Last week I wrote about why writers are seemingly never happy/satisfied with their careers.
(If you missed it, the TLDR is that writing as a career does not have a defined point where you can say, “I’ve made it. I am a happy writer.” Law, teaching, medicine, military, heck, most fields in general all have points where you can be promoted no higher, or solid retirement dates. Writing doesn’t have that. As long as your mind stays sharp, you can write all the way to the grave. This lack of an endpoint means there’s always something more to strive for, be it a bigger/better contract, a higher rank on the NYT’s list, a movie deal, or “simply” to become a household name. Something can always be chased, and that makes it difficult to be satisfied with where you are. Even if where you are is a pretty good place.)
This week I want to talk about how you can defy the odds and become a happy writer. (Or at least happier. I can’t guarantee absolute happiness.) No, I don’t have all the answers. I struggle with happiness and satisfaction, too. But I also believe that unhappiness and misery (and envy, jealousy, and FOMO) are enemies to creativity. Not to mention enemies of a decent life. That’s why I’m always working on making myself happy. Sure, there are things I have to do in my career that I don’t love, but I try to keep that stuff to a minimum and pour my energy into the things that bring me happiness.
And that’s true even if they don’t bring me a ton of money because, you know, money can’t buy happiness. And happiness shouldn’t be measured by the money stick, anyway, at least not once your basic necessities are taken care of.
Here’s the thing: Most writers aren’t in it for the money. We can’t be, because there isn’t much. Sure, some people are wildly successful, but the majority of writers have some form of day job or side hustle because we need either the income, the insurance, or both. That’s just the way it is, especially in the US where healthcare is completely broken. So if you’re looking for happiness through money, you’re in the wrong occupation. Go become a doctor, engineer, or computer programmer. Yes, more money can always be a goal, but it really can’t be your reason for doing this. And if it is, you’re likely to be unhappy unless you become the next Nora Roberts, which I would not bet on.
(Side note: There’s a reason why a disturbing number of writers resort to scams in order to make money. It’s because they define happiness and success simply by the money stick. They need to make money at all costs. It’s called greed. That’s why they resort to book stuffing, gaming algorithms, review farming, and a whole host of other scams and foolishness. If they were genuinely happy otherwise, they wouldn’t need to sink so low. So think about that before deciding money should be your definition of happiness and success.)
So if money is out as a source of happiness, how can you become a happier writer? Here are some thoughts:
Do work that means something to you.
Don’t just chase trends if you don’t enjoy that type of work. If you don’t like romance, don’t write romance. Forego writing about the thing du jour, whether it be vampires, mercenaries, dystopias, etc. If you don’t want to work as a technical writer, find another type of writing you do like to do. Work for non-profits if you love their mission.
The key to happiness in many fields is doing work that aligns with your values. Selling out to the lowest common denominator is rarely the path to happiness. So think about what you love and value and write about that. Find the work that resonates with your soul. Not only will you be happier, but your work will be better. And that may open up doors that “hack jobs” never will. Plus, doing work you love means you’ll be in it for the long haul. Since your writing career may last until well into your old age, you want to do work that keeps you excited. You don’t want to dread the keyboard every day.
If you’re unhappy with the state of traditional publishing for whatever reason, strike out on your own. Yes, it’s difficult because you are responsible for every detail, but it’s possible to do well on your own today. And even if it doesn’t result in fame or riches, there is satisfaction in controlling your own work and having the final say in everything. You won’t be hampered by a publisher who goes out of business, or decides to drop you, for whatever reason. Success or failure will be on your own terms.
Go on Patreon (or other crowd-funding sites).
If self-publishing isn’t your thing, and you don’t want to (or can’t) traditionally publish for whatever reason, you can always try the crowd-funding thing. There are plenty of people who are quite successful on there, building up huge communities of super-fans. Some well-chosen rewards and quality content can go a long way toward getting your work noticed.
Once you’re established, you can experiment with all kinds of content related to your work, limited only by your abilities and willingness to invest in equipment or training. You can try podcasts, videos, art, music, hosting chat rooms, and anything else you can dream up. You can put it all out there for people to receive at various reward levels. As long as it’s quality stuff, people will eat it up. This can be a lot of work, but it’s also joyous if you love connecting personally with readers.
Give your stuff away.
There are plenty of people who find happiness by simply giving their work away. They don’t ask for money, only that people read their work. Get yourself a blog, or start posting on sites like Wattpad or Medium. Just write what moves you, put it out there, and let others enjoy it.
Try new things.
Tired of writing sci-fi and want to write mysteries? Just do it. The gurus will tell you that once you’ve branded yourself as a sci-fi writer, you can’t switch. That’s bull. You can do whatever you want. Yes, you may have to do the thing under a pen name, or on another platform like self-publishing, but you can do it. Unless you love one genre beyond all reason, it’s okay to try something new. And even if it never sells, there can be great joy in the trying.
Get over the comparisons.
It doesn’t matter one bit what others in the field are doing. It only matters what you are doing. So what if there are people out there with more than you? You probably have more than them in other areas. You can’t go through life looking at what others are doing. Sure, look up to them, learn what you can from their successes, and figure out how you can use that information to do better. But after that? Forget it. Comparing yourself to others is a surefire way to feel like you’re never succeeding. And that’s a path to a long and miserable life.
Don’t be afraid of embarrassment. (Or failure.)
Most of us are so afraid of being laughed at or looking stupid that we don’t try the things we want to. I’m definitely guilty of this. Fear is strong with me. But I’ve seen plenty of people do things that seem completely bonkers, and yet those things work out. Often very well. There’s a guy around here who shows up at festivals in a fox costume and writes custom poetry and stories for people. On a manual typewriter, no less. There’s another who writes poems on painted rocks and leaves them in the world for people to find. Another appears on a street corner weekly and simply reads her stuff to anyone who’ll listen. Literary busking.
None of these people are afraid of people laughing at their efforts. Or if they are they don’t care. They just do the thing and have fun. As far as I know, they’re all pretty happy. At least they look happy. They certainly don’t look embarrassed or afraid. And good for them. As long as it’s legal, do what you want to do and enjoy it.
Volunteer/Serve a Cause.
Most happy people are involved with others, or the community around them. Get out there and help others. That may mean writing copy for charitable organizations, or teaching literacy skills to underserved populations. Maybe you volunteer at the library, or start a free Little Library in your neighborhood. Start a writing club, or teach people basic story skills. Read to seniors or kids. You can also align your efforts with a cause, such as donating your profits to a cause you care about, or helping fund literacy organizations.
At the very least, support and champion other writers. They aren’t your competition, and they can be friends and allies. Helping them costs you nothing, but it is immensely satisfying. Promote work you like, agitate for better treatment in the publishing world, be a beta reader, or just be a shoulder to cry on.
Here’s the bottom line: Happiness often leads to greater success. I’m sure there are miserable people out there who’ve climbed the ladder and done great things, but I don’t know them. The most successful people I know are those who carved their own paths. People will tell you that there’s only one path to happiness in writing and thats this: Write–>Get Agent–>Get Deal With Big 5 House–> Rinse and Repeat. But there are so many other ways to write and be happy.
(Image by Artturi Mäntysaari)