There are a couple of writer stereotypes that appear again and again. In the age of social media, a lot of writers present themselves as (and for writer you can substitute painters, sculptors and other creative types):
- The poor, struggling writer
- The entrepreneurial, busy writer
It can be tempting to try to force yourself into one of these groups, if only because that’s what you’re used to seeing. However, if you don’t naturally fit a stereotypes, trying to emulate them will damage your writing, sap your energy and undermine your confidence.
The problem is neither of them are all that bad, and both have their benefits. I have plenty of writer friends who fit into both camps, and they are all fantastic writers. But it’s not an either/or. There is a happy middle ground, and you can learn something from both of them.
The poor, struggling writer
The destitute writer lives in a bed sit with a dozen other creative types, doing not much more than writing, eating beans and visiting art galleries. They are principled, moral and won’t give up on their dreams for anything or anyone, no matter what the obstacle or how depressing their story becomes. They release one book every ten years, and while it’s the best book about writing while living in a bed sit, eating beans and visiting art galleries, it never gets published and no one ever reads it.
When I was a creative writing masters student at Queens University Belfast, I was really struggling to make ends meet at one point. I could just about afford rent and other expenses. I decided that my art was more important than my financial security and I prioritized it. I’m not sure that the quality of the art I produced was any better than I did before, or have since, but I did write a lot.
I was a very productive writer, because I couldn’t afford to do much else. Access to the library computers was all I needed. I really enjoyed my writing, and my life was pretty darn good!
The lesson: The poor writer can be very productive because they immerse themselves in writing, with people around them following the same path. When I was student, I didn’t have much money, so I filled my time with writing rather than meals out and expensive hobbies. In order to be productive, try to emulate this – join a writers group, chat with writers on twitter, and if you’re bored for whatever reason, fill that gap with writing (or thinking about writing).
The millionaire entrepreneur
At the other end of the scale is the entrepreneurial writer, who uses search engine optimisation to get blog visitors, marketing techniques to drive sign ups to their mailing lists and creates a plethora of ‘useful’ information (you know, like a blog about productive writing) and giving their advice for free, hoping that it will lead to book sales and build a fan base. They churn out a half-dozen books a year, inevitably land a massive publishing deal and retire into the sunset…
When I started Write with Phil, I was mildly obsessed with turning it into a business. I followed some blogs like Smart Passive Income and Kindleprenuer. All of those gave me a number of tasks to improve the amount of money my blog made, and gave me various techniques to get thousands of email sign ups and start turning out hundreds of books.
I was a very productive writer during this phase, and it has carried on to the current posting schedule of Write with Phil. I wrote because I believed I had to, because it was the quickest way to build an audience, and an audience meant fans, and fans meant money! But soon, in order to keep up the posts and the input that this approach demanded, I started neglecting my writing. There was always another post about email marketing to take me away from my book.
The lesson: certain techniques, like regular blogging and being open with your readership, are really useful in order to build up a writing routine. I still use affiliate links on my pages, and I still give readers the chance to sign up for an email. It is, though, important to stop sinking into this world and to make sure that your priority is your writing, not blogging.
The best of both worlds
Writer stereotypes exist for a reason. Some people love the idea of struggling for their art, and some people love the idea of making millions from it. I hope I didn’t come across as negative. I think that both of these approaches have both positive and negative aspects. The trick is to find a balance that works for you.
Be interested in both techniques, and you can take elements of both. Both will improve your writing and you shouldn’t feel pressured to choose one or the other. You shouldn’t be putting your health (and financial security) at risk for your writing, or ignoring the other parts of life that make it worth living. But you shouldn’t be creating anything that is causing you a substantial amount of more work, or becomes a massive distraction from your writing.
In the end, I don’t think I’ve fallen into either of the stereotypes. I’ve found a balance that works for me, and I’ve become a boring 30-something who deep down wants someone to pay him to write stories.
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