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12 Things You Have to Give Up to Be a Successful Writer


I get letters from aspiring writers from time to time. Here’s one of them now:

Dear Famous Author Bill Ferris:

I want to be a successful writer, but it takes time and hard work, both of which suck. How do I become a success without having to work for it, and when do I get my participation trophy?

Thanks for being so handsome.

Writer Person

This real letter, which I absolutely did not make up as a straw-man argument, perfectly illustrates that the only thing keeping you from writing success is you. It’s not that you don’t want to succeed, it’s that you’ve prioritized other things ahead of your writing—cable television, video games, your job, a meaningful social life, your family. None of these things are going to help you achieve the success you crave. What’s really important to you? You’re going to have to make some difficult choices about your life. Here’s what you’ll have to give up to become a successful writer.

  1. Your sense of entitlement: Nobody promised you success, other than all those writing-advice columns about how to achieve success. You have to earn it in this business, baby!
  2. Excuses: Only when you admit that your success or failure is completely within your control can you truly succeed as a writer. Remember: whether you believe you can, or you believe you can’t, you’re writing, which is exactly how that saying goes.
  3. Friends: This one will be easy. In the unlikely event that a misanthropic writer such as yourself could ever develop friendships, your work habits, distracted demeanor, mercenary willingness to harvest every conversation for written content, and disproportionate burden on your comrades’ bar tabs will drive them off naturally.
  4. A vial of your own blood: When the time comes, you’ll understand why—and you’ll be eager to wield the knife yourself.
  5. Extra words: You must eliminate all unnecessary words from your writing. For instance, in my first draft, that last sentence took an entire page.
  6. Time: I know it seems like you’d be on top of the best seller list if only you had more time to write, but the fact is, nobody is going to magically give you the time you need. The wizards in charge of such things have already given that time to me, and I’ve already squandered it, so you’ll have to carve out those precious writing minutes for yourself.
  7. Your hobbies: Everything you do that does not involve pecking away at your laptop (which cost more than your first car) or scribbling into a notebook (which is nicer than your first laptop) will seem like freeloading—ironic, considering how many of your hours at the office have been secretly spent working on your book.

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    photo by Mauro Sartori

    Your awareness of the world around you: I never said that all sacrifices would be bad.

  2. Vacations that don’t involve writing: All that time that you’re not spending playing video games and looking at social media can be transferred to your kids as they get used to staring at their tablets and spending summer vacations at writing conventions.
  3. Extra space in your home: That space is for bookshelves now. It doesn’t matter if you prefer ebooks or audiobooks; every wall must contain bookshelves, every window shoudl look upon a writing desk, every corner host a reading lamp. The TV can stay until the series finale of Game of Thrones or the book-based television program of your choice.
  4. Weekends: When you’re a writer, weekends are your workdays, except it’s a job you can’t quit, working for a boss you can’t stand.
  5. The priceless amulet hidden behind the back panel in your pantry: You thought you could hide it from us? Surrender it and maybe—MAYBE—the vengeful god Editorous will smile upon you with the most coveted of literary prizes: a personalized rejection.

I won’t tell you these sacrifices will be easy. Just keep your eyes on the prize, and remember: If you give up everything that makes life worth living, then in just twenty years, you can sell enough books to buy a used Hyundai Elantra.

What sacrifices have you made to prioritize your writing career? Tell us about them in the comments!

About Bill Ferris [2]

After college, Bill Ferris [3] left Nebraska for Florida to become a rich and famous rock star. Failing that, he picked up the pen to become a rich and famous novelist. He now lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and looks forward to a life of poverty and ridicule.