Writers aren’t generally known as the happiest lot. As a recent Guardian survey of some top writers shows, even the best ones don’t particularly enjoy it all that much. And in case you think this is a new development, an 1842 letter from Edgar Allen Poe to his publisher recently surfaced in which he was found apologizing for drinking so much and begging for money.
But believe it or not, writing and happiness can, in fact, go together. Here are ten ways for a writer to stay positive:
1. Enjoy the present.
Writers are dreamers, and dreamers tend to daydream about the future while concocting wildly optimistic scenarios that involve bestsellerdom, riches, and interviews with Ryan Seacrest. In doing so they forget to enjoy the present. I call this the “if only” game. You know how it goes: if only I could find an agent, then I’ll be happy. When you have an agent, then it becomes: if only I could get published, then I’ll be happy. And so on. The only way to stay sane in the business is to enjoy every step as you’re actually experiencing it. Happiness is not around the bend. It’s found in the present. Because writing is pretty great — otherwise why are you doing it?
2. Maintain your integrity.
With frustration comes temptation. It’s tempting to try and beat the system, whether that’s by having someone else write your query, lying to the people you work with, or, you know, concocting the occasional fake memoir. This may even work in the short term, but unless you are Satan incarnate (and I hope you’re not) it will steadily chip away at your happiness and confidence, and your heart will shrivel and blacken into something they show kids in health class to scare them away from smoking. Don’t do it.
3. Recognize the forces that are outside of your control.
While it’s tempting to think that it’s all your fault if your book doesn’t sell, or your agent’s fault or the industry’s fault or the fault of a public that just doesn’t recognize your genius, a lot of times it’s just luck not going your way. Chance is BIG in this business. Huge. Gambling has nothing on the incredibly delicate and complex calculus that results in a book taking off. Bow before the whims of fate, because chance is more powerful than you and your agent combined.
4. Don’t neglect your friends and family.
No book is worth losing a friend, losing a spouse, losing crucial time with your children. Hear me? NO book is worth it. Not one. Not a bestseller, not a passion project, nothing. Friends and family first. THEN writing. Writing is not an excuse to neglect your friends and family. Unless you don’t like them very much.
5. Don’t Quit Your Day Job.
Quitting a job you need to pay the bills in order to write a novel is like selling your house and putting the proceeds into a lottery ticket. You don’t have to quit your job to write. There is time in the day. You may have to sacrifice your relaxation time or sleep time or reality television habit, but there is time. You just have to do it.
6. Keep up with publishing industry news.
It may seem counterintuitive to follow the news of a business in which layoffs currently constitute the bulk of headlines. But it behooves you to keep yourself informed. You’ll be happier (and more successful) if you know what you’re doing.
7. Reach out to fellow writers.
No one knows how hard it is to write other than other people who have tried to do it themselves. Their company is golden. If you’re reading this it means you have an Internet connection. Reach out and touch a writer. And plus, the Internet allows you to reach out to writers without smelling anyone’s coffee breath.
8. Park your jealousy at the door.
Writing can turn ordinary people into raving lunatics when they start to believe that another author’s success is undeserved. Do not begrudge other writers their success. They’ve earned it. Even if they suck.
9. Be thankful for what you have.
If you have the time to write you’re doing pretty well. There are millions of starving people around the world, and they’re not writing because they’re starving. If you’re writing: you’re doing just fine. Appreciate it.
10. Keep writing.
Didn’t find an agent? Keep writing. Book didn’t sell? Keep writing. Book sold? Keep writing. OMG an asteroid is going to crash into Earth and enshroud the planet in ten feet of ash? Keep writing. People will need something to read in the resulting permanent winter.
Need help with your book? I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and consultations! And if you like this post, check out my guide to writing a novel.
Art: Moses and the Ten Commandments by Rembrandt
I just found your blog today. Great rules for staying happy. Balance in all things.
I really liked this!
Me gusto mucho!
Everything you say makes so much sense! I've been tempeted by some of the miseries you mention here. Las year I came this close to getting my first children's novel published but just then the head editor left the publishing house and off went my little piece!
Thank you for showing some care and sensitivity towards "story tellers".
M. Pasek says
This is great! Priorities: friends and family over astroids! love it! thanks!
