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John P.

(I want to get this comment in before this post disappears.)

Not that you asked, but I don't think anyone can really help you decide whether to be a writer. Genius must express.

Mark S

You know plenty about business and law. I can think of lots of writing opportunities in those areas which could eventually lead almost anywhere you want them to go.

Richard Ames

Your post implies a choice. Law (or something else to get a paycheck) OR writing. I'm sure you've realized that you can write AND make a living at the same time until the writing becomes self-sustaining. Maybe the trick right now is to earn a living at something that will compliment (feed?) the writing, a job perhaps that lets you see life/people in a way that makes you enthusiatic about wanting to include some aspects of what you see everyday into your writing. I'm sure you've done these thought exercises already ... I'm just thinking aloud here.


I always feel a little embarassed/insecure when I meet writers or people in the arts. It seems obious to me that they are doing what is really brave and important, whereas I have chosen the easy and safe path. I always assumed that it is obvious to them as well. Maybe not!


I respectfully disagree with Mr. Ames: in my experience, professional writing is very, very hard to do part-time. Doing it properly, in a way which will bring in relatively regular paychecks, requires one to be either writing, researching, or pitching a lot.

There might be a transitional stage, where one is paying the rent with a full-time job while getting a toehold as a writer, but (again, in my experience,) at some point one will squeeze out the other.

This sounds awfully discouraging, I'm afraid. That's not my point. My point is that it's better to go whole hog and find out. Then when (if) you need to leave it behind, it won't be a "what if." I no longer have any "what ifs" about writing. I know where I stand in my area and what it would take to go higher, and I know I'm not willing to take those steps. I can (and, eventually, will,) leave it behind, at least in the form I now practice it, but, like music, I can do that mostly because I gave it a shot.

Outer Life

Do you want to be an amateur writer or a professional writer?

We amateur writers exercise our writing jones by tapping away at our blogs or sending long letters or keeping a diary or working for years on our Great American Novel. We write what we want and we don't really care if others want what we write. Deep down we'd loved to be recognized for the geniuses we are, but we're not doing it to make next month's rent or buy eggs or send the kids to college. Working as a lawyer will not interfere with this kind of writing. In fact, time you spend working at anything other writing will deepen your life experiences and better inform your writing.

Professionals, as you know, must write to pay the bills and therefore must write what sells and therefore end up writing whatever they can whenever they can on anything others wants whether they like it or not. You cannot do that while working as a lawyer. I would also suggest that you should not do that unless you have either independent means or a taste for masochism.


You are a writer. A writer is someone who writes. Period. I've written "professionally" (as in, been paid for my writing) and as an "amateur... the difference is that as a "professional" writer you sometimes have to take assignments you don't necessarily want... otherwise, the craft is the same. Writers write, painters paint, musicians play music. Getting paid or not is incidental.



The devil’s in the details.

I think the primary motivation for writing ought to be that you must write, that you would always write, irregardless of material reward or external validation (as Rilke suggested: if it’s possible to live without writing, one ought to.) I think that almost any writer would tell you that writing is at heart, hard work. It can be joyous work, but it’s a joy has deep roots in focusing on minutia and killing your ego. You must be prepared for endless editing, nudging commas about, reformulating paragraphs again and again to bring out one stylistic emphasis or another. I think (I’m speaking from limited experience) that no matter which type of writing you’re interested in, you’ll find you have a lot of “relearning” to do as you go. Writing takes a good deal of discipline and time and energy and research to do right.

