Lately I’ve been reflecting on the writer’s life. The ups, the downs. Okay, mostly the downs. And more than once I’ve asked myself that most dangerousest of questions, ‘why?’ In the face of setbacks and disappointments, am I just a glutton for punishment? Lost chasing some quixotic dream? Too stubborn to admit defeat? Maybe. But maybe it’s something more.
And so as I’ve been wrestling with snaggles and struggles, I thought I’d take a moment and scribble down a few notes to let the world know, and to remind myself, just what us writers go through as we’re out here sailing the alphabet seas, scruffing and scrambling our way to some literary destination.
Of course not all writers will share these exact same experiences. But for me, at this time, this is what the writer’s life is like.
Yo ho ho, a writer’s life for me.
If you’re a writer…
- You write whenever you can squeeze it in. You write in the morning, in the evening, and at lunch. Your keyboard has bits of caked mustard and tortilla chips fused into the plastic. Unlike Kazuo Ishiguro, peanut butter, crumbs, and sticky keys are your “remains of the day.”
- You write not only anytime, you write anywhere. You write in the office, the bedroom, the living room, the parking lot, the waiting room, and the airport terminal. You look for chances and places to write like Clark Kent looking for a phone booth while Lex Luthor is burning down the Daily Planet.
- You stay up late. Too late. Most days you’re three sheets past Winkin, Blinkin, and Nod. Because of this, your idea of a dream vacation is one where you can catch up on all the sleep you’ve been missing.
- Your social life is about as exciting as a Mongolian potato farmer. You don’t go to movies much or go out to eat either. You’re too busy writing. Your hobbies (if you have any) are woefully neglected. Projects outside of writing, like a velveteen rabbit tossed under the bed, sit in the attic or garage, gathering dust.
- You write when you’re in pain, when you’re sick, when your chair is playing nick nack paddy wack on your poor, over-worked, back muscles. You read books to fight the pain (books are the cure for everything, right?) and it helps. But not always.
- If you’re not writing, you’re thinking about your latest work in progress or that pernicious plot hole that you just can’t seem to unravel. You chew on gordian knots the way some people chew on beef jerky.
- If a day passes and you don’t write, you feel terribly out of sync, like there is a lunar eclipse going on. Or like you’re on vacation and think you left the iron on back home.
- You work two jobs. The one (writing) you love. The other (fill in the blank) you may enjoy as well, but it’s really just to pay the bills. And your editor. And the next book promotion. And those doctor bills from your bad back.
- You read. A lot. You read stuff you love, like The City of Ember, The Hobbit, and Around the World in Eighty Days. You read other stuff you don’t like at all, like articles about book marketing and how to “grow your platform.” You dream and fantasize about having an assistant who could read and implement all those icky tips and tricks so you could read what you want and have more time to devote to the important business of writing books.
- You spend more time online than you want to. You’d rather be writing. But instead of writing, you write blog posts with lists about writing, in the hopes that somebody, somewhere will read your writing and like your writing, and maybe join you on your writing adventures.
Such is a writer’s life. You may not like the smell of the crew, and the food may be rancid and scarce. You may be worried about catching scurvy, and the lack of wind in your sails may be positively soul-crushing, but old Captain Quillbeard never said it would be a pleasure cruise. No, a writer’s life may not be glamorous or lend itself to large, applauding crowds, or big fat paychecks, but there is buried treasure out there on one of these islands and it’s calling your name.
And when the seas are rough, the horizon but a faint memory, and the siren call of despair is luring you to throw yourself overboard, it’s important to remember what that treasure is. Because it’s not a publishing contract, a zillion five star reviews, or even a steady income. A lot of people make money at writing the same way a lot of actors have successful careers peddling flotsam and jetsam at the box office. No, if we are true writers, the real treasure is something else. It’s what is at the heart of all good writing: the desire to seek and know the truth. And behind that, the conviction that if I don’t share that, something terrible will have been lost.
So weigh anchor and hoist the mizzen mast! Batten down the hatches! Fill the ink wells and run the spell check! There are worlds to create and destinies to be forged! Tears will be shed and hearts will be broken, but the writing must go on.
Yo ho ho, a writer’s life for me.