Vinda Sonata says
hi, just found this blog through the recommendation of claudia gray who wrote evernight. i'm so excited i found this blog, and those tips are really helpful. thanks for sharing! you're awesome!!
marly youmans says
Hi Nathan Bransford–
Like your site and shall send links to various needy-of-Bransford-wit souls.
Love it! Especially number 8, hehehe. Thank you!
Isabelle Lafleche says
This is fantastic advice. I particularly agree with #9, as we often forget to be grateful for what we have. You should print these on t-shirts!
How to Win the Lottery says
Wow. I don't know what to say except for the fact that I love what you have written. I enjoy reading the 10 commandments of a Happy writer.
Keep on posting something like this. It gives not just hope but it can also be inspirational. 🙂
I needed to read this. I am in the midst of trying to write a book and the part about having time to write is what I needed to hear. Follow link to read my short overview. Your opinion would mean a lot to me. https://lindsaycasale.wordpress.com/2010/09/
E. Verna says
WELL DONE! Nathan you are a very remarkable writer. Your 10 Commandments is awesomely amazing. Wish I could write better than you. LOL.
Had to laugh at Anonymous way up above, "shameless bunch of butt kissers…" There may be a glimmer of truth there…
HOWEVER, enjoyed the post, and think positivity week is a nice idea — especially in a profession where good news often takes its time to come around.
Samantha G says
"Writers aren't generally known as the happiest lot." I love how writers are thought of- people who sit under trees in the sun smoking cigars with a typewriter in one hand and millions in the other. Of course, I think of agents as coperate men and women dressed in suits with coffee breath- anyone want to correct me? Thanks for the funny post Nathan- I defo will be printing this one out.
Thank you, Nathan, for all the inspirational blogs. As a new writer struggling with myself, mostly, and the demands of the industry, your blog has helped keep the goals realistic and me feeling more optimistic! 😉
You make me so happy.
Just loved the 'asteroid coming'.. 🙂
Everything on this site is so amazingly helpful and I love it! This post is my favorite so far though. Practical and so true.
John Barnes says
Very sound. One further note on the matter of the day job: People with day jobs tend to stay more interesting for longer, even if the day job is dull or routine. People who spend all day at the desk get dull after a while, and begin to think the whole world lives in books.
Bridget from Chicago says
I am so happy this blog came my way while surfing tonight. Loved the tips for my writing adventures and queries…
Bonus! I was able to find a great book for my young boys too. It's in my Amazon cart and I know they'll love it.
Thanks so much,
The WizDyme says
Nice post. Very uplifting and lots of truth.
Nathan, I love you for this.
I was about to quit my day job to launch my writing career. I'm 41, never written anything, and I know that being a writer is what I want to be when I grow up (20 years late!).
I'm writing blurbs at home, and am thinking launching a blog to force me to write every day.
I have 3 novels in my head but lack the "meat" to fill them up. Working on that too..!!
In any event, your blog is wonderful. The writers that post here are wonderful. I am thankful to all of you. I shall prevail! And will have to keep crunching numbers for a living (for now!!).
Love your humor. The commandments are getting a space on my desk. The blog is getting a bookmark. Thanks
By the way I am going to writers' hell. Broken too many commandments.
Dana Fredsti says
Sharing sharing and sharing some more. A writer friend of mine sent me some notes he'd taken from a workshop where the first piece of advice was: Quit your day job.
After I laughed myself silly, I told him what I thought of the workshop advice. I think he'll find your post more helpful and less likely to find him begging for quarters on a street corner.
Ha, I loved the last one. Asteroid coming? Keep writing. We'll need something to read in the resulting permanent winter. Ha.
I realyl do like these tips and I am definitely keeping them in mind.
This makes me super happy. Thanks Nathan
I really needed to read this. I can now go in to this potential paid writing gig with a more level head and realistic goals. Thank you thank you!
Nathan, you're a friggin' genius. I'm writing these commandments down and taping them to my laptop screen.
I love #9! Thank you for your perspective.
J.S. Johnson says
And here I was, planning to write a "but writing is awesome!" entry in my blog later this week.
Thanks for this – it's important for everyone to remember, not just writers.
Shona Moyce says
Perspective – you do it so well! Thanks for the tips… particularly in the event of an asteroid… duly noted! 🙂
How ironic that I'm writing this just as an asteroid is about t