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Do You Have What It Takes to Be a Writer? Answer This Question to Find Out

Most of us don’t win the career lottery.

Unlike that rare individual who knows from the age of eight he wants to be a trial lawyer (and actually becomes one and actually remains one all his life), it might take decades to discover your calling. 

In fact, this is how a lot of us get into careers as writers. We bounce from job to job until we realize writing is something that interests us.

So naturally, at some point, we ask veteran writers questions like this: "Should I become a writer? Do I have what it takes?”

+Demian Farnworth says "Usually what they want me to do is evaluate something they wrote. And at first I was like, 'Why not?' Maybe I can help people get on their way with a career in writing."

But over time he stopped accepting the invitation, and just got blunt.

Instead, when someone asks him, “Can you read this and tell me if I have a shot at writing?” this is what he tells them:

"No. I will not read what you wrote. There is a better way to tell if you could make it as a writer."

And in tomorrow's post you'll find out exactly what that is. Stay tuned. 

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Great post, Demian.  I am definitely obsessed but I write in the worst category; Fiction.  I have also written non fiction and my passion is helping other people.  Can I make money at it? That remains a mystery.  Plus, one of the obstacles is other people's low opinion of writers i.e. my family thinks it's a waste of time but that attitude has to be ignored. I'm reading further on the Hedgehog theory :) Makes me think of the chocolates.
I'm finally at a point in life where I'm actively trying to make money writing. In my former career, my favorite part of the day or week was writing, and I wrote until late each night for myself. Now I have the freedom to write as much as I want during the day, and I allow myself to be distracted. I think it's fear of failure, fear of rejection, and every other fear getting in the way. Thankfully I'm more stubborn than that. :)
+Lisa Thomson The opinion that fiction is the worst category is because of its hard marketing. I disagree that fiction is the worst - people always have and will continue to search for and read stories. Glad to know you love helping people - so focus on writing plots with moral and valuable lessons. That's what will make your story stand out and inspire others. It really works and about the money - think of them as energy only, not a purpose.
Interesting thoughts. . . not sure if my question was answered, but definitely food for thought. I always respect Demian's opinions on writing!
Demain, you've drawn a clear line between what it takes to be a writer and what it doesn't. Thanks for a great post.

And this question to self "can i live without writing", it has renewed my passion for writing.
I used to think that writing is my passion. I write as part of my work. However, my blog, where I write for pleasure, has been silent since months. That makes me question my passion for writing. Sigh.
+Lisa Thomson Kudos to you for this: "My family thinks it's a waste of time but that attitude has to be ignored." Hits on an idea I just read this morning. I'm glad you're following your passion because it feels right to you.

+Lakshmi Jagad A vacant blog is not necessarily a sign that you lack a passion for writing. We can be passionate about something, but let it get bottled up and not let it out for a variety of reasons: fear, self-consciousness, momentum, etc. In private moments, do you miss writing? How you found some kind of creative outlet in the interim? I've had blogs lay dormant for a while, only to pick them back up later with renewed vigor. That dormant blog COULD be a sign that you aren't a blogger ... but it is not, in and of itself, a sign that you are not a writer. Dig deeper. You'll find the answer. :-)
+Lisa Thomson I need to add that one to the list of occupational hazards: friends and family don't view it as a viable option. 

+Michaela Mitchell Cherish that stubbornness. You will need it. Combined with perseverance, you will make a great writer. :D

+Todd Jones what do you mean you are not sure your question was answered? You're not sure you have the obsession?

Good to hear, +Samra Khan!
I have never heard of the Hedgehog Concept so this was a very educational read for me. Thank you! 
Demian, thanks for this excellent post. You are right about intrinsic motivation. If you don't find the actual act of writing to be satisfying in and of itself, you cannot go far with this. This kind of deep personal commitment looks like an obsession to people who aren't into writing. But I say, how could I be doing anything else? The act of writing is so difficult. It's torture some days. But it's immensely satisfying. And I love how my writing has connected me to new people I would have never met otherwise.
Writing is a powerful weapon to speak on issues and to help the helpless but as you have said Demian , it is a lonely road so you must be passionately driven to success.
Like this a lot, and agree, Demian. That endorsement may be worth something to you as I've been doing this professionally since 1969, and continue to do so despite all the waves that the publishing industry has been and continues to go through.

I would not use the words "loneliness" or  "lonely" though, Demian and Marlene to describe the working conditions, though. It feels to me solitary, which is quite different; that is, of course, writing requiring a certain amount of enjoyable solitude.

