I Gave Up On Trying to “Make It” as a Writer. I Feel So Much Better Now

by Jan 20, 2023Writing Journey

I first started to dream of being a full-time indie author in earnest because of a friend’s suggestion while I was in Mexico with him, attending his business event.

I was struggling to balance a day job of any kind (freelancing, full-time employment, etc.) with my writing. Switching my attention back and forth was draining, and the various demands of freelancing were taking a lot out of me, but I loathed the idea of going back into the office.

“Why don’t you forget the other stuff and just write fiction?” My friend asked during a session.

I blinked at him.

“I can’t just write fiction.”

“Why not?” He challenged.

“Because it’s not realistic,” I said. “I’d be homeless.”

But even then, I knew the words weren’t really mine, that I didn’t fully believe them. I knew of indie authors who’d managed to quit their day jobs at far higher rates than traditionally published authors could. I just didn’t dare to hope I could be one of them.

On Being Practical

My very pragmatic extended immigrant family had gotten the idea in my head that I needed a “real” job because nobody succeeded as a creative—not beyond the occasional lottery-winner-type celebrity of an extremely lucky few. So despite never being much good at practicality, after graduating from university, I measured my success and self-worth by how practical my choices were. I got practical jobs, felt great about myself for a while, then inevitably quit about a year later when the feeling of discontent got to be too much and the urge to “be an artist” called too loudly.

After following this cycle for several years, another belief rose up to challenge the dogma of practicality—at least, partially. I came to believe that the only job in the world I could ever be satisfied with was writing fiction, so I needed to become a full-time author however I could. I feverishly read books on how to make it as an indie author, consumed online articles and YouTube videos, purchased expensive courses, and created elaborate plans for how I’d go about it.

I eventually settled on writing dark fantasy romance novels. It was a popular but still rapidly growing niche, and it was about as close as I could get to the dark character dramas I yearned to write without stepping outside of a clear subgenre.

But the more research I did on the subgenre, the more frustrated I became. I thought I could pull off HEAs readers would be satisfied with, but I wanted too many niche things in my stories: bisexuality with FF (woman-on-woman) relationships, some really dark, twisted relationships, and worst of all, nonmonogamy for not only the heroine, but the hero as well.

Sure, I could probably get away with doing one of these things, but all?

On Trying Out a Niche

I decided dark erotica was the way to go instead. It was less commercially viable, but still had a decent-sized audience and was a defined niche, so people who wanted it had a term to search for.

So I wrote and published a few short dark erotica stories and a novella, all of which I enjoyed! But the greater stigma of non-consensual fantasies stymied me. I felt isolated from the rest of the writer community, unable to participate in workshops, contests, and more because of the fiction I wrote.

And then came the ban from Smashwords. My novella, Dark Lord’s Conquest, was taken down from the store for “snuff” because of one violent (and in my opinion, badass and empowering) plot-related scene. In any other genre, the scene would have been fine, but in erotica, any violence that could result in a character’s death or long-term disability was a no-no.

I had to rewrite large sections of the novella to make a less violent ending work, and I did get the book back up, but the incident broke my focus and the feeling that I’d found my niche. I had to put aside several other story ideas because they, too, contained violence. Erotica, especially dark erotica, was too heavily regulated, even on the comparatively liberal Smashwords.com. And I would always live in fear that a new government policy or movement would instigate an internet-wide witch hunt of erotica. Besides, I wanted to write full stories that, yes, often contained violence. I didn’t want to write quite so much sex either.

On Discovering What Matters Most to Me

After a bit of a crisis, I just packed my bags and traveled to Prague to, once again, attend one of my friend’s business events. During the event, I pledged to spend the next year in Prague, working solely on my fiction.

But then a funny thing happened: for the first time in my life, I needed money. I was on my own, paying rent and bills, wanting to go out to restaurants and events and to travel Europe. My quickly draining savings filled me with anxiety. I’d worked hard and had given up a lot to save so much money. Was I just going to drain it all on a work-free year in Prague?

And just like that, so many years of indecision and waffling evaporated. I wanted a job. I picked up web development again in earnest, and several months later, I haven’t dropped it. It’s not boring.

Real life forced me to get my priorities straight—to consider my core values not in terms of what sounded good, but as they actually were.

I value writing the stories I feel compelled to write over writing commercially viable fiction.

And I value the comfort and safety of living in a more expensive developed country with my own apartment over being a full-time author.

I value traveling and going out with friends and having experiences abroad over saving every penny to avoid getting a day job.

I’ve finally made my peace with the fact that the stories I want to write don’t fit into any clear subgenre. Dark fantasy and paranormal fiction are about as close as I can get to a defined category, but neither says much about what I write. My stories are pretty much always about power-imbalanced, unhealthy, complicated romantic/sexual relationships between the protagonist and the antagonist. They always feature complex villains who capture my imagination. Maybe I’d call them dark relationship dramas if that was a category.

I’m working on how I’ll market that, but I also feel so much more excited to write now. I feel free. Hell, I’m even excited about web development again. I’m dedicated to falling in love with my day job because I’m prepared to have one for the rest of my life. Or, at least, prepared to always need sources of income outside of my writing. I’ve just stopped lamenting that fact.

I used to treat writing fiction full time as the only thing in my life that mattered to me. I got this idea that if I could pull that off, my life would be perfectly fulfilled, and then I could focus on other things like my relationships, getting my own place, and generally experiencing adult life. I’m glad I eventually saw the idea as the delusion it was.

I’m excited to write precisely what I want to write whether it sells or not, and I’m excited to finally start living.