The price I Pay to Be a Writer

There is the famous Chinese curse – may your dreams come true. I wouldn’t go so far as to completely agree with the claim that getting what we want can be a bad thing, but I can see there is an element of truth in it. Achieving dreams does come with a price; I guess this is why most people will give up on them.

The price I Pay to Be a Writer

I’ve wanted to be a writer from the time I knew such a job existed. The idea of getting paid to do something that I did anyway sounded ideal. I’ve met a few full-time writers over the years and envied the glamour of their profession. They would tell me about their fight to get published, but the idea of the struggling artist appealed to me. My views of the writing life were so naive, but I suppose it kept me hungry and motivated enough to keep pushing towards my dream. Then a couple of years ago my dreams became my reality.

In a previous post I discussed how I feel so lucky to have made it this far as a writer. I’m being modest here because I’ve flipping earned it. People have helped me along the way, but most of this luck I’ve made myself. Since turning full-time a couple of years ago I’ve put everything into this career. I work fourteen hours a day, six days a week, and usually a few hours on my day off as too. Each day I write seven or eight thousands words; that’s almost the equivalent of one book a week. Even when I’m away from the computer there are writing ideas ticking away in my brain.

The price I pay to be a writer isn’t just about time and effort. Spending so much of my life starting at a computer screen is damaging my body. I move from one health problem to the next; one week it’s my knees, the next it’s my wrists – in fact every part of my body seems to be suffering because of my profession. My eyesight is deteriorating at a scary space; two years ago I didn’t need glasses but now that original lens prescription is no longer sufficient. This is all so far away from the glamour that I imagined the life of the writer to be.

I’m losing out on a lot because of my work. Most of the time my son is only a few metres away from me but I’m missing out on him growing up because I’m too focused on my work. Other than my Muay Thai lessons I’ve no social life. Writing is a lonely business – or at least it is for me anyway. I’ve always been a bit of a loner, but I thought that becoming a full-time writer would change this – the opposite is true if anything.

I’ve had to face so many fears as a writer. One thing that I’ve always struggled with is criticism but now dealing with it is a part of my job. While growing up I found it hard to get people who knew me to like me, but now I have to convince complete strangers to at least like me enough to read what I’ve got to say. I’ve worked hard to overcome my natural tendency to wallow in self-pity in response to criticism – developing a thick skin has been a struggle but I’ve managed it to a certain degree.

The Rewards

My decision to become a full-time writer has brought rewards as well as hardship. I’m improving as a writer, but this is hardly surprising considering I devote so much time to it. Don’t get wrong, I can still write crap, but I do know how to write well. I can see how much I’ve improved as a writer over the last couple of years and that is satisfying. I’m no James Joyce, but flowery prose doesn’t appeal to me anyway. I’ve become the type of writer that I always wanted to be.

One of the nicest rewards of writing is when I get a positive comment on my website or an email from somebody who has read my book. I do get days when I’m full of doubt; these messages can turn my day around. I don’t think readers understand how important this type of comment can be. I have no boss to tell me if I’m doing a good job and so somebody making a nice comment about my writing can be so welcome.

The biggest reward is that I get up every morning to do a job that I still love. When my book Dead Drunk was released last year I worried that there wouldn’t be another; maybe I only had one story that was of interest to publishers? I’ve now signed a contract for another book and this has given my career a much needed boost.

I’m not after much in life. I just don’t want to have to work fourteen hours a day, six days a week forever just to stay afloat. I know that there is no real security in life but at least the illusion of financial security would be nice. I don’t care about things like awards and I don’t need to write a bestseller to feel like a winner. I just want to be able to work and get by. I’m not asking for the four hour workweek, but the fifty hour workweek would be nice.

I hold back on writing posts like this one because I don’t want to be viewed as a complainer; there is a lot in my life to be grateful for. I do want to inspire people by showing them that it is possible to turn their life around just like I did. We can all achieve our dreams no matter how far in life we have fallen. There is s downside to all this though, and not mentioning it would be sort of dishonest. Yes we can achieve our dreams but there is always going to be a price to pay for this. Is the price worth the reward? You will have to ask me on my death bed – assuming of course that I’m still competus mentus.

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26 thoughts on “The price I Pay to Be a Writer

  1. Paul, I enjoy reading your introspective blog posts. Thanks for sharing your personal thoughts and insights about your writing career. I am glad to hear that you have found success and happiness in doing what you are doing. I’ve known many people who wanted to be full-time writers, but who didn’t realize that to be successful one needed to put in large investments of time and practice.

    I’m curious to know, to what extent do you see your career choice as being a financially viable path in Thailand? The reason I ask is because I have often thought about returning to Thailand permanently (I lived there for several years in the 90s), but that would mean leaving my current job in the United States and taking a job that would no doubt be a a substantial decrease in both take home salary as well as retirement and health benefits. As a former expat in Thailand, I realize that a reduced salary in Thailand comes with the territory. In other words, a low salary is one of the realities of life in Thailand, but its a fair exchange for the wealth of experiences that comes with living in such a fascinating nation. But my concern is with retirement and health care costs. To what extent have you figured these aspects into your own planning? I’ve read before that comfortable retirement in Thailand requires a lot of saved funds, and that Thailand lacks the sort of social safety nets that other (western) nations have. That gives me a lot of pause. Your thoughts?

    1. Hi Tan, I’ve found that writing pays better than teaching but it still doesn’t leave much money for savings. To be honest, I couldn’t afford to be sick and can’t afford to get old either. I think if you do want to live comfortably in Thailand then they do need a lot of savings behind you. I choose the uncomfortable route because it seemed to be the only option open to me.

