In Others’ Words: Dirty Business


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“Writing is not a genteel profession; it’s quite nasty and tough and kind of dirty.” ~Rosemary Mahoney (1961-), American non-fiction writer


There is the dream of the writing life … and then there is reality.

I bet you think I’m going to say I prefer the dream.


I will take the nitty-gritty reality of the writing life over the dream any day.

Dreams are all well and good — up to a point. There comes a time when you have to abandon the clouds — the wishing and hoping — and get down to the business of doing.

Here’s what I learned once I set my heart on being a writer:

  • This is a tough occupation. One that requires a heart as fragile as the last quivering note of a violinist’s solo … but a heart that is also as tough as an armadillo’s shell, able to withstand critique and rejection and plain old “I can’t get this scene right” frustration.
  • People can be nasty. Some people even seem to enjoy tearing apart your writing, doling out a single star or raking you across the black and white coals of their review.
  • You’re gonna get dirty. Edits and rewrites and feedback — even the ones spoken in the kindest of tones — leave marks on your soul. It’s okay … they wash off when you bathe in the Truth of who you are.

Toughen up. Don’t be one of those nasty people. And accept that writing is a dirty business, but that doesn’t change who you are deep down in your soul.

In Your Words: Writing — are you going for the dream or the reality? And besides being dirty and tough and nasty … what else is it?

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  1. August 15, 2012, 5:15 am   /  Reply

    Years of working in community journalism gave me the up close and personal toughness needed for my writing. I learned there to listen and see if I could find a useful nugget to improve. When I was younger, I probably absorbed a little too much of the criticism. Older me doesn’t do that so much. I’m working toward reality. I think it can be beautiful and fun too.

    • Beth Vogt
      August 15, 2012, 7:16 am   /  Reply

      Reality = beautiful & fun. I like that, Stacy.

  2. August 15, 2012, 5:43 am   /  Reply

    Can I go for both? 🙂

    Good stuff, Beth, and a good slice of reality. I’m bugged sometimes when people say things like, “Oh, it’s so nice that you have your sweet writing hobby. That must be so fun.” And I think, “Um, yeah, it’s fun…when I don’t want to slap my characters for misbehaving or when patience feels like anvils tied to my ankles or when I think about the possibility of negative reviews someday.” 🙂

    And yet, there’s still the dream…and even in the dirty, gritty side, there’s still that, “Wow, I get to tell stories and someday people will read them” awe.

    • Beth Vogt
      August 15, 2012, 7:17 am   /  Reply

      I understand how you are so past the hobby stage, Melissa. And I also understand pursuing the dream — through the grit and the dirt …


  3. August 15, 2012, 6:59 am   /  Reply

    It is a tough occupation but we (and our words) are constantly being refined and strengthened in the process. I think the further I go, the more enthusiastic and determined I get.

    • Beth Vogt
      August 15, 2012, 7:18 am   /  Reply

      That’s one of the reasons I like hanging around you, Dee: your enthusiasm for life & for people & for pursuing dreams!

    • August 15, 2012, 8:49 am   /  Reply

      Ditto, Delores. I’m fine with refining. And while enthusiasm is a fickle friend (could just be hormones, really), I do find determination to be a steadily growing, constant companion.

  4. August 15, 2012, 7:41 am   /  Reply

    Every job has the negatives, the things that aren’t really all that fun. But some of the best times are letting go, diving into the mud, and wallowing like a pig. Er. Well, you know what I mean.

    I want the dream, and I think sometimes it will be the dream, but more than likely, it’ll take blood, sweat, and tears to get where I want to be. But I wouldn’t–couldn’t–do it any other way.

    • Beth Vogt
      August 15, 2012, 10:53 am   /  Reply

      Wallowing like a pig … works for me. Mud. Blood. Sweat — and yep, tears. And let’s not forget the laughter. Lots and lots of that.

