I’ve noticed since I started writing full time that I get a lot of the same questions over and over. “How do you stay disciplined?” is a pretty common one; so is “How do you come up with your ideas?”
But I’ve been getting another question lately, one I’m not really sure how to answer: “Should I be a writer?”
This question usually comes from a friend or a friend of a friend, along with a request to check out a writing sample. I actually really enjoy reading people’s stuff, and I don’t mind taking a look and offering critiques, but when it comes to assessing someone’s potential, I usually give the same response: I can’t tell you.
What I mean is I can say if I think something is working or isn’t, if I enjoyed what I read, if I would have wanted to read more if I was an agent or editor, but should you quit your job and write full time? That’s a totally separate question.
I think when people consider writing for a career, they imagine that if they have the talent, that’s all they need. And it’s true, talent is hugely important. But so much of writing is determination and follow-through. It’s sticking it out for months and years with very little hope of success. It’s stacks of rejections and second-guessing. If you have the drive and perseverance and passion to keep writing, to keep getting better, you will. And if you don’t, you don’t.
I sort of suspect that someone asking someone else if they should be a writer has, in a way, answered their own question. Because while it’s helpful to talk to professionals about what to expect, how long the process takes, the difficulties along the way, a person with the passion and drive to be a professional writer would never ask another person if they think they should go for it. You’d just go for it.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t question your own skills or path, and it doesn’t mean that once you go for it, you don’t second-guess your decision all the time. But you also don’t leave that question in someone else’s hands.