      1. Paul, I was just curious to what extent those issues factored into your career thoughts. Not many of us have the leisure or ability to completely dictate our financial futures. I know I certainly don’t, lol. Anyway, I appreciate the contemplative and very open and honest writings again. Especially given the fact that you are so busy. It’s great that you are still able and willing to devote time to maintaining your blog and podcast above and beyond your work to pay the bills.

        Anyway, its great to hear that you have obtained your dream of the writing life. At the risk of sounding either corny or melancholy, I have to say that the recent (and ongoing) disaster in Japan has really given me pause to reconsider some of the things I have taken for granted previously. Although disasters are horrible, terrible things, if there is a positive side it is that they can cause people to put things in perspective and re-order our priorities. Something that we all sort of need from time to time.

        1. Hi Tan, the way I see it is that we have to take risks in life if we are to have any chance at success. If we play it safe we can get by and may feel secure financially, but even this feeling of security could be taken away in an instant. We can risk it all in the hope of achieving our dreams, or we could risk nothing but still lose it all. I don’t think it is possible to achieve much in life without taking at least some risks. Of course we all have our own definition of success and for some of us there will be a lot less need for big risks – we all have our own path.

          I could try to get a secure job with a pension but there is no guarantee that this pension will even be there in thirty years. I worked in palliative care and met people who had planned to live their dreams once they retired with a bit of security; instead they found that retirement was a time of sickness and many of these people regretted waiting to live their dreams. I do have a lot of worry because of my chosen path but this just seems to be part of the journey. I’ll keep on pushing and hopefully it will lead to something meaningful; it is all a learning experience anyway.

  2. “To be honest, I couldn’t afford to be sick and can’t afford to get old either.”
    you are deep dooh-ddoh my friend
    old aint so bad
    gotta get out and exercise
    start easy and make it a daily thing
    exercise is a good addiction.
    and you get to smile at the folks you pass

    1. Hi Tom, I exercise a lot at the moment because I’m conditioning for a Muay Thai fight. I’ve also started using a stand-up desk which means I’m standing all day instead of sitting – a much better option. I wish that I had of thought of the stand-up desk earlier because I probably would have avoided a lot of my recent aches and pains.

  3. Paul, your post had me thinking back to when I first ‘met’ you. You’ve given me a great deal to think about over this past year. After reading your book I thought you awfully brave. And now that I’ve known you for awhile I have even more respect for your writing talents and the person you are.

    “I do want to inspire people by showing them that it is possible to turn their life around just like I did.”

    I realise that in order to help others you need to keep your former days to the fore. But do you find it difficult?

    The reason I’m asking is that I find it easier to put my early life away from my thoughts. I go with concept of acting like the person I want to be rather than keeping past negative actions rolling around my head (my early life was a mess so there were many). I first tried the self-examination route but it dug a deep dark destructive hole that took years to climb out of.

    I’ve read that men have this wonderful way of compartmentalising sections of their lives, while women wire connections everywhere – so if that’s true, then perhaps it’s easier for men to revisit negative memories?

    Ok, I’m clearly rambling… but after reading your post it’s been on my mind…
    Catherine recently posted..How Do You Declutter Your Language Learning Focus

    1. Hi Catherine, I suppose it helps that I don’t feel any shame about my days as a drunk. I view it as part of the journey that got me to where I am today. I do regret any suffering I caused for other people during that time, but I don’t have any guilt – the person who suffered most was me. Those of us who manage to make it through an addiction can benefit greatly from the experience; I wouldn’t be who I am without it.

      I do write quite a bit about addiction but not because I enjoy wallowing in the past or anything; it is just that writers will always end up writing about their experiences – even when they disguise it as fiction.

  4. Great post Paul, very honest.

    A big part of me still wishes I was writing for a living but – with two kids to support – I made the decision to move back into a corporate role six months ago.

    It was the right move, even though my freelancing was coming along well, and I’m fortunate that my new role includes a number of things I enjoy, writing included, and I can keep my blogging too.

    I digress though, I totally understand your comments about working hard, being devoted, putting work first & missing out on some time with the kid as I also did all these things…but there is nothing like living as a write in Thailand, it was a dream for me and clearly you are equally, if not more passionate.

    1. Hi Jon, I think it is great that you are making the most of your choices. The fact that you still get to write sounds ideal. I agree that Thailand is a great place to be a writer.

  5. Really enjoying your book Paul. It’s inspired me to attend my first AA meeting today. Not sure if it is the answer but I’m sure I’ll find more answers there than in the bottom of my glass at the local!

      1. Paul

        Finished your book and loved it. It’s always annoying when you finish a book that you like and this is one of them.

        Take care.

        Paulie

  6. I love it, Hey Paul I wish I could get into that writing frame of mind. You say you pounded out 7 – 8 thousand words. Wow, that’s some going. I get tired writing 3 articles a day, that’s 1,500 words.

    How do you do it? Do you work up to it over a period of time? Is it like marathon running you eventually get used to it?

    How do you constantly get new ideas? And do quick research on a subject that you’re not familiar with? What’s your method?

    Once you have a manuscript how do you best go about finding potential publishers without wasting too much time?

    How do you quickly find out hot readable topics to write about?

    I think that’s all?
    mark recently posted..The Misadventures Of Joe Farang Teaching English In Thailand

    1. Hi Mark, necessity is a great motivator. I write a lot for other people and this can be articles or sometimes eBooks. They tell me what they want and I just provide it. Some work involves a lot of research and some not so much.

    1. Hi MeMock, I’m going to write something about the stand up desk soon. I just made one myself. I do manage to read for pleasure most days – even if it is just when sitting on the toilet.

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