People sometimes ask me, “What’s it like being a professional writer?”
As I think of a clever reply, I’m tempted to say that being a writer is like sorting through a giant tub of building blocks or finding your way out of the woods or some other daunting task. But no metaphor can really capture what writing is because it’s a constantly shifting array of discovery, doubt, delusion, relief, and achievement.
In short, writing for a living is really fun.
Watch the video below to learn about being a professional writer.
Before you start to wonder, no, the vast majority of my work day isn’t spent clacking away at a computer keyboard. In fact, a sizeable chunk of it is spent thinking. Thinking about the next sentence, thinking about what I want to say next or why I want to say it. Thinking about whether the sentence I just wrote sounds good. While I think about these things, I’ll stare out the window or at the I-beams on the ceiling until something worthwhile pops into my brain.
So when I get a new assignment, I research it like crazy, collecting every fact and idea that seems even halfway useful. Once I organize the best ideas into an outline, I've got a clear roadmap for my first draft.
Up to this point in the writing process, I’ve convinced myself that writing this article will be a breeze. I’ve also convinced myself that my words will immediately take the reader's breath away, and that my written wisdom will inspire people to win championships and invent new technology. I'm feeling good.
And then I read over my completed first draft, and my delusions meet cold, hard reality.
Some of my first draft prose is passable, sure, and a few parts may even be decent. But the vast majority of it is incoherent and clumsy. As I read over my labyrinth of broken words, I suddenly fear that I don’t know how to fix what I've written.
Writing is a solitary job, and self-doubt can quickly turn this solitude into isolation. Once I feel isolated, it doesn't take long before I start questioning my own abilities:
Is this paragraph boring?
Is this entire article boring?
Do I sound stupid?
In the middle of this draft infested with incomplete thoughts and verbal dead-ends, I wonder if I’m just an impostor pretending to be a writer, as graceful with words as a caveman smashing rocks. I feel like I'll be working on this article for the next decade.
This is the time when I have to pause and remind myself that first drafts are meant to be ugly, hard to follow, and unpleasant. They’re a starting point, and nothing more.
So I focus on one problem at a time, trying every idea that comes to mind. When I get stuck, I go to lunch or take a walk around the block or just step away from the computer for a minute. The answer usually comes to me once I’m away from my desk and (ironically) unable to write anything down.
Gradually, the draft gets better and better until I can’t spot any problems. I’ve spent several hours or maybe even a couple of days researching, outlining, writing, reading, and rewriting this thing. Surely it’s good to go, right? Of course it is.
I submit the draft for feedback, feeling optimistic again, delighted that I’ve conquered my doubts and written a flawless document free of blemishes.
Actually, no. Hold on.
According to the feedback I received, my writing is far from finished. Thankfully, I work with an editor whose intelligence and ability is only exceeded by his patience. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve submitted drafts with bad decisions, unfortunate omissions, or blatant typos, and he has always responded with constructive insights and support. His feedback turns my flawed drafts into polished GCFLearnFree.org articles.
Sometimes only a few things need revision. Sometimes the entire article needs to be reworked. I’ll admit that it can be tough to receive feedback, especially after I believed I had submitted a perfect draft. Doubt may try to creep back over me, but I have to remember that feedback is meant to boost my writing, not serve my ego. I need to hear it because it always elevates my work.
When the revisions are finally finished, our graphic designer adds an image and our style reviewer gives it her approval. Only then can I look back on my creation and say, “Wow, did I write that? That’s pretty good!”
Writing for a living can have tedious and stressful moments, sure. There are times when I just can’t think of another word to say. Sometimes my self-doubt tries to run the show. These feelings come with the territory.
But these difficult moments are nothing compared to how much I adore being a professional writer. That’s because my workday consists of thinking and exploring and creating and staring at the ceiling and challenging myself over and over and over again.
Like I said, writing for a living is really fun.