If being alone much of the time feels like  isolation,a burden or hardship rather than interesting and a relief, then one may not be cut out to be a full-time freelance writer. Of course there are many successful part-time or interactive ways to write professionally: do shorter pieces rather than books, be a staff writer, combine teaching or leading workshops with writing...
Thank you for the kind words, and the GREAT endorsement +Crescent Dragonwagon. I'm comfortable with solitude, but don't you think if we're not careful we can allow that comfort cut us off from humanity, which then becomes isolation, loneliness. Even though we might not admit it. I speak from experience. Agree? 
+Antara man For me, blogging has been less about the need to be read by others and more about the act of writing and self-expression. Haven't ever been bothered by Internet obscurity! :) Thanks for the links.
Demian --- first off, no good writer is cut off from humanity. One can't be, not and write well. Others, and interaction with them, are one's primary source material.

Porousness to others makes one able to write. This porosity, however, also makes solo time vital. If you take in more when you're around others (and most writers do) you just need more time to decompress than those who tune out more.

Secondly, well, I suppose it goes to  self-understanding / emotional IQ 101/ and 101. Everyone is somewhere on the introvert/extrovert scale; energized or depleted by interaction, and interaction of particular kinds.  I often say I'm the world's most outgoing introvert: I'm totally not shy, enjoy others, am relaxed when in conversation and equally comfortable talking or listening actively, drawing out others' stories. I find it stimulating.... (particularly in a group.... but depleting. When I teach live workshops, they and me are totally high-energy for three days. But then I go home and sleep for two days.  

You have to know who you are to understand where you are on this scale, and then find a way to make it work for you and your writing.

Here's a "blong" --- (I consider my Facebook posts what most people think of as blogs, but do my very occasional posts as essays, such as I used to do for magazines back when magazines paid well)... which muses on these things.  
Really like the question you posed in the post. That makes a lot of sense to me and explains a lot of my approach and emotion towards writing. I don't think I'm a career writer, but I do see using writing to help me get where I want to go career-wise. 
+Demian Farnworth +Crescent Dragonwagon  I am sorry to interject, please forgive me!, but I am SO intrigued by your touching on the Introversion/Extroversion within the writing community. I can't believe I'm sharing this but I just posted an article on my blog titled "Beware The Introvert On Social Media" and the amount of input and insight from readers blew my mind. Could introverts be more likely to thrive on social media due to their love of writing, reading and time 'alone'? Are we therefore communicating in ways we never would have before? I humbly share this link to the article, I am no where even close to the caliber of either of you. I just got so excited to see the topic come up as I read the comments here! Thank you Demian for this extremely thought provoking post and discussion. I can't not write, so I'm now just praying for the grit to keep going in order to make money to sustain some income. Your wisdom is greatly appreciated! 
I'm sending this article on to my grandson who is today signing up for a writing course at SKAG.  I have your paragraph on termites taped to my desk and try to read it each day.  Thanks Demian
+Allison Conway No need to apologize. And yes, I happen to think that social media allows introverts to behave in ways they ordinarily wouldn't (talking to strangers, for example). Great post. 

+Florian Hollender That's what I like to see. 
Ash Roy
Hi Demian. Thanks for sharing an excellent article. You raised some very important questions which really have got me thinking.

I don't know if writing is my 'hedgehog' per se but I did quit the corporate world after 15 years of an increasingly dissatisfying career in finance and strategy.

I did this in favour of starting my own blog which a couple of journalists  commented on as being quite good.

This encouraged me to write more, but now you've got me wondering whether I feel passionately enough to see writing the only career option that really means anything to me.

I guess the fact that I've been slogging in the trenches for the last year (with no income) says something. 

Anyway I LOVE your articles. You are a deep thinking and always leave me with something profound. This post has been no exception. 

My salutations to you. 

Piece for thought +Demian Farnworth, However, I was asking similar questions from a long time. I agree with the referral to obsession and unhealthy focus. George Orwell once said "Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand."
Did you ever try writing fiction, Demian? Your strength is content marketing but what about non poetry fiction?
I like the comment about burning the ships, Damien. While I've written and published before, I've set aside the coming year to publish a manifesto book. An edition that ties nine years of blogging together into one place. When I look at your criteria, I definitely have the first two bullets covered, but the making money at it (or I should say... profit at it) has eluded me so far. Making something do or die will certainly help me get it done, and setting the ships on fire will require me to pull out all the stops. But focusing on one thing may be the key to success.

