The Writing Life

by Eric
From The Charlotte Austin Review Ltd.

When people think about "the writing life" they tend to picture famous novelists who are in the news, chatting with television talk show hosts, signing six figure contracts in Hollywood, mingling with the rich and powerful, writing their autobiographies. But such cases are rare.

In a world where very few writers, of fiction at least, can earn a living, "the writing life" is necessaily a strange one. The typical writer tends to live in the cramped corners of his or her own existence, endlessly trying to make time for their real work amidst the crush of the work they must do to live and to support their families.

The writer of fiction has no clear career path. Editors don't care about what college you attended. You can't be licensed for publication by passing an exam. No one will promote you into print for years of loyal service.

As difficult as it is to achieve any success, the monetary rewards of fiction writing are uncertain. To write is to gamble one's life in a lottery where the winning numbers might not pay a living wage.

Toward the end of my employment for a large legal publisher, when the harsh winds of corporate restructuring were blowing through the office cubicles, I kept tacked to my bulletin board examples of articles I'd recently written and sold in my spare time, to remind myself of what my life was really about, and that it was, in fact, about something worthwhile regardless of what my downsizing-minded superiors had to say.

One day a curious co-worker inquired whether I got paid a lot for articles. When I told him I was paid very little, he was puzzled. "But if you don't get paid much, why waste your time?"

The person who asks that question of a writer is someone who could never understand the answer, which is that a person writes because that is what he or she feels is important and, very often, the reasons for that feeling are beyond the grasp even of the writer. For most of us the writing life is rewarding but uncomfortable. Never more uncomfortable than when we are confronted by that innocent ice-breaker, "So, what do you do?"

An easy question for most, I suppose, but I always find myself pausing, wondering how I should answer, by describing what I do for a living, or what I do to live?

copyright (C) 1999 Eric Mayer

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