6 Reasons Why Writers Need To Stop Bloody Whining

I like to write. Please give generously

Hey, you! I want to be a full-time writer. Please give generously

There’s a lot of talk at the moment about earnings in the arts – or to be precise, the lack of them. This article from The Guardian is particularly whiny. It literally does depict an author in his garret. If it weren’t for electricity, you might imagine him setting his fingerless gloves on fire whilst trying to light his candle stubs.

Apparently, we are supposed to be sorry for the literary fiction writer who wants to write full-time, but can’t make a living from writing alone. Now, I had a mild dig at this before – but I’m in a different mood today.*

There are 3 types of writerly whinging, coming from both published and unpublished authors, and 2 of them need to be outlawed immediately. (When I am President of the World, it will be my second directive; right after I institute compulsory halitosis screening for everybody working in computer retail.)

The first type is that of The Guardian’s article above – the “stupid commercial authors are writing populist stuff which isn’t a quarter as intelligent as my work, and getting all the money” refrain.

The second type is the “stupid commercial authors are writing populist stuff which isn’t a tenth of the quality I am producing, and getting all the publicity” refrain.

Both types can go and starve in their garret, for all I care. The only literary moaning I will countenance is that of Lionel Shriver, here: the “stupid publishers are making me spend so much time in dubious promotional activities that I’m hardly ever getting time to write” refrain.  (The world would be a better place, quite frankly, if certain writers were barely (or not at all) involved in the hard marketing of their work. Nothing will turn you off a book more than bad sales techniques from desperate authors who may well be able to write, but are hideously inept at marketing.)

So, here are my top 6 reasons why writers need to

(i) shut up,

(ii) live in the real world for at least one half hour per day.

And as an added bonus extra freebie, for some reason they all begin with “P”.

writer's block

So if I just move that comma to the left… and change “and” to “in addition”…

1. Productivity

Your writing time is your own. You alone can allocate it. You alone can fill it with either productivity, or pictures of cats. If you’re going to sit there staring at one sentence for six hours, you have nobody to blame but yourself. Some people can complete a task in 20 minutes. Some people take 20 days. I know the sort I rather work with.

2. Passion

Anyone who says that they’re passionate about accountancy, retailing, or brand management, is either interviewing for a new job, or trying to cover up the fact that they’ve sold trade secrets and could be facing jail time. They are lying.  But if writers weren’t passionate about writing, they just wouldn’t do it. Writers are always banging on about how much they love writing. How many people get to do what they love every day, even if it’s only for 10 minutes? They should consider themselves lucky.

3. Purpose

You write because you love it. But perhaps you want to be remembered as well, that your art may live when you may die. While it is highly unlikely that anything the majority of us do in our day job will be remembered 5 days after we cease working there, let alone 5 or 50 years after we’re dead, writing is the legacy which could go far beyond the realms of a salaried job.

4. Prizes

For mid-list and literary writers this can mean big money and beautiful sales spikes; for emerging writers it can mean publishing contracts and a very decent foothold in the industry. Either way, they can boost your career like no ordinary job promotion could, and offer gorgeous opportunities unavailable to people in said ordinary jobs.  At least writers have the life-long potential to win something.

5. Priorities

There are precisely ZERO reasons why a workforce-age writer cannot hold down a separate paying job in lean times, unless they have other non-writing related reasons for not working (such as rampant unemployment, being a full-time parent, caring for a sick relative,  trying to get a business off the ground, etc).

This is what office people like me think full-time writing looks like

This is what office people like me think full-time writing looks like

Why is it a bad thing, that writers might have to do something else, besides writing, to make a living? Do accountants get up every day, jumping for joy that they get to spend another day in the office, trying to decipher the questionable wisdom of European banking regulations? Of course they bloody don’t. And yet they might have spent up to 7 years in training to become an accountant in the first place.

What about the courier whose garage band is playing six gigs a week to promote their album? Or the actor who waits tables 45 hours a week?

Writers deserve no more sympathy than anybody else who has to leave their house every day to do something which facilitates the feeding of themselves.

6. Practicality

A significant minority of highly respected writers will tell other writers that writing purely for commercial gain is selling out, selling their soul, or at best, lowering artistic standards.

