Stephanie Harper
June 07, 2015 7:30 am

Writers and critics alike have ruminated extensively on whether or not you can make a living with your writing. They look at how it’s been done historically, the many odd jobs of now famous authors, and they look at the financial viability of selling your words and your skills in today’s ever-changing digital landscape.

As someone who’s spent an ample amount of time considering how my own career might intertwine with the written word, I’ve done a lot reading up on the subject. What I’ve found is that the problem with this kind of research is that there is such a thing as too much.  It is possible to over-do it in a way that can be limiting.  It is possible to scare yourself away from exploring the possibilities, and even from what you really feel called to do. It is possible to let the fear of failure incapacitate you, if you let it.

I’ve always been a writer, or at the very least a storyteller. It took a lot of hard work and outside support to get to a place where I I was willing to take a chance on my own skills, my passion. I decided I wanted to devote some time to study writing, to develop my craft and focus on my fiction. I applied for MFA programs and was fortunate enough to be accepted to the low-residency MFA program at Fairfield University. I spent two years honing my skills and broadening my literary horizons, and I can honestly say that I came out on the other side an infinitely better writer.

I also came out with a better understanding of the writing world. I learned how books were published, how the industry worked. I also learned about all of the other ways in which writers applied their communication, research, and critical thinking skills. I took my own editing skills to the next level and started really considering what my own career might look like.

I also heard plenty of stories of both success and failure, and I thought I had a good handle on how to check my aspirations, to be simultaneously motivated and practical. I thought I was going out really level-headed about the timeline of “becoming a writer.”

I would work hard at my creative career, keep my expectations in check, and explore opportunities for using my skills in the real world in the meantime. I would find a new job, something I could enjoy and that would provide me with some financial stability, but wouldn’t take away from my primary focus, my real career, my writing. I had it all figured out, and then I graduated.

I went through the natural post-MFA grieving process. I’ve been fortunate to maintain wonderful writing relationships with many peers and mentors, but I still felt like I’d lost something as an alum. I also worked some different jobs, administrative and otherwise, and quickly realized this was not what I wanted to do. I found an agent for my first fiction manuscript, worked incredibly hard to revise it, and then waited and waited, am still waiting, for that first sale.

I am not a patient person. I start things with a fiery determination that dwindles rather quickly once the reality sets in and I realize I can’t make things happen overnight. I let fear and anxiety settle in and I lose sight of why I am doing what I am doing in the first place. I’ve been so concerned with my career, both as a creative writer, and just in general, that I have forgotten about the writing. I have forgotten that I have a set of skills to use, an ability that I can share. I can help people learn to communicate better. I can explore what it means to be human in my own work, and hopefully help someone else pondering those very same questions. I can do a lot. I just have to start.

So, here I am now, starting my own business, looking for ways to make writing, editing, and written communication an even greater central focus in my life. And, I still have a lot of questions. How will I find balance between my own creative projects and the work I’m doing for others? Do I have what it takes to be successful? Can I really support myself? Is this insane?

Some of these questions have sort of fluid answers. I have a variety of skills to offer both within and outside the realm of actual writing work that I can put to use in various capacities while I get started. I can start to think about budgeting my time and my energy, really focusing in on the kind of professional projects I’d like to seek out most actively, and how they might not only support me but inspire my creative work as well. I can start learning about LLCs and taxes and all those business aspects that do not come so naturally to me. I can try to mentally prepare myself for burnout and frustration.

I can do a lot of things to prepare. More than that, I can just get out there and do it. I can stop letting the fear of failure keep me from trying this out, looking at how I may create a life for myself where my passion continues to be a central and essential part. Part of writing is about skills, and about wanting to do it. But the other part comes from sweat: From putting in the work, from sitting down and doing it, even when you’re not sure what will be at the other end of that paragraph.  I can stop talking about writing and actually put pen to paper. I can get the work done. In the end, that’s the most important part. I have to write and I have to know that this is the only answer that matters.

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