Is it time to lay the poor, penniless writer rhetoric to rest?

Posted by Sara Hawthorn

Writing, generally, is not a career on which people embark because of promised riches and the potential for Duck Tales-eqsue rolling around in vaults of cash. And as any school career advisor will gently but firmly tell you it’s often not the most secure and steady of professions, not like banking*. But is the long-held portrayal of the penniless, bohemian, conflicted, kooky writer lifestyle doing more harm than good for the thousands of writers working in the UK?

Writing is perhaps one of the most overly-romanticised careers in the world. This poll from YouGov last year named being an author as Britain’s most desirable job (interestingly being a journalist wasn’t far behind coming in at 39% of those surveyed) and it’s this rose-tinted perception that we insist on pedalling keeping the multitude of writers from their rightful place next to professions such as banking*.

What immediately sprung to my mind about that survey and this resulting article is why, if writing is such a desirable option for so many, the actual words writers produce are perceived to have very little value. The truth, I believe, is not a pretty one. We are expected by society to be penniless and struggling and, what’s worse, we’re expected to take some twisted pleasure in bemoaning our pitiful positions as lowly, unappreciated writers. Therefore the overwhelming parental-style love we’re supposed to have for the words we produce is all we need to keep ourselves warm on those cold nights.  We’re expected to be sustaining the rhetoric that’s damaging all of our careers.

There’s such a varied world within the umbrella career headline of ‘writer’ and all of those individual paths are worthy of their own recognition and respect – and a representative fee. It’s important to remember we’re not all trying to become the next Rowling, Martin, Atwood or Gaiman. I love the corporate writing I do for my clients, I love being able to help people communicate clearly and give them the words they struggled to find themselves. Do I write creatively? Yes, of course, most writers do, but I’m practical and realistic enough to know that’s not what’s going to pay my bills, I do it as an exercise to improve my overall writing skills; creative writing is my hobby, business and corporate writing is my career.

It’s time we stop doing our amazing industry a disservice by pandering to this historical stereotype – lets scribble over the old and pen a new, positive narrative of how great it is to be a talented, hard-working and happy writer in the modern world.

*My career officer, when I said at the naïve age of 13, I was going to be a writer, kindly told me that wasn’t really a ‘career’ and slid a leaflet on banking across the desk to me, smiling but with a pitiful look in her eyes. I ignored her advice. I am a writer. Read the mighty roar I write with my pen.