Writing is Like a Game Show

You don’t get any parting gifts

Tumbling lottery numbers
Photo by dylan nolte on Unsplash

You lost!
Now let me tell you what you didn’t win!
A case of Turtle Wax!
A year’s supply of Rice-A-Roni, the San Francisco Treat!
But that’s not all!

“I Lost on Jeopardy,” by Weird Al Yankovic

Many young writers comes into the game with stars in their eyes. They read articles about how writing was easy money. And fast, too!

Here’s some articles I see today:

  • How I Made $11,000 From Writing in 30 Days
  • I Will Teach You How To Make Your First $10,000 From Writing
  • I’ve Made More Than $300K From Writing — Here Are 8 Honest Lessons That Weren’t Obvious

Funny enough, all three of those articles are from the same author. These types of headlines draw a new writer like flies. She will point to these headlines as justification to go all-in on writing.

But for every one writer who makes it big, there’s hundreds who don’t. A 2019 study by the NY Times found that most writers are under the poverty line.

So I started this story using a game show as an example. You have one winner and several losers. Now that I see the data, it is worse than a game show. You have one winner and a bunch of losers.

For that one winner, of course, they are ecstatic and over-the-moon. They probably race out and tell everybody that writing came easy for them and they made a ton of money.

Lucky them.

What about the others? The ones that are curled up on their beds in the fetal position? The ones who have mouths to feed and don’t have two quarters to rub together? Where are their stories?

So if you only see stories from the winners, you get the false impression that writing is easy life.

It’s not.

Some people work for years before they break into the business. Those stories are a bit more realistic. I can hold on to that kind of hope.

Still others work for years and eventually give up. You never see those stories.

I’m curious what the “success” percentage rate is? It’s a pretty rhetorical question, because it would be hard to gather accurate data.

Phone Call: “Hello! Would you like to take a survey?”

Random Person: “Sure! I have nothing to do!”

Phone Call: “Have you ever tried to make money writing? Would you say you failed or succeeded?”

Here’s another rhetorical question: Of the writers who are eventually successful, how many years did they have to write?

Again, we will probably never know the answer. Let me bat aside another article telling exactly how to make hundreds of dollars on my next article.

Tell you what. If you can follow somebody’s “instructions” for creating a viral post, I’ll give you this $100 bill.

100 dollar bill, y'all
Photo by Precondo CA on Unsplash

Why?

Because there is no way to guarantee that an article will go viral. I think there might be one exception. If you are a lucky celebrity and people will read anything you put online, then you might get two viral posts in a row.

So, here’s the game plan.

  1. Get famous.
  2. Write something online.
  3. Go soak in your giant bath tub.
  4. Play a round of golf.
  5. Have your private chef make you a gluten-free meal.
  6. Fly to another country in your private jet.
  7. Write a tweet during your flight and have that go viral.

I think we need another set of instructions first. “How to get famous.”

I’m not saying any of this to discourage you from writing. Far from it. I think we need a lot of diversity in the field. I look forward to reading the views of new writers.

I’m saying this because you need to hedge your bets a little. The writing life is hard. It may not even work. The pay-off can be big, but the pay-off might also be nothing.

Don’t quit your day job. Please, please, please don’t quit your day job.

Fix in your head the number of years you are willing to work for close to nothing. Some people will write for years. I’m already dug in.

I will write until I’m dead. If I make it along the way, that would be cool.

I found my own motivation to write. Now I write for me. Y’all can do what you want.

I just like drawling that. It’s fun ta talk in a Southern accent.

Y’umpto?

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