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What It Means to Be a Working Writer

They will tell you that you’re not a real writer. They say that having another job you do for money makes you soft. Don’t you believe in yourself enough to suffer, to struggle, they ask? They pretend it’s a question, but to them, it’s not a question; they only accept one answer. If you care enough, you’ll dedicate yourself to The Art, they say, and anything less than that stark, all-in commitment marks you as a creative failure. If you get hungry enough–literally hungry, they say–then The Art you make will be superior and success will flow to you like water and all manner of things shall be well.

When they say this, they are wrong.

There are writers who rely solely on their writing, fiction or nonfiction, for income. There are writers with full-time jobs that have nothing to do with writing, and these writers fit in their creative pursuits early in the morning, late at night, on vacation days, whenever. There are stay-at-home parents whose primary work, unpaid though it may be, can be all-consuming, and they, too, write in the stolen moments, during naps, or after bedtime, or when one kid can be convinced to read a book to the other one, or on the bleachers at a soccer game. (Hockey game. Lacrosse game. Swim meet. Ballet lesson. You get the idea.)

They are all writers. If you write, you are a writer. That’s pretty much how the definition works.

And you are a working writer.

The type of work you do, writing-related or otherwise, does not make you more or less legitimate. Starving does not make you better. Or maybe it does–maybe you have thrown caution to the wind and dedicated yourself to full-time writing without a back-up plan and maybe the writing you’re producing now is pure gold, sheer magic, the best you’ve ever written–but if that isn’t the situation you find yourself in, don’t you dare think of yourself as less than. Don’t let anyone tell you that’s the only way to do things.

There are an infinite number of ways to do things. (And because you’re a writer, you can probably imagine somewhere between 15 and 83 of them off the top of your head. Good job, writer!)

Look, the internet is both the cause of and solution to all life’s problems, but don’t believe anyone on the internet who tells you what it takes to be a real writer. Yes, I acknowledge this is a ridiculous thing to say in an essay on the internet about what it means to be a particular type of writer. But note that I would never use the word “real” in this context. We’re writers, after all, aren’t we? Every word counts.

Do the work you need to do to live the life you want to live. Me, I work full-time; I’m taking a vacation day tomorrow because I have a book coming out [1] that day, and then the day after that, it’s back to the office. Having the income from a full-time job frees me from the need to produce creative work on a defined schedule; there’s food on the table regardless of whether I write a book a year, a book every two years, five years, ten years, more. I have friends who are lucky enough to write full-time and that has its own benefits and drawbacks. Whatever work you do, whenever and however you write, that’s your decision. Don’t let some chucklehead on the internet make it for you.

Now, whatever it means for you: back to work.

About Greer Macallister [2]

Greer Macallister's debut novel THE MAGICIAN'S LIE was an Indie Next pick, Target Book Club selection, and a USA Today bestseller, and has been optioned for film by Jessica Chastain's Freckle Films. Her novel GIRL IN DISGUISE, about pioneering private investigator Kate Warne, received a starred review from PW, which called it "a well-told, superb story." Her next novel WOMAN 99 is forthcoming from Sourcebooks in March 2019.