I really have no time for this sort of rubbish. If an artist paints a picture which nobody wants to buy, do we think she has the right to unlimited public funding in order to keep on painting pictures which nobody, besides herself, might want?

Come on, guys. Change the record. You were boring before the Internet.


So there you go. Another Tantrum Tuesday in the bag! Thanks, folks. I feel MUCH better having whined about whining.

*Disclaimer: as an unpublished writer, I’m obliged to get all my whining out of the way before I grow up. Once you start charging people for stuff,  integrity as regards being this judgemental pretty much goes out the window.

  75 comments for “6 Reasons Why Writers Need To Stop Bloody Whining

  1. March 4, 2014 at 12:26 pm

    Loved this. A blast of reality. We’re all in the same boat…though some of us just might be special cases!


    • March 4, 2014 at 2:23 pm

      I think the cases in The Guardian are so special as to possibly require some sort of disability payment… reality disorder, perhaps. I’d rather be success-related special!


  2. March 4, 2014 at 1:44 pm


    There’s a lot to be said for self-reliance (sorry there’s not a P to be seen there but hey ho!) and many writers’ characters often display an inordinate amount of it whether it’s a chicklit diva setting out to nail her killer job or a noble youth on a even nobler quest…

    If you want to suffer for your art make like a wallflower and wilt sulkily in the shadows – if you want your place in the sun make like a sunflower and get out there and follow that big shiny thing in the sky. You know – that thingy that comes out for two minutes once a month in the summer?

    Seriously I’m retired but I still work at other things besides writing and that actually helps fuel my hobby of choice as experience is gold for a writer even if it’s just from failing to make your home made bread rise 😛


    • March 4, 2014 at 2:25 pm

      Yes, I do wonder sometimes at these writing geniuses who spend all day locked up in their cottages in the countryside, glowering at passing strangers and re-using teabags. Where’s the life experience in that? It’s hardly a mirror to society, is it??


  3. carolannwrites
    March 4, 2014 at 7:13 pm

    Yes… Reality check… From an author with quite a few jobs…
    Up at 6 this morning writing the novel… In to teach Junior Infants at 8.30. Ran to my afternoon job of teaching creative writing… Back at the novel this evening…
    Why? Because I love it! And also because it gives me something to write about!
    (Just polishing my writing halo now.) 🙂


    • March 4, 2014 at 11:11 pm

      Now you’re making even me feel guilty! Stop that this instant! No? Oh, well. I’ll just have to get down to it and write something then 😉


  4. March 4, 2014 at 11:18 pm

    Brilliant, Tara! I must admit when I first read the Guardian piece I started to wonder if it was a spoof or at least being slightly ironic. And then when I realised it was a straight piece, I thought to myself, has this writer never heard of self-publishing, of being an indie author being his own boss and calling the shots? He got no sympathy from me!


    • March 4, 2014 at 11:41 pm

      Thank you, Debbie! That was a shocker of an article in the Guardian, wasn’t it? I wonder did they have an ulterior motive all along, in stimulating all this discussion, because it’s been all over Twitter and Facebook since. It might explain the straightness of the piece, ne’er a tongue nor a cheek in sight.


      • March 4, 2014 at 11:44 pm

        Let’s hope they were that clever, rather than that stupid! If it had been published on April 1st, I’d have assumed it was a joke. But glad it led me to discover your blog, all the same!


        • March 4, 2014 at 11:57 pm

          Pleasure all mine, Debbie. And now I’m thinking, a very close look indeed at the Culture section on April 1st might be in order!


  5. March 5, 2014 at 7:32 am

    Well said, Tara.


    • March 5, 2014 at 9:36 am

      Thanks Mel. There’s nothing quite like moan solidarity 😉


  6. March 5, 2014 at 9:30 am

    I was going to write a blog response to that very same Guardian article (along the lines of ‘I don’t actually recognise all this doom and gloom, call me naive or unbelievably lucky but my experiences of being a full-time writer have been nothing but brilliant’) but you’ve said it all far more perfectly than I could have done. Absolutely agree with this.


    • March 5, 2014 at 10:44 am

      Thank you Elizabeth – any and all compliments welcome! But you should still write that blog response, because we need more positive stories and optimistic outlooks such as yours. The naysayers have cornered the headlines at the moment and it’s about time the rest of us were heard above the wailing din.