Although writing can be fulfilling and therapeutic, if you’re looking for an idyllic or balanced life, I’m not sure that pursuing writing full time is the easiest path to that, largely due to the financial difficulties that arise from trying to support oneself. As a poet, I can say that a really cushy book-deal, something representing a year’s worth of your output, will net you about $1-2000.00, and it’s slightly higher if you take the somewhat disparaged route of publishing your works yourself and then selling them. Fiction writers earn more, but my novelist friends from graduate school (MFA) are all still working day jobs, even though many of them have published a novel and one has her third forthcoming. I only know 3 playwrights but they’re in the same boat (actually, it’s a bit different since they act and catch-can in the theatre world in general). What I’m saying is that if you want to pursue “creative” writing “full time,” you’ll have to have a nest egg or a day job. Your primary reward will be the satisfaction of making something well – even if few or no people ever read/respond to it. Balancing that is a complete freedom to write what you like, as you like it (while wrestling with the disciplines of the craft.) It’s a pretty heady kind of satisfaction actually – for me, it was worth 5 years of living at the federal poverty line while I learned about poetry. A lot of people might tell you that’s crazy, and I’d be hard pressed to make a compelling counter-argument.

Once money enters the picture, writing, for me at least, seems to lose some of its attraction. For example, I spend my days writing/editing technical reports for environmental engineers, which is by turns fascinating and boring. This pays well, but there’s little spiritual and creative satisfaction in it. I suspect most of the accessable “writing jobs” outside the media are the same.

I don’t know what you should do, and I’d be foolish to say. You have an obvious talent though, which is something I think you should pursue.


As someone who received her MFA in Poetry from the Iowa Writers' Workshop in '96 and is starting law school this fall, I can certainly relate to your dilemma. None of us is going to have the answer for you, of course, though I think Scoplaw's quotation of Rilke was dead on. And, like others said, there's not necessarily an answer. The degree of mutual exclusivity between law and writing is entirely up to you, and in large part, it probably depends on what Rilke said.

It sounds like you love practicing law. The reasons you have cited are exactly why I'm leaving my current career in technology and going to law school. I don't think you necessarily want to leave it behind. It sounds like you're struggling with the fact that you know you love to write but haven't had the chance to explore that, and you don't know what the parameters of that exploration have to be - if it means you quit lawyering for awhile, forever, not at all, etc.

One option might be for you to take the next year and continue practicing law to a lesser degree (part time? not sure of the specifics but the idea is to give you more free time) and take a set amount of time each day to write. Then, either this year (January or February deadline, I think) or next, submit a portfolio/apply to MFA programs.

Regarding MFA programs: (1) choose a program like Iowa that charges in-state tuition, even for out of staters and gives you a teaching position - that way your debt will be minimal and (2) know that you aren't going to learn how to write - imho, MFA programs are about giving you the space to write, not about teaching you. Pick a program like Iowa that doesn't focus on academic requirements but simply giving you space and freedom.

At the conclusion of your MFA, you'll have a better idea if you want to commit to writing full time, plus you'll have the option to teach writing (unlikely to get tenure track with only an MFA, but easy to get a teaching position) or of course, law - And if you don't want to commit to writing, you can return to practicing law.

I suggest this because it sounds like you need to do some exploring, but keep your risk to a minimum. And being at a place like Iowa is WONDERFUL. The people I met there were truly amazing; I feel like the whole experience was a gift.

Besides, if you enroll at Iowa, we'd likely be there at the same time, during my third year of law school :-)

I know you're getting a lot of advice. I know I'm just one perspective and not necessarily the one for you, but I wanted to put it out there, for whatever it's worth. Best wishes.


i'm not sure what "being a writer" is. do you want to write fiction? novels? do you want to be a journalist? do you want to be a poet?

because if you just want to use words to express ideas on a page, there are so many career options. including law. or grantwriting. or editing technical writing. or being a professor. or all kinds of other things. and they're all just as creative as the artsy jobs.


oh yeah, and i forgot the point of that comment: the other writing jobs can come with financial and emotional stability.


If you haven't already, pick up a copy of Letters to a Young Poet by Rilke. It is short and potent. From what I have read of your blog, I think you will appreciate (or appreciate again) Rilke's lust for life and writing.


Upon rereading, I have to ask:

What do you mean, you want to be a writer?

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