Being a writer is a lonely business. We spend our days at the computer, typing on a keyboard and watching words appear on screen. If we’re writing fiction, we may talk to our characters or imagine them talking to each other. If we’re writing non-fiction, we spend even more time on the computer doing research. Most of us are lucky to make a thousand dollars from a book once it’s published–never mind how many years have gone into the writing. Last week I wrote of the incredibly low pay involved in being a writing judge, a salary that works out to about five bucks an hour. Well, that’s a fortune compared to a thousand dollars for a book that took two or three years to write.
If we have survived the initial shock that comes with the ludicrous pay for published authors and are still writing, we are all bound to question our decision from time to time. And it’s on those occasions we really need our writing friends. I had what I’ll call a “mini doubt session” the other day. As Julia mentioned on her updated homepage, we are both in the process of having some of our books printed the old fashioned way. We intend to use these books mainly for promotional purposes, but that does nothing to change the fact that it’s going to cost money. Smack me if I’m wrong, but don’t most professionals make money with their chosen careers?
Alas, as Julia pointed out to me in another of her brilliantly worded e-mails, writing is, for the most part, its own reward. With her permission, I have opted to share her thoughtful letter here on our blog. I hope it inspires you as much as it did me. And I also hope it helps you understand why Julia and I have opted to band together as writers and friends. The only people who understand what writers go through are other writers. I sincerely hope each and every one of you reading this has found your own Julia.
Here is her letter:
Why are we writers? We are writers because we love writing. We love books, reading, literature, information, culture, people; our curiosity for life and the world, for history and psychology, sports and music, nature and animals is insatiable. Plus, we are suckers for a good story. We are nice people who wanted to fill our days with interests and to help fill the days of others with interest.
We succeeded. And we keep on at it. The Bernie Madoffs of the world either end up in jail or trying to impress people with all that they truly haven’t got. We know we will move past any bitterness because we see, every day, that we are living for what we always wanted to live for, even if we end up giving books away.
Nor are we alone. Van Gogh gave his paintings away, one of my favorite Orientalist painters, Jean Leon Gerome, gave his works away. Mozart, despite admiration from the aristocracy and widespread fame, was poor, without enough money to buy fuel to warm his house in dead of winter.
Let writers like the gal who wrote Eat, Pray and Love call herself a genius, for maybe she was for a few months–but she reached too high, because now she is trying to find something she has already lost by calling herself a genius. When we write to stroke our egos, we have already lost.
True creative spirits do not call themselves geniuses. They keep up the creativity and flow with it, taking care of their homes, their spouses, their kids and their animals while they do so, making ends meet.
You and I will sell some books, enough to keep going. Enough to keep writing. And in the end, isn’t that all we want? Making money sometimes does nothing but afford one the opportunity of demonstrating how very fast a hole can be burned through one’s pocket.