  7. March 5, 2014 at 10:16 am

    Tara, you are so right. We all need to understand that the world owes us nothing. Anyone who chooses a life in the arts is choosing to live with uncertainty, competition and the knowledge that there will always be people who are better than you. (Ten days ago I saw Bring up the Bodies at the RSC, having previously read the book; right now I’m reading Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life. How on earth can I compete with writing of that sublime standard?) You are a voice in the wilderness and I shall follow your blog forthwith.


    • March 5, 2014 at 10:46 am

      You don’t compete with them, you join them! Anything that makes us want to be better at what we do is a positive. Which is why the whinging and moaning drives me batty. I don’t see how any writer is going to improve themselves if they’re just sitting around complaining all the time…


      • March 5, 2014 at 11:39 am

        By compete I mean: compete for sales. If someone is going to buy one book this week, they need a very good reason to make it mine rather than the latest by an already established and talented writer. And, yes, studying how–say–Deborah Moggach achieves her effects can help us improve (but only if we let it).


        • March 5, 2014 at 12:01 pm

          Ah yes – but readers are hungry for great books, and they might buy yours next. You never know!


  8. Mick Mears
    March 5, 2014 at 11:31 am

    I cannot believe you only gave six reasons.


    • March 5, 2014 at 11:36 am

      I know. A gargantuan feat of restraint! But at least it gives room for expansion in the comments…


  9. March 5, 2014 at 11:40 am

    Great article Tara, I should think you have hushed a few whining authors, but don’t believe they will stay quiet too long.
    For those who are content with indulging in their passion, during their afforded times. I stand on their side of the fence.
    We all want to make big money and step into the world of the best sellers, quite frankly, even they started somewhere. The scenario painted in the Guardians article, shows the negative side of the equation. On the flip side there is an increasing market for content writers on the ever expanding internet.


    • March 5, 2014 at 12:13 pm

      There are far more opportunities for writers today to make a go of things than there were 50 years ago, absolutely. I’m not a fan of mantras or such like but I do believe that if you dwell more on positives such as personal goals, you’re already a step ahead.


      • March 10, 2014 at 11:25 am

        So true Tara, I must put that into practice again. This time I will be cautious not to be too positive, as that can be detrimental also. My mother always said, everything in moderation.


        • March 10, 2014 at 11:40 am

          Including moderation, John! Best of luck in your quest…


          • March 10, 2014 at 12:17 pm

            And you Tara! You are well on your way, I have a little catching up to do. Best of Luck!


            • March 10, 2014 at 12:36 pm

              That’s very kind of you, John, but only time will tell! No matter how much work you put in, we all have to rely on a little luck, too…


  10. Debby Hanoka
    March 5, 2014 at 8:37 pm

    As someone who has wanted to be various things during my extended childhood — writer, rock musician, cat rescuer, and so on — it never occurred to me NOT to have a dayjob while pursuing my interests. Pardon the vulgarity (or maybe not), but those “special cases” in The Guardian ought to get their heads out of their asses, grow up, and get a life.


    • March 5, 2014 at 11:46 pm

      I don’t think that’s vulgar at all. In fact I think it shows admirable restraint! People of the world with day jobs salute you 😉


  11. Nishant
    March 6, 2014 at 10:23 am

    You said you are unpublished writer, its good you remain so… If a writer is whining about he being paid less money for his art, he is right.

    It is bloody disgusting 3-4% royalites doled out to writers for ever sale of their book by publishers. And yes, writer gets fun from writing or not is none of your business. What do you mean to say, accountant does not like his work so he should get more money.

    The world is seriously wrong and writers need to be paid more otherwise it’s exploitation. I seriosly feel angry at morons like you. Perhaps you were born a slave or your forefathers were slaves that you have this mentality.

    Go die.


    • March 6, 2014 at 10:54 am

      Aw, my first ever negative comment on the Internet telling me I should die! Bless you. I’ll look back on this day fondly – the day I realised I’d finally made it! And what mindless vitriol, what fantastic energy pumped into such explosive anger! You really pulled out all the stops!

