Writing to Starve or to Survive: Why do we need to choose?


Artistry is in constant conflict:

  1. We have The Starving Artist cliché
  2. There’s a book to contest that called Real Artists Don’t Starve by Jeff Goins
  3. There are tons of books about how real artists have day jobs
  4. There are even more books about how to make money with your art

The issue lies first and foremost in one’s definition of success. In his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey talks about how we need to identify leadership before we can manage anything. By this he means that we need to know what we want before even devising goals to reach those wants. With that said, figuring out your definition of success is vital BEFORE getting down to business of any kind:

  1. What is your definition of success? (Here’s mine)
    1. Writing
    2. Make money
    3. Work with people
    4. Working alone sometimes
    5. Flexible time
    6. Learning
    7. Traveling

Maybe your success has something to do with family, or teaching or publication; maybe you just want a humdrum desk job that won’t affect your home life. Whatever it is, write that down, no matter whether it sounds boring to other people, because this is your life and you get to decide what will make you happiest.


After that, you get to break them all down. We have this notion in monogamous culture that tends to extend to other facets of life. In monogamous relationships you choose a partner and stick with them and only them. You need to get your happiness, your sex, your dating, your learning, and your family time, oh, and intelligent conversations all from that perfect partner. If that’s what you want in a relationship then fine—go ahead and do it. Just don’t expect the same thing in a career; or if you do, make sure you know exactly what you want and go for it. But if you have as many interests as I do, you’ll need to find some of your desires in other areas.

I love writing. It is quite possibly my favorite thing to do (aside from hiking and eating). I quit my boring desk job in order to write full time. Only, here’s the catch: I didn’t expect to make much money from my writing immediately, and so started a writing coach/editing business instead. I also started teaching classes. I went full steam ahead on my coaching business for months: website, business cards, weekly blog posts, and fliers in every café.

I found my first client and while working with him, realized that I hadn’t even given writing a thought. So I went back to the drawing board and started pitching magazine ideas (5 a week) to various magazines, hoping that one would catch. It worked—I’ve gotten four articles or essays published in online and print magazines.

But am I doing enough to fulfill my writing passion? The problem is with success: Sure, I want to write but what do I want to write? Books? Articles? Essays? Blog posts?

I am—have always been—a Jill of all trades. When asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, it was always three or more things: A Veterinarian, a singer, an author…


But if I want to make need-to-survive money during the months while my pitches are read and considered, I need a job. So even though I quit my desk job, I picked up adjunct teaching for colleges. Recently I decided that maybe my new goal should be to write a book every year and a half (while constantly submitting pitches to magazines) and maybe I could switch my job up that often too. Restless? Yes. But also focused on learning, so every time I get good at something, it’s time to move on to something new. In our current gig economy where no job is guaranteed, starting a new job every year and a half seems like an issue only if you’re trying to get a mortgage—but many people do it. It’s one of the only ways to move up or get paid more, if your current company refuses to raise your salary.

So for me, I’ve broken apart Writing and Making Money. They are no longer in the same category. I will always write. But I get bored sticking to one thing for too long, and sitting down and banging out a novel every six months has never been my thing.

This is why you need to set goals for each of your ideas for success. This is VERY important:

  1. Success #1: ___________ (Insert one of yours here)
    1. What kind?
    2. Are you willing to work on ANYthing? What won’t you touch? Or what will kill you?
    3. What do you hope to learn?
    4. Why are you doing this?
    5. Where will you seek help?
    6. How will you assist others?

Because in the end, it will come down to networking, awful a word though that is. If you are in the writing game long enough, and are making a good impression, or at least a meaningful impression with those involved, then your chance will arise eventually. To stay involved with a community—whether it becomes your full-time job or not—means communicating with people and staying active.

  1. Success #1: Writing (Mine)
    1. Nonfiction essays, articles and books.
    2. I am willing to work on almost anything, but I don’t want to sell out. I am an optimist (although you wouldn’t know it if you met me) and I stick true to my values. I don’t want to write for mega-corporations. I don’t want to be taken advantage of, or to take advantage of others. I’d prefer to work with small businesses if possible.
    3. I want to meet people and always be learning new things. Every time I write I learn something new about myself.
    4. Because I have dedicated my entire life and six years of college to writing. I love to read and write. I love to construct story lines and outlines, and I want to make the world a better place through ideas.
    5. I seek help all the time from friends and family; from former writing buddies; from personal writing workshops; from major writing workshops like The Muse and ASJA; from NH Writers and events like the Boston Book Festival.
    6. I want to join some of these organizations, or start my own. I’d like to help people finish what they’ve started, but maybe not as an editor; more like a coach. So I do want to get into coaching. I’d like to teach at The Muse and Arisis and maybe ASJA someday. I love volunteering at The Muse and Newburyport Lit Fest. I’d like to volunteer with NH Writers if they chose to do something more. I’d really love to start something around here, maybe like how Mom is running the Tell-All in Boston.

Focusing on writing as a vocation instead of as a job works better for my brain, because thinking about numbers and adding them up pushes me away from volunteering or asking for help; it makes me focus on money instead of on passion, and I need to keep those separate for myself.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s