  5. Jeanne
    August 15, 2012, 7:45 am   /  Reply

    Most dreams, in order to come true, have to go through lots of “reality” first. I like both, but I know the dream of being published/having people read what I’ve written will only come after my hands are wearing lots of dirt. I’m good with that. I love the learning, the depending on God, stories coming to life, and meeting other writers.

    Writing is fulfilling and stretching and, as Stacy said, fun!

    • Beth Vogt
      August 15, 2012, 10:53 am   /  Reply

      Meeting other writers makes it all so worthwhile, Jeanne, doesn’t it?

  6. August 15, 2012, 8:46 am   /  Reply

    According to experts, there is a deadly edge a writer seeking publication can reach, a precipice at the height of the dream overlooking the dirty reality, one on which you may find yourself standing, pulled to this breath-stealing, toe-dangling point by the interest of Others, tensing with each dizzying, leap-ready breath, hoping yet fearing one of the hands that invited you to this point will give the final push that sends you over the top screaming your head off.

    Or so I’ve heard. 🙂

    Dream or Dirty Reality, if God’s in it, there is divine purpose to being right where you are, whether it’s dreaming, teetering, flying, or shuffling through the dirt.

    Love ya, Beth.

    • Beth Vogt
      August 15, 2012, 10:54 am   /  Reply

      Love you right back, Camille.
      Ready for a push?

  7. August 15, 2012, 9:12 am   /  Reply

    I’m a reality gal who likes a little dreaming on the side. I’m already preparing for the dirt and grime. Are you ever really prepared to have that book one starred and shredded?

    • Beth Vogt
      August 15, 2012, 10:55 am   /  Reply

      I used to be all about the dreams. The older I get, the more I embrace reality.

  8. August 15, 2012, 9:12 am   /  Reply

    I’m in it for both, Beth! In the reality of writing, the dream is unfolding. But I would miss the reality for anything – that’s where the best materials comes from!

    • Beth Vogt
      August 15, 2012, 10:55 am   /  Reply

      Agreed, Donna! Agreed! Celebrating your dream come true today!

  9. August 15, 2012, 10:37 am   /  Reply

    Love this post, Beth! I like both aspects of this business. It’s fun to dream, but dreams can only go so far without a little dirt under the fingernails. 🙂

    • Beth Vogt
      August 15, 2012, 10:56 am   /  Reply

      And the dirt always comes off with a good scrubbing, doesn’t it, Sarah?

  10. August 15, 2012, 11:54 am   /  Reply

    I’m with you–some people just seem to enjoy knocking someone else’s work. I read a milk warm review yesterday on a book I really like. When I clicked to see the reviewer’s other reviews, guess what? They were all negative. I don’t understand people like that.

    I like just about all aspects of writing, even the hair-pulling times. 🙂

  11. August 15, 2012, 11:54 am   /  Reply

    So true!

  12. August 15, 2012, 12:45 pm   /  Reply

    Going for the reality (I think I have the dreaming part down, ha ha), and while I understand getting dirty from hard work, I don’t get the dirty, mean stuff.
    But for now I will focus on the excitement of discovery that comes from writing. 🙂

  13. August 15, 2012, 1:05 pm   /  Reply

    If we’d only known when we first dreamed of writing that it WOULD be such hard work… no doubt we would have still done it.

  14. August 15, 2012, 4:47 pm   /  Reply

    I’m really learning the value of the “reality” side. It amazes me on book reviews, what one person loved is exactly what another disliked. Tough hide seems essential. Even just being an aspiring writer, it has come in handy.

  15. August 21, 2012, 10:56 am   /  Reply

    Grateful to read this, Beth. It is a tough business, and I don’t even have a book out there. For me, it’s just about blog posts and articles right now.

    I’ve been fortunate that 99% of my writing journey has been positive, but my, oh, my, when I did run into that 1% that was nasty, I twirled for weeks. You’re right, it doesn’t change who I am inside. Happy to have that reinforced.

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