      I do think you may have had some difficulty in understanding some or perhaps all of the points under discussion, as illustrated by your interpretation of the accountant example. All the same, thanks for your comment – I’m really chuffed that you took the time and effort to get so angry – a far better use of said time and effort than anything else I can think of, I can tell you!


      • March 6, 2014 at 11:13 am

        I think, Tara, that Nishant has just proved your case for you. (Liked your response, btw).


  12. March 8, 2014 at 4:46 am

    My father was a talented musician who frequently played with Benny Goodman when he toured the East Coast. During World War II he served in the signal corps and in his years of military service was a respected photographer who did portraiture work for most of the military’s top brass. These were his passions. But he also had the responsibility to provide for a family of four, which he did without complaint. When it became clear to him that I had artistic interests he sat me down and said, “Follow your passions, but make money first.”

    I didn’t realize until years later that he was trying to tell me that arts are filled with more people and more product than there is demand and responsibility sometimes has to trump artistic interest. Much of my interaction with people in the arts has been with actors and musicians. While there are many exceptions to the rule, a good number of these fine folks harbor varying degrees of bitterness towards a world they feel has not properly acknowledged their “wonderfulness”. In his own way, my father was trying to let me know that artists of all types who consistently remain at the top represent a mere percent of a percent. And along the way I have learned that although the I Ching counsels us that “perserverence furthers”, it ain’t necessarily so.

    After many, many years of writing and rejections I finally have a screenplay that has been greenlighted for production. This may possibly open more doors or it may end up being my one hit wonder. Regardless of the outcome, I am grateful for the recognition I have received. Writing still remains my passion.


    • March 8, 2014 at 9:48 am

      What a great story, Wes – neatly encompasses everything I was wanting to say. Your Dad sounds like he was a rare gem indeed in the entertainment industry. I hope the other kids treated him fairly!
      So many people get hot under the collar about bringing economics in to the arts, the supply and demand argument – but you put it beautifully. I suspect it is often if not always about the wonderfulness of the artist being properly acknowledged, to their minds…
      The very best of luck with your screenplay. That’s hugely exciting and I will keep my fingers crossed for its success!


    • March 8, 2014 at 11:57 am

      Good luck with that, Wes. I hope it goes really well for you. (And that you make some money :-))


  13. March 8, 2014 at 1:26 pm

    Your advice is always good to hear, but as an “old-school” writer, I do see a difference in the possibility of the average competent writer — fiction, non, or commercial, etc. — being able to even pull a reasonable return from their work. Every writer I know personally has a day-job, if they aren’t retired. They might go from one lucky success towards the next, with no guarantees, even if they have a publishing contract; or they might slave away using every spare second of the day to produce a heartfelt work that simply won’t sell in enough quantity to pay for the effort. One of the biggest changes is the internet culture of free content which, for most writers makes giving your work away almost necessary to create any media attention or find any readers. Complaining about the economic pressure that has resulted in diminishing margins for even the Big Six (whoops: now 5) seems a waste of energy and the stories of reasonably well-known friction writers with contracts who can barely keep the wolf from the door are now legion. Moaning about it is indeed a waste of time, but realize that there are many good writers (both with and without contracts) that are struggling to even find time to lick their wounds.


    • March 8, 2014 at 2:09 pm

      Hi Richard! Thanks for your comment.

      Just to make clear here that there is a distinction between two arguments. One – the one I’m most concerned about here – is about writers who complain that they’re not selling enough of their work to make a living. For literary prize-winners in particular, such as the two in the Guardian article, who have already be given the huge exposure and book sales which accompany such accolades, I’m inclined to believe that the reason their subsequent work isn’t selling enough to make them a living, is because they’re not writing stuff which people want to read. Or at least, that enough people want to read. Whether you agree with economic factors applying to the arts or not, you can’t argue with what readers want. It’s futile, if not extremely patronising. There may be good writers who are struggling, but ultimately, it’s readers who decide who it is they want to support in their endeavours.

      The second argument, regarding writers having to give away content for free on the Internet, is another thing entirely. And worthy of another post. But it does strike me that it’s always up to the author what they’re giving away for free. Is it not their own risk if they give away the good stuff?


