Writing is not a Career?

Many people have assumptions about what it means to be a writer. There is the idea that writing, while a fun hobby, is certainly not material for a real career.

I was reading a section of a book for writing class and was struck by the beauty of what the writer had to say. The book is called Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle. She writes on the subject of faith and art, particularly in the form of writing. In a chapter about labels that are put on writers, she discussed the various assumptions people make about writers.


“There’s another New Yorker cartoon that shows a woman opening the door of her house to a friend. We look through the door, and in the back of the house a man is writing at a typewriter, with a large manuscript piled on the desk beside him. The friend asks, ‘Has your husband found a job yet? Or is he still writing?’

“A successful businesswoman had the temerity to ask me about my royalties, just at last when my books were making reasonable earnings. When told, she was duly impressed and remarked, ‘And to think, most people would have had to work so hard for that.’ I choked on my tea not wanting to laugh in her face.

“A young friend of mine was asked what she did, and when she replied that she was a poet, the inquirer responded, amused, ‘Oh, I didn’t mean your hobby.’” (L’Engle 123).

I found this section fascinating, and yet, I also recognized the truth in what L’Engle had written. Many are ignored for their writing, told that it’s not a real job. It’s a sad world we live in where people can’t recognize the work that goes into the written craft.

In seventh grade we had a career day and the counselor was talking to the students about what they wanted to do in their future. After a brief introduction she asked around the room to see who already had a career idea. I was amongst a small group of people to raise their hands. She went around, calling on each and getting a list of different options. Sports trainer. Interior designer. Politician. And then it came to me and I smiled proudly before pronouncing “writer”.

The counselor had enthusiastically supported all of the other children. But when it came my turn she looked at me before calling on the next child.

I was embarrassed, humiliated. It was the first time I had ever realized that the adult world did not accept certain answers as “careers” even if that was what they were. My job choice was impractical and silly and wouldn’t get me anywhere in life.

I panicked, fought desperately to find another job that was more practical and less likely to get me weird looks or annoying comments. I felt satisfied when I found one (teacher) but of course was never nearly as content with the choice.

The world we live in is harsh on writers. Though it is not a “practical” career choice it still involves work and dedication. I appreciated seeing how another writer had experienced similar hostility towards her craft.

What have you experienced as a response to being a writer? If you don’t write, what’s your opinion on whether or not writing takes work?


L’Engle, Madeleine. Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith & Art. Wheaton, Ill: H. Shaw, 1980. Print.

1 Comment

Filed under Writing

One response to “Writing is not a Career?

  1. UGH, that first quote is straight out of my life- “have you found a job yet?” Granted, I’m not making any manner of riches from writing (yet), but you’re spot on- it’s certainly not accepted as a career, or at least, a viable one. I suppose no parent or teacher wants their child to grow up aspiring to be a starving artist all their days.

    Writing is also a ‘luxury’ career, not for the writer, but for society, and I think that’s what a lot of people see. But ya know what? I’ll take it over useless middle management.

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