The Horrible Things About Being A Full Time Writer

First off, you lose all of your friends. But hold off on that for a second. Because it gets worse.

I got thrown out of graduate school because I spent all my time writing novels that never got published. I failed five classes in a row and eventually they asked me to leave.

Was it worth it? I gave up one career (computer science) for another (writing) and I got nothing published for another 11 years.

So I constantly felt like a failure. And so did everyone around me. They all thought: “that guy is an idiot”. And they were mostly right.

Finally, 11 years later, I got my first paycheck for writing something. I got a $200 check. I framed it.

A few months ago, I threw the check in the garbage. Useless.

I’ve written 15 books. I’ve written 1000s of articles. I probably write over 1 million words a year.

One of my books has sold over 300,000 copies. My last book has sold about 50,000 copies so far. I have a book coming out on September 1, “The Rich Employee”.

Here's what full time writers know.

A) WRITERS DON'T MAKE MONEY

I mention the $200 check above. That's not real money. I had two kids, rent, etc.

You have to make more than that to pay the bills.

Even when I sell 300,000 copies of a book. That's a 99 cent book. Amazon takes 70%. The US government takes 40% after that.

It's over years. It's not a real salary and it can't be relied on for the next book unless you are JD Salinger.

B) WRITERS FIND ALTERNATIVE SOURCES OF INCOME

Speaking, consulting, using your growing platform to launch a company, creating a newsletter, perhaps going on television, building a company with other writers (like a publishing company), and so on.

Art is when you take what you see in the world and translate it through the prism of your experience.

If all you do is write, then the prism gets too weak to make art.

C) FIRST YOU TYPEWRITE, THEN YOU WRITE

Get the first draft done no matter what.

Then the real work begins. Take out the first paragraph. Take out the last. Take out every other word.

Sculpt the ugly mass of clay you are left with. People say this is rewriting. I prefer to think of this as sculpting.

Too many people agonize paragraph by paragraph.

Rush to the finish line. Then go back and walk over every step you made and see what you can do better. This is the real gift you give your reader.

D) DON'T WASTE MORE THAN SIX SECONDS

Every six seconds people feel the urge to turn away. Looking at tiny lines on a screen or a page is not natural.

So every six seconds (every sentence), you have to give someone a new hook.

E) MOST BOOKS SHOULD BE CHAPTERS. MOST CHAPTERS SHOULD BE PARAGRAPHS

A book is really a chapter that has been artificially expanded to look like a book. Don't fall for that trap.

Fill in as much information as possible in each paragraph. Don't think your audience is stupid.

F) 17 YEARS

This is how long it takes to be a good writer. I hope.

You can be a decent writer before then. You can be a paid writer before then.

But every writer I've ever interviewed (and I've interviewed many on my podcast and elsewhere) always seem to come down to that number.

Kurt Vonnegut is a classic example. Started writing in 1945 when he returned from the war. Didn't really have financial success with writing until about 1970 and even in 1968 all of his books were out of print.

So he kept going. Persistence, even more than rewriting, separates out the good writers from the bad writers.

G) DON'T WRITE FROM A PEDESTAL

Writers know that the world is a joke and nobody knows anything.

When you write like you know something, like you're an expert, then you are making a fool of yourself.

Even this article is BS. It's entertainment disguised as autobiography.

Many writers kill themselves because they've run out of things to joke about.

Put yourself in the writing. Don't say "10 things to make life better". Say, "10 things I had to do to make my life better or I would die."

H) PEOPLE HAVE NO SKILLS

Remember the character in the movie who walks in a room and instantly hits the guy who is about to slash him from behind?

That guy doesn't exist in the real world.

In the real world, we don't have skills. Nobody does. Remove your skills. In good writing, remove people's ability to deal with the world around them.

Now you can start telling the truth.

I) READING IS MAGIC

When you read a book, you get the entire curated life of another person.

So the more you read, the more lives you absorb. This gives you more experiences to write about.

Reading is critical to writing well. Read non-fiction for ideas. Read quality fiction to get better at writing.

J) THERE ARE NO ANSWERS, ONLY QUESTIONS

Writers ask questions and then try to explore them. This post is just an exploration.

A writer who provides an answer is not a writer but a preacher.


Oh, I forgot to talk about losing all of your friends. Suffice to say, you will lose most of them.

Some will hate what you say. Some will hate what you say about them. Some will be angry at you for reasons you never learn.

It's sad. It almost makes writing not worth it. Almost.

You can't argue with it. Let them hate you. You'll make new friends.


Don't pay attention to any of this. This is just my story.

You have your own unique failures, your own unique you.

Tell us about it.


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