It was late one night when I had another argument with my mom. She kept telling me to pursue my writing to which I yelled at her, “I hate that God chose to give me such a useless talent.” But I wasn’t angry at her or God. I was angry at myself. I looked to the people I knew who had more “practical skills”. My brother was gifted with computers, my friend fixed cars, and my uncles were doctors and financial gurus. And here I was. A “writer”.
I was born in the wrong era, I thought. As a creative writer, most of my ideas had already been written. My prose was nothing extraordinary. And people today are too obsessed with their YouTube and Facebook videos to give a damn about opening a book much less read one. Most of the articles online are either clickbait garbage or dumbed down lists for people with the attention span of a goldfish.
The world of freelance writing, like most industries with an art base, is cutthroat and oversaturated. Too many young writers peddle their services for free and devalue all of us. But I pursued my passion anyhow. I decided to give writing a shot. After doing it for free as a hobby, I managed to land a few gigs that paid well enough for me to be self-employed. It didn’t last long and I took a job back in retail not just to bolster my income but to have some face-to-face human interaction again.
They always tell you to “do what you love”. So, I did. And it was exciting, depressing, painful, eye-opening, discouraging, and head-banging-on-wall kind of frustrating all rolled into one. The moment you take something you enjoy and try to make money out of it a little bit of joy comes out. It’s kind of like eating a nicely designed cake, to which most of us have felt regret at devouring the beautiful thing. That’s what a lover of writing like myself feels each time I open the laptop and push buttons for dollars.
But I learned to get over it. As humans, we have this unbelievable ability to get used/tired of even the most amazing things once we’re exposed to it enough. As a freelance writer, I had to take multiple job titles: marketer, businessman, editor, and artist. They can all get along but often they’ll clash particularly the marketing/business/editing side against the artist side.
Writing is art. It’s self-expression. That’s why most writers are narcissists (or narcissists-in-denial). We’re not talking journalists but creative writers who make a living or form an identity based on the words they put on a page or screen. And as far as narcissistic self-expression goes, the sky’s the limit. You can get as wacky with your prose as you want. You can add the f-bomb before every adjective. Going back to the cake metaphor, you want to add all kinds of decoration and toppings that convince people you were on psychedelics.
But writing is also a business. It’s for a purpose. You can add a carnival of colours in your cake all you want but chances are only the most daring will find your cake appetizing. As much as I’d like to just sit down and write. To let my mind go and just put words without worrying about consequence, readership, or practicality, I just can’t. There needs to be a purpose to what I write. There needs to be a use. And that’s just the business side of my writing growing.
The artist part of me weeps going through the hundreds of articles I’ve written judging my plain jane prose and my lack of voice. You might as well have had a robot write them. But they were what got me paid. They were what got me jobs. They weren’t boring. But they didn’t stand out amidst a sea of words. Now I’m thinking of pursuing technical writing in fields I have no experience in – the sciences, technology, finance, business etc. Never would I have imagined even contemplating careers in any of these.
I’ve been so used to writing with my mind it will be a harsh adjustment having to write with my heart again. But that’s what great fiction is. Beyond intricate plotting and astute professionalism, the best writing is the one where the words are code that transports the reader from their couch to the fantasy world. I could pursue a career in creative writing, producing short fiction or novels. But I haven’t. And it’s because I value it too much. I don’t want to turn it into business. Not yet.
If I were to write fiction, whether it sells one copy or a million, it will come from the heart. And I simply can’t compromise by letting the business side turn it into just another piece. I can’t be bothered with the deadlines or the scheduling or “killing my darlings” because I still hold sentimentality to it. Unfortunately, as a writer, the less sentimentality you hold the more productive you’ll be. But I still love it. I just wish I can love it more.