How do you measure your worth as a creative? CHLOE PAPAS, an experienced journalist and writer, answers all of these questions in this last instalment of Check Yourself, a column on navigating the pitfalls (and the spoils!) of the writing life.
Q: Why do I still get embarrassed about telling people I am a writer? Why does society value our day job more than our love job?
A: Dear Confident Creative,
The first thing you need to know is that you are absolutely not alone in this feeling. It’s something that many creatives struggle with, because you’re right: society doesn’t value creative jobs and goals in the same way that it values other professions. Somewhere along the line, those who haven’t worked or dabbled in the arts decided to regard writing akin to a lifestyle choice, as if it couldn’t possibly be a real job. They decided that spilling our guts onto pages is similar to a twee little hobby, unless of course, we hit the big time.
It’s a toxic notion. It not only feeds the insecurities of writers like you and me, it also leads to fewer jobs, less money put into the arts, and a cycle that subsists on the concept that writing isn’t worthwhile. It is those social concepts that make us squirm at dinner parties or family gatherings when someone asks what we do. Every writer has experienced a negative reaction; whether it’s confusion, condescension, or insensitive comments from a (possibly) well-meaning relative.
And yet writers work just as hard - if not harder - than those in the most ‘respected’ professions. We have to fight tooth and nail to get published, battle with our own creativity, deal with an industry that is scrambling to cope with change, and compete with other incredible artists to get noticed. We have to find ways to motivate ourselves, and a huge percentage of us have to work day jobs in order to fund our dream careers.
And, even when our ‘love job’ becomes our day job, it is still undervalued.
When we as writers work so hard to not only achieve our own dreams but to prove something to those who doubt us, it’s easy to forget about creativity. We become focused on productivity and output, and start to believe the myths: you only become a writer when you’re published in a big-name journal, or when you get your first book deal, or someone other than your friends or family knows your name. Real talk? That’s all bullshit. We’re not here to hit KPIs or pass monthly reviews; we are here to create on our own terms.
You are a writer because you write. Because you feel that thing that forces you to stop and write down an idea, or to pull out your phone and tap out a few sentences that make sense only to you - but one day, might make sense to a few more - or a whole lot of people. Even on the days when it feels like you can’t write, or when you read a book or article that makes you think: ugh, how could I ever do that? You are still a writer. It doesn’t matter whether you write full time or only for yourself on weekends. Whether you get paid or published or recognised - it doesn’t matter.
I would love to be able to tell you the exact moment in time when you will feel confident about being a writer, but I can’t. I can tell you that the day will come, and maybe you’ll still feel a bit weird about it. You’ll still hold your head high because you can do something that very few others can do: you can take a bunch of words that mean barely anything on their own and throw them together to mean something beautiful or sad or hilarious or painful or something in between.
Your worth is not defined by what anyone else thinks.
This is the final instalment of CHECK YOURSELF, written by Chloe Papas. We thank all who submitted their questions and hope the advice was helpful.
ICYMI, there are some stellar pieces of advice, ranging from how to survive on the $$ of a Full-Time Creative, making time for writing, and remaining positive, committed and motivated when you work full-time, to making sure you get paid (& how to write an invoice!). Get your read on!
Chloe Papas is a writer, journalist and editor based in Victoria via Perth. She spent a few years working as a journalist for the ABC before turning to the freelance life. Her work has been featured in publications like SBS, Overland, Kill Your Darlings, Daily Life, Vice and Junkee.