I just finished the book, Essentialism, by Greg Mckeown. In it, he talks about the power of saying NO. The key to becoming a good writer may be saying NO to many other endeavors, while focusing on one key piece of content.
Great post Demian.

A writer has to tell themselves that they are a writer; no one can do it for them.

I like your points about getting paid though. Living on the breadline isn't much fun.

+John Richardson A manifesto is a great idea. Best of luck with it.
Interesting and beautifully written post. I imagine it's very inspiring for those who answer No to the "Can you live without writing?" question.

But what about the other side? I'm glad I didn't read this 5 years ago, because my answer would have been (and still is) "Yes, I can definitely live without writing." And if I'd have listened, then I would have never started a business based around my writing. This post sort of implies that such a business could never be successful, but it has been.

In those five years I've learned to enjoy writing, and gotten a lot better at it. But I could take or leave the actual writing part. I LOVE building something that matters, and writing is an essential part of a model that works, so I do it. 

I appreciate the inspiration to think about this stuff, though. Thanks! 
For the "building something that matters" aspect. Being an entrepreneur is exciting to me, especially if it helps a cause I care about.

The "build an audience first, through writing" model (that I learned on Copyblogger!) seemed like a good one, so I went for it, even without loving the act of writing itself.
Thanks for this.

I've heard about Good to Great before and never got around to reading it. +Demian Farnworth you're the second person who mentioned it this week-specifically the Hedgehog concept- so I guess I need to give it a read. 

I agree with +John Richardson that burning the ships may be the best way to overcome the "making money" part. Right about now I do feel obsessively committed to writing. 
Love this post, +Demian Farnworth :) In my mind, I saw that venn diagram that floats around the web from time to time...the one where one circle is your passion (or what +Jerod Morris recently wrote about by asking "what makes your heart sing?"), then another circle is what you're actually good at, and another circle is the demand/need/willingness of the market to pay for the thing you'd sell. 

Where the circles overlap is where the sweet spot is. Love the way you spoke about that area of overlap in this post!

One thing that came to mind as I read your post is that for years I would dream of being a writer...any kind of writer, but I had no sense of what the reality of writing was like. 

Come to find out that writing is actually quite painful sometimes. Though, it's an exquisite kind of pain...kind of like riding your bike up a really steep, long mountain road. 

Thank you for the inspiration to keep pedaling!
+Forest Linden I actually created a Venn diagram using a pencil app ... but decided against using it. And I actually said, arrow pointing to the middle, "sweet spot." Great minds think alike. So do we. :D
+Demian Farnworth Ha! Perfect! Yay for Venn diagrams! It's pretty neat that despite the lack of an actual diagram in the post, it arrived in my head anyway. You must have some Jedi copywriting mind trick skills ;)
 +Demian Farnworth After reading 'Are You Really a Writer … Or Just a Copyist? I discovered that I am a copyist (not ashamed of admitting it). Though a passionate writer, but most of my manufactured content is derived from other original sources. But the best part is I am able to earn enough to fulfill my desires. However, after reading this post, you aroused my inner writer to be go beyond what I have been doing and stop tweaking content originally staged by others. So all I want to say is thanks for this convincing read.....
I have wanted to be an author since before I could remember. I used to sit in restaurants with my mother as a young girl reading the news paper to try to find "story ideas" within the headlines (some of the stuff I came up with was absolutely terrible. For some reason I distinctly remember writing down an idea that a character rented their furniture through a sort of financing company and they later found out their payments were scheduled to start far sooner than they anticipated. What where they to do? Keep in mind, I was probably ten years old.) 

Later in high school and college, I loved the idea of creative writing and poetry, but that flopped because I felt I wasn't creative enough. Cue graduate school and BAM, I was writing some very effective research and it took me through Sociology conferences and internships writing their proposals for environmental health initiatives.

Then I dropped out for financial reasons.
As I have waded through the waters of low skill labor and sitting firmly just below poverty level, I definitely had the re-invigoration to start writing again. Right now I'm just working on a little blogging project where I try different hobbies every week and share with the world my entirely lackluster skill set, but I have big dreams of getting into the industry. That post didn't deter me in any way. I thought it might, since I often question myself, but it actually lit a fire under my bum. This year will be different.

Thank you for the post! 
Si Chen
I've been wondering about whether to take up writing seriously, but I don't want to turn a hobby into a job.  I would love to write fiction around things that interest me.  But is there a way you could be a writer who is connected and shares with ours without turning it into a job or business?  Or is that just not reality?
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