      • March 8, 2014 at 4:26 pm

        It’s a balancing act, to be sure. The whining about JK Rowling’s ongoing success is just sour grapes, of course. I’m thinking more about those mid-list writers who could bring a nice chunk of extra income in, twenty years back, but now are hard-pressed to give their writing enough time. What with all the additional demands that marketing puts on a writer — beyond the top-tier of mass-market blockbuster writers, of course — there’s precious little time to really hone a new idea. There’s also the pressure to jump into writing serial books which have shown more promise recently than they used to as well as targeted genre fiction. No one ever told us that it was going to be easy learning the new dance steps constantly!


        • March 8, 2014 at 4:57 pm

          I agree with you wholeheartedly on the mid-list writers issue. I dread to think of writers who are specialised and absolutely good enough at what they do, being pressurised to do something else because someone with some marketing statistics think they know best. The more I look at bestsellers, the more I see that they are all outliers, proving that the only people who know anything, are readers – and they do not like being told what to do at all!


          • March 8, 2014 at 5:10 pm

            We can take some comfort in the fact that there are still some specialty and small presses that have enough wiggle-room to print unusual, cross-genre work. For the average reader, though, it’s hard to hear their voices over the din in the media as the Best Sellers are flogged non-stop! So far, the internet’s own book-sharing sites, such as Goodreads are only marginally successful go-to locations for recommendations. Online reviews are questionable to begin with, and in places like Goodreads, which is only now beginning to clean up the trolls’ lairs and sock-puppetry, it can be really daunting trying to find the right read.
            So we endeavor to persevere.


  14. March 10, 2014 at 10:09 am

    LOVE this article, Tara. It struck a chord with me like you wouldn’t believe, especially because I am right there whinging non stop about how unfair life is that I’m not at home penning my novel every day. Talk about a first world problem!


    • March 10, 2014 at 10:40 am

      Yes indeed, Rachel – as for myself, another Monday morning at my desk. Not my writing desk, my day job desk – a hundred different writing ideas floating around my head and not one of them will fit on the spreadsheet I’m supposed to have finished by lunchtime! Definite first world problems!

      Actually one of us should start a new Twitter account – “Writer’s Problems”. Could be a beautiful parody. First tweet “Spelling mistake on first page of this self-published novel I’m reading. I could do SOOOOOO much better” 😉


    • March 10, 2014 at 3:06 pm

      Sometimes I think we become ~ as a craft or profession ~ a bit too self-indulgent. Unless you come out of the chute with a platinum fork and spoon, struggle and the angst it sometimes involved is more the norm than the exception. I honestly wanted to be a cowboy when I was a lad. My grandfather (adopted) was and so was Gary Cooper, John Wayne and Glen Ford. I might have made a good one except for a trip to the only big town for miles around and a good look at all the trucks and autos there. Seamus’ message was clear. There were more autos than horses now so good luck with the job prospects. Some things, no matter how much we want them, are simply not meant to be. And even though I can’t help drive herds to Kansas, I am one of the best flipping wannabe cowboys on the planet. Have a great day, gang.


      • March 10, 2014 at 5:17 pm

        It takes a certain type of person to see the opportunities, but it often takes a smarter one to see where there are none, and adapt accordingly… I think your type will always be just fine 🙂


  15. March 12, 2014 at 4:22 am

    You earn the NavWorks Press SAS Badge for this piece.

    Being known in all the circles where I interact as the resident smart ass, I thought I’d make it official and establish an award called the SAS [smart ass syndrome or smart aleck syndrome (for the easily offended)] Badge. I give the award to any article which manages to epitomize the smart assedness of its writer.

    Congratulations on receiving this prestigious Badge.


    • March 12, 2014 at 8:50 am

      Woo hoo!!! Yeah!! I’d like to thank my family…..and my dog…


  16. dragonmis
    March 12, 2014 at 9:54 am

    Love this. Been saying something similar for years. What I would add is that going out into the “real” world can also be a source of inspiration and ideas. Just listening to people talking is something all writers should do.


    • March 12, 2014 at 5:07 pm

      There’s nothing like the creative inspiration you get from doing un-creative things – completely agree! If I wasn’t working in an office, watching people act and react and fight and scheme and strive, to be honest, I have no idea what I’d write about!


