give up way too easily. Marriages fail, parents walk away, people turn from God and writer’s stop pursuing. If I’m going to live a life that is truly great, then I must be a person of endurance, integrity and faith. One of my favorite sayings is: “The will of God will never take you where the grace of God will not protect you.” If God has called us to be writers, then He has given us the grace to persevere. I don’t have the grace to be an elementary school band teacher (heaven forbid), but I do have the grace to be a writer. I will live each day with His grace – and in the end, I know I will look back and say: “Yes, it was worth it. I cried, I laughed, I toiled and I celebrated, but through it all, I walked in God’s will.” And that’s the only place I want to be.
Well said 😉
Wow. I mean…just wow. Love how you put this.
Well said, Gabrielle!!!
If you ever find yourself stuck in a classroom, call me and I’ll drive the get-away car.
Love this saying, love your attitude, and love you!
So well said. And for the record, being an elementary school teacher is actually easier than being a mom some days. 😉
In God’s will – yes! Wonderfully said.
Agreeing with Gabrielle’s comment. Beautifully written. Thanks!
I have to believe it’s worth it. Otherwise, what’s the point in trying anything at all? I write because I love it. I also write to make sense of life and heartbreak around me. Nothing good is ever easy.
Very good point – either everything we choose to do (as long as we choose it with a sincere intention) is worthwhile in the eternal calculus…or nothing is.
Oddly enough that same question is asked at the end of the play Stage Door. The character answers “Yes, it was worth it.” But how the actor reads and interprest the line is everything. If you toss it off, it has quite a different meaning…
For me, both as an actor and a writer the answer is a sincere and joyful “Yes!”
I am loving the journey.
There are times of discouragement and despair, times of slogging, times of inspiration, and times of incredible joy. I revise my writing and my acting. I would not go back and revise the choice I made to begin the journey.
The only unbearable heartbreak I could never endure would be to live a life without writing. I must write. It is everything of my passions. I do not have a care for any rejections or harsh criticisms, for if I am writing, I am me. It is always worth it for me. Nothing would be worth the alternative.
Ditto to what Regibald Inkling and Melinda Viergever Inman said! That is me in a nutshell.
God bless, Anne Marie 🙂