Why Would You Want To Be A Writer?

Great Britain

Wood Green Fest

A recent poll showed that the No.1 most desired job in the UK  was ‘writer’. Really? When I read that I tried to imagine what those polled thought being a writer was like. Here are a few pointers to the current status of the wordsmith, and bear in mind they’re not complaints, merely facts.

Writers Aren’t Wanted

One of Europe’s best newspapers, The Independent, is closing its doors. But it’ll still be online, you say. Yes, without journalists or feature writers, reviewers or critics. Like most online sites it’ll source news from a central agency, pepper it with a handful of commissioned snippets and pass itself off as a paper. The IT staff will hold the reins. Everyone wants content but nobody wants to pay for it, and the funniest part is that the young, who are the worst offenders, all want jobs in the media. Where do they think their salaries come from?

Writers Don’t Get Paid

There’s a big row brewing over the fact that writers are being required to attend more and more festivals and are being signed to draconian contracts, yet they don’t get paid for appearances. ‘Ah, but you’ll get exposure,’ say the organisers. Sorry, but a table with a handful of books on it is not exposure. Better to stay home and run a blog – you get more contact with readers.

Writers’ Readership Is Disappearing

Most of the nation’s workforce doesn’t read. They simply don’t have time. If they have a long train journey to work, they’re usually on a laptop. And males between 20 and 50 – the largest part of the national workforce – don’t read at all. Go to any panel event and check out your audience. In every 100 people there will be 5 males and 95 old ladies. Where’s the innovative young writing? Online, doing it for free.

Writers Can’t Keep Up

As everything else in life gets faster, the process of writing and publishing remains stubbornly slow and unresponsive. Your book gestates, is edited, edited again, proofed and appears in hardback, then waits for another year before a paperback version appears. Total time for most writers: 3-4 years minimum. In a world where a viral video can turn a person or band into a millionaire overnight, writers are snails, and the procedure for creating books is positively arthritic.

Polari @ RVT

Writers Can’t Earn

The average wage of a UK writer is £7,000 pa. Amazon doesn’t pay self-publishers jack. Being No.1 on Amazon means nothing at all – it’s an algorhythm designs to sell books. Publishers have to take a punt on an author and keep their overheads low. Books are no longer advertised and many aren’t even launched. Publishers make money on aggregate, so they buy a great many novels for almost nothing and wait for one to hit. Don’t you dare mention JK Potter.

Writers Are Unrepresentative

Because of this low earning status, for many writing is now less a career than a hobby. Working class writers, like working class actors, are as rare as hen’s teeth. Where are black and Asian voices? The average writer, and I hate to say this aloud although we all think it, is a nice white middle-class lady from the counties, directly representing her readership.

Writers Work Longer Days Than Doctors

Do the maths. You work through most weekends and even on vacations. My writing day starts at 6:00am and ends at 9:pm. You work alone and despite online research being available, the best source remains experience and books. Like most writers, I spend more than I earn on research. We appear at festivals but we also do damp church halls and teenagers’ drop-in centres, surrounded by leaflets about unwanted pregnancies and chlamydia testing kits.

Writers Have The Best Job In The World

Yeah, I still love it. Why? Because even without a readership I’d still write, just like I did as a kid. It’s breathing.



15 comments on “Why Would You Want To Be A Writer?”

  1. linda ayres says:

    ok I confess… I am an old lady…any of the other 94 care to raise their hands?

  2. DC says:

    It’s one of those rose-tinted aspirational things, up there with “run my own business and become a Branson” or “a life as a farmer in the glorious sunny countryside”.

    Many of us feel we have a story in us but actually can’t be bothered with the reality of the graft involved and suffer from the disease of inertia. These days, there is little to stop anyone dabbling in writing You don’t have to hock your work round publishers hoping for a break. You can self-publish and then watch as no-one buys your work.

    Personally, I doubt my many tomes concerning the adventures of Bob Swan and Harry Vesta will ever make it into the daylight!!

  3. John Griffin says:

    I find most fiction books in Waterstones etc to appear to be English lit students exploring styles with sweet FA to say. Mind you, I don’t rate Ian McEwan either so probably unqualified to pontificate.

  4. admin says:

    A taxi driver once said to me; ‘So you’re a writer? Yeah, I’ve been meaning to write a book, I just haven’t got around to it, what with being busy.’

    Cheers for that.

    And Linda – nothing wrong with being a discerning senior – they ask the best questions at readings!

  5. Jo W says:

    Raises hand to be another of the 94. Well, grey hair,freedom pass, yes- but inside my head,still seventeen (until my knees crack!) 😉

  6. Dave Skinner says:

    I reckon the Dunning-Kruger Effect is in full-force. So many people seem to think that, since they’re capable of writing an IT Strategy and they understand what a semicolon does, they also have the skill to churn-out a popular and profitable novel… if only they could be bothered, that is.

