Writing is Work

February 6, 2008

Some of the participants in writers’ forums never cease to amaze me. They wax loquaciously about only writing when they feel like it, make excuses for not writing for large chunks of time, and don’t want to set a schedule or make firm commitments because “that makes it seem like work and that takes all the joy out of writing for me.”

Of course, these are the same ones who wonder why they can’t find an agent for the novel they plan to write that’s bound to be a bestseller. But they’re not willing to write it until they have a contract even though they have no published credits. They’re the ones  who always ask where to find the $1/word freelance assignments, yet don’t want to be tied to any sort of deadline.

They don’t want to do the work.

Hate to break it to you, baby-cakes, but if you’re going to have a career in this business, you’re going to have to put some work into it. If you’re not willing to dive in and quit the day job, you still have to work at it. You need to treat it like a second job until you’re in a position to make it your only job.

If you don’t work at your writing, you won’t publish. There are few brilliant idiot savant writers who can pull off sitting down once every three months and create a work of genius.

Chances are you aren’t one of them.

Acting like a professional and treating your writing as a job doesn’t have to mean the joy goes out of it. What’s wrong with loving your job? Plenty of people do. Most of them work in the arts, or deep into the sciences, and are passionately involved with what they do. They work at it AND they love it. Just because you sit in a cubicle all day hating your life doesn’t mean that is the only way to live.

But it won’t happen unless you MAKE it happen.

And that takes effort.

The words don’t write themselves. You have to create them. On schedule, without excuses. Unpublished writers have the luxury of not writing. Published writers do not. Not if they want to keep publishing.

There’s also a wonderful sense of accomplishment and joy when you finish a piece. Beyond finishing, there’s a sense of deep pleasure in honing the work to be the best it can be before you send it out on submission. It’s beyond satisfaction; it’s the sense of fulfilled creation.

The flip side of loving your work is that many people believe if you love it, it must not be worth much money. It often happens in the arts – producers feel you are “privileged” to work for them, and, whether they are undiplomatic enough to say so or not, many believe you should pay them to ply your craft. They forget that, without artists and craftsmen, they have nothing to sell. They want your talent to make large profits for themselves, but don’t think you should be proportionately compensated.


As many of us who’ve learned the hard way try to advise newcomers, if you gain a reputation for writing $4/500 word articles, you won’t graduate to the $1/word assignments. If you give it away too cheaply, it won’t be valued. And you won’t work your way out of the crap-writing hole.

That doesn’t mean never do a gig for nothing or for low pay. But balance it. Figure out if that particular assignment gives you something unique. It may only be great for you, not any of the other freelancers you know, and they may think you’re nuts to accept it; but if you see something good from it, do it. Not because the guy says, “Oh, do 20 articles at $1/pop and there’s a chance for ongoing work” but because you learn so much from doing a pro bono gig for your favorite foundation that you can parlay that passion and the craft you put into the project into high paying work for someone else down the line.

Hone your art and your craft. And don’t sell yourself short.

–Devon Ellington



  1. So true. I haven’t worked as hard as I do now for years (rat race to freelance) but the enjoyment and satisfaction is second to none.

  2. Excellent article, Devon. The advice is golden. d:)

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