  17. March 12, 2014 at 1:00 pm

    Brilliant! I’ve got the giggles now. I am one of those pathetic whiny authors AND the Queen of procrastination. I suppose we should equate this writing lark to playing the lottery. We can’t complain that just because we spend money buying lottery tickets every week for years of our lives that we deserve to win! LOL


    • March 12, 2014 at 1:58 pm

      I love the lottery analogy, Laura. It’s absolutely right. Although when we do win, we’ll always claim it was dead easy 😉


  18. March 12, 2014 at 1:00 pm

    Reblogged this on <3……….Laura Crean………..<3 and commented:
    This made me giggle – but it’s so true!


  19. March 12, 2014 at 1:15 pm

    Reblogged this on Chris The Story Reading Ape's New (to me) Authors Blog and commented:
    OK all you high flying author friends of mine – does this article have a point or not?
    Answers to Tara (and PLEASE keep them wholesome – any bullying will be severely dealt with by you know who) 🙂


    • March 12, 2014 at 4:47 pm

      For what it’s worth, we have to make it less of a lottery and more of a calculated approach to a business. No sure things in any business, but if you do your homework, determine exactly who your market is, then provide them with a superior product, which you have convinced them they need, the returns can be decent. There’s no denying that the game on the ground is changing, but c’mon… we’re players, aren’t we? We figure out what’s happening and we revise our planning. We’re writers! We make it all up as we go along anyway!

      Reply to


      • March 12, 2014 at 5:06 pm

        Richard, how right you are. For people who make things up for a living, so many of us seem to have blinkers when it comes to the economic end of it! Guerilla marketing tactics are where it’s at, especially for self-published authors – once the word is out, if the book is good, it will spread.


  20. March 12, 2014 at 2:49 pm

    In my opinion nobody should even think about writing seriously until they’ve experienced life, say about at age 50, which for most people is 10 years to retirement. Use the spare moments of those 10 years wisely on researching your first novel, and then you start writing – fulltime.


    • March 12, 2014 at 4:25 pm

      If I agree can we allow me to keep writing all the same before I’m 50?! 😉 I do know what you mean though. I shudder to think of what I might have written in my 20s, say, if I’d taken it upon myself back then to write seriously. I don’t think I’d be writing now, if I’d done so.

      All the same, there are some magnificent young writers out there – talent will always out. I just don’t think that me in my 20s was one of them.


      • March 12, 2014 at 4:47 pm

        Hehe… I was trying to bring some good cheer and looking forwardness to retirement.


  21. March 12, 2014 at 5:55 pm

    That Guardian article really was a load of old bollocks. I understand people being concerned about earning less but if you can afford to rent an office to write in on the South Bank there is only one word for you: loaded and if you have to give it up, I suspect it merely means you’re a bit less loaded than before. I realise I’m probably being judgemental, who knows, he may be spending three quarters of then income on that rent but frankly, I think that article is insulting to real poor people.

    I also agree that to get stuff out of your brain you have to put interesting experience in.




    • March 12, 2014 at 6:27 pm

      Is there a different word, other than judgemental, for a great many people scoffing at the same thing? Because everyone seemed to have turned against that article at the same point- the mention of that South Bank office. You’re in good company…


  22. Dougie Brimson
    March 15, 2014 at 8:02 am

    Reblogged this on The Thoughts of Chairman Doug. and commented:
    Love this blog! It’s so true….


  23. July 14, 2016 at 11:01 am

    An additional benefit of a day job includes being able to fund all the cool stuff that people like about being a writer; mainly the drugs and alcohol.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. March 9, 2017 at 1:31 am

    We have such a strange relationship to art and media. There’s this recurring conflict between what we “like” and what’s “good”. People want to like Mozart, but instead they enjoy the latest bubblegum pop music, and there’s nothing wrong with that. We all dream of success, but it only has value because it is challenging, and carries the risk of setbacks.

    It’s funny. People complain about how trashy, bad writing reaps such great rewards, and yet, if it’s so easy, why don’t they do it?

    Liked by 1 person

    • March 9, 2017 at 5:15 pm

      I think there is a huge element of luck, Adam, yes, rather than an appreciation for trashy, bad writing… but if we knew what made luck, we would definitely all be doing it.

      Liked by 1 person

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