“Don’t expect to make a living at writing.”
This is the first advice that I ever got, talking to someone about becoming a writer. While the people telling me this were already in the industry, and felt as though they were handing down valuable advice, it really fucked me up for a while.
There is nothing more that I have come to hate than the words ‘don’t quit your day job’ and ‘don’t expect to make a living at writing.’ Of course you don’t quit your day job until your work pays for itself. That’s common sense. I know people like to paint artists as having their brain in space, but really, most artists actually do know what baseline reality requires.
Look, writing is hard. Art of any kind is hard. You’re not producing something that fulfills a mechanical requirement or providing a directly tangible service. It’s not cooking food or selling products for a third party. It’s scary shit. It’s like going to college – you put a shitload of time and money into learning and polishing a given discipline that you have absolutely zero guarantee that you’re going to be able to turn into a job once you get that paper and get the hell out of school. Please, people. If you have a friend or loved one who’s trying to write – or do any kind of art – don’t tell them the obvious. They already know it’s scary as hell. They already know that they might fail. They are literally trying to crystallize human experience and emotion into a tangible, consumable form. They’re already working without a net, they don’t need a push.
Just support them. Listen, talk with them, and never assume that their work isn’t going to succeed just because you don’t like or understand it. There are people who still think that cave paintings are the raddest shit ever, your girlfriend’s webcomic isn’t some kind of bizarre aberration and your son’s poetry is going to get better over time. And even if they aren’t doing well right now, don’t pass judgment on the whole of their life moving forward. This shit takes a lot of time – but I promise you, even if they don’t end up doing what they wanted to or making a living off their work, the act of creating in a supportive environment is so much better for their mental health that you may well find that you’ve made their life bearable in ways you never knew existed.
And for those of you who DO quit your day job and devote yourself to this full time? Holy shit, you guys. You will always have my undying respect.