What is the job of a writer? Being honest.

What is the job of a writer?

  • To sell tons of copies?
  • To win awards?
  • To write a book a year?
  • To make a living?
  • To teach others how to write?
  • To finish a novel?
  • To SELL a novel?

From my point of view, yes, your job as a professional writer is to sell copies (among other things) so you can continue writing.

But how do you do that? You connect with readers.

I think the job of a writer is to be more honest than the rest of us.

The books that connect with people are entertaining, make us forget about real life…are fun, are serious, are what readers expect from you.

When you tell honest stories that are more poignant than readers expect, and more poignant than we see our own lives–that’s writing.

When writers ask me what I’m looking for when I sign up new writers, I say I’m looking for really honest writing. Sure you need a novel with a great premise, a plot, and memorable characters–but so much of that comes from believable writing and honest stories and characters. I want to put down a novel feeling like I know more about myself and the world I’m in.

My favorite honest novels:

THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU by Jonathan Tropper

EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU by Celeste Ng

THE VACATIONERS by Emma Straub

AFTER I DO by Taylor Jenkins Reid

ME BEFORE YOU by Jojo Moyes

ELEANOR AND PARK by Rainbow Rowell

ONE DAY by David Nicholls

LABOR DAY by Joyce Maynard

SEATING ARRANGEMENTS by Maggie Shipstead

IF YOU COULD BE MINE by Sara Farizan

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Q: What do you think the job of a writer is? 

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13 thoughts on “What is the job of a writer? Being honest.

  1. Just finished reading Megan Shull’s THE SWAP. Kind of blew my mind. For a fun freaky-friday premise, I really felt that ache of honesty. Also, Michelle Tea’s MERMAID OF CHELSEA CREEK.

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  2. “[Your] job as a professional writer is to sell copies (among other things) so you can continue writing [. . . .] When you tell honest stories that are more poignant than readers expect, and more poignant than we see our own lives–that’s writing.”

    It’s painful to market and promote a book which I’ve bled and sweat and toiled and wept over. Thank you for reminding me that a writing career is not just scribbling a rollicking adventure and sending it off to go earn a paycheck for me. A writing career is a privilege earned by effort, by learning from individuals who understand the minutiae I don’t, by learning who I am as a writer and a person. A writing career demands full honesty in how I present myself and how I promote my work. That honesty begins with what I put on the page, even if the tale is fictional.

    Excellent article. Thank you for sharing it.

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  3. As a fairly new writer, I find myself wondering at times if I am writing or ‘transcribing’. The best words that find a place on my pages seem to come from somewhere else. Even I sit back and say, “Wow, that is pretty profound”. Perhaps they are messages that we need to hear to live a better life. This may sound do-do-do-do, but from what I’ve read from other author’s experiences, I don’t think I’m alone with this. So, to answer your question, maybe sometimes a writer’s job is to be open to what needs to be shared with us.

    Thanks, as always, Carly, for your insight! :)

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  4. I’m a writer and work as a book publicist so I get to see both sides of your questions. I could not agree more about that the writing needs to be honest. A writer has to know their topic or else the concept is going to fall flat. This means they have to know who they are and by accomplishing this, the best writers teach others how to write through their work. I consider being a good reader critical to become a better writer.

    From a PR standpoint, you want writers who are willing to work and build their platform. I imagine an agent also wants these attributes in writers they are looking to sign. But in order for a book to sell, the work needs to be honest. If you can’t tell your own story, who can? Great post and something all writers should be reading.

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  5. I LOVE this sentiment, Carly, and wholeheartedly agree. I think, and this dovetails with your point, that my favorite writers tell me truths I already know (sometimes deep down) but in the best possible ways. I’m also big on writers who capture a sense of place well and, because I’m from the Midwest, I’m REALLY gravitating toward writers who can say something honest and truthful (but in an encouraging way) about where I’m from. One of my FAVORITE reads this year was “Shotgun Lovesongs” from newcomer Nickolas Butler and it’s primarily for this reason above.

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