    I know some good words, and I know how to put them in some sort of meaningful order, but I also know better than to suppose that I’d be any good at writing stuff that other people would pay money to read. I do, however, wonder to what extent the skills can be taught to someone who shows little initial aptitude for them.

  7. Colin says:

    Audiobooks seem to be a growing thing, but I hear Amazon/Audible isn’t keen on paying for that either With less time to read you would think the short story would be King, but it never seems that popular. Love your short stories Chris!

  8. Roger says:

    ” an intolerable youth is pictured informing his aunt that he intends to ‘write’. ‘And what are you going to write about, dear?’ asks the aunt. ‘My dear aunt,’ says the youth crushingly, ‘one doesn’t write about anything, one just writes.’ ” – George Orwell’s favourite joke.

    Personally, i prefer reading. The pay isn’t much worse.
    All the same, I wonder about your 15 hour days – call them 12 hours, allowing for meals and other reliefs. How much do you actually manage to write in that time? Trollope – a phenomenon, I’d agree – reckoned on 250 words every fifteen minutes for three hours in the morning before he went off to do his day job in the Post Office. Plus fox-hunting several days a week in the season. Look at the number of novels he produced. At a comparable rate you should be producing a novel a week and a bit of extra writing too.

  9. Helen Martin says:

    Another little old lady (although the hair refuses to go grey) who notices that there are considerably more males on this blogsite than five. You keep saying it and if I really believed everything you said I would conclude that you are a well-kept man. You know how many of us envy your life style (well, you provided the info and photos) and while I certainly agree that the public’s expectations of authors are unreasonable as are the expectations of publishers, organisers of events, and attendees, but the alternative is to burrow into a hillside somewhere, refuse to see anyone and drop a finished manuscript into the publisher’s mail as and when it is ready. Could you live that way?

  10. Matt says:

    Not a little old lady, but one of those men of the age where we don’t read at all… am I the only one then that actually reads?

    I have written many short stories myself. For my own pleasure nothing more. Less so of late but when I read back some of the stuff I wrote 20 years ago It amazes me I had that much imagination. I don’t seem to have it now. Do you need to keep writing to stay imaginative?

    Your dead right about everyone wanting content but not wanting to pay for it.

  11. Mike Brough says:

    Come on, Mr F. You say that writing is a money-losing business – but you’re heading off in the Count’s footsteps this Spring.

    I can only dream of that kind of adventure. I’m a reasonably successful IT manager but I can’t afford to head off on Transylvanian adventures. We obviously have different interpretations of ‘money-making’. Are you sure you’re not just trying to scare off the opposition?

    I’ve got B&M investigating on my behalf.

  12. Brian Evans says:

    I’m a male and a prolific reader-even when I was young enough to be between 20 and 35-and enough to realise that as much as I would like to write-I can’t. I’ve a good imagination for fiction, and enough interests to write non-fiction. But sadly, I’m not a wordsmith and just don’t have the ability to transfer what is in my brain onto paper. It all sounds rather stilted and a bit old-fashioned when I try.
    However, the big bonus for writers as for as I can see is not only that they can work from home with no commuting, but they can also live anywhere-on a narrow boat on the canals for example or abroad in a sunny clime to give two examples.

  13. John Howard says:

    Another of the 94 here….. Well alright old man, but I consider “old” to be the defining factor and I am fondling my feminine side for today ( It is Saturday after all )

  14. kath says:

    I am another old lady – a contemporary of Arthur. and enjoy literary festivals in the company of 94 other old ladies. No dementia so far, but how do you Chris, know so much about old people? Through Arthur you articulate so many of my misgivings about contemporary life. We were so hopeful in the fifties when we were young , but in some ways we have almost ended up in a dystopia. Life now seems so frantic and competitive for the younger generations; they If “opinion” journalists are anything to go by, rarely seem to have any rest or peaceful contemplation time. I try to keep up with tech stuff – have laptop, smartphone etc but still like my landline and send cards and letters (as well as e-mail – which of course is cheaper). I am glad I am not young today and can spend so much of my time reading peacefully and gardening and still cooking from scratch the old way. I have all the B and M books, adored Paperboy

  15. Keith says:

    If that’s true, about the taxi driver, then that’s brilliant. And sums it up more or less. I think all readers would love to be writers. And I guess a lot of readers could be as good. But having a 9-5 boring job and getting paid, who would want to give that up? I made up stories for my kids when they were growing up and that’s about as far as I got. Apart from the odd poetic ramble. No I’ll leave you to do the writing Chris, and I’ll just enjoy whatever you publish. But don’t you ever dare stop!

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