The last six weeks have made me pant and wring my hands. I fell off my bike, breaking and rib and tearing up a shoulder. Then, I rewrote a whole book. I penned five pieces for this website and two 5,000-plus-word essays for a magazine that only asked for and will only use one. I’ve had two publications. One agent asked to take a look at my book. An editor at a New York publisher might also consider my manuscript. He’s reading it now and I’ll know in a couple of weeks if he thinks it’s right for him.
That’s pretty exciting stuff. I love to write but writing is hard. Anyone who says they enjoy it really isn’t doing the work. It’s excruciating. The process of thinking what to write isn’t like just deciding, well, I better write something. I have a develop a topic. Then, I have to execute it in a way that’s interesting to me and maybe to someone else. The execution gets soul-wrenching. Some of the process comes out of practice but, for the most part, writing is like brushing my teeth with sand.
What I enjoy is the fruit of writing. Looking back on what was an empty piece of paper really satisfies me. It may not be perfect. It may need more work. But in the end, if I put it out to the public, it’s at least at a point where I think I’m getting something across to myself. Maybe someone who reads it will get something out of it.
I hope they do. This isn’t taking me anywhere. The amount of money I make in a year from writing and writing-related activities, like workshops, talks, and presentations, pays a couple of mortgage payments. And our mortgage is pretty low considering what most people have to shell out. Maybe my writing pays the property tax. If I sit down to accounting, I shiver to think what kind of hourly wage I get.
Of fame, I have little. I have some ardent fans and there’s a couple of Patrick Dobson nerds out there. That’s gratifying and I hope to keep making them happy. They are always on my mind and sometimes when I’m writing, I pay attention to the fact that every piece of writing needs an audience, no matter how small.
I think about those people who get famous and can’t stand their renown after a little while. I want that problem! Most of us labor in the shadows, casting about for some acceptance and a little bit of the spotlight, even just for a minute. Fame promises cash, and cash promises to deliver us from our petty woes. About the only people who say money doesn’t solve your problems are people who have money or who have resigned themselves to a life of poverty.
And money can’t solve all my problems, but it sure would solve the problem of being poor. My wife wouldn’t have to work so hard. I could live independently of the sword that is the daily need for more cash.
Oh, that I might be struck by writer’s lightning. For all the sweat I put into this thing, for all the acceptance that I might labor the rest of my life in a dark room, I want to win the lottery and have all the problems that come with being awash in money. I want to see the friends I didn’t know I had. I’d take a lot of comfort in the relatives who would come knocking at my door. I would, above all, like to have a roll of freedom cash in my pocket, a wad that said to anyone who told me to do anything, “Hey, fuck you.”
But you and I know that isn’t going to happen. Sure, people tell me it’s possible. Anything’s possible but not everything is likely. When I look at the kinds of things I write, I’m never going to hit the bestseller lists. My books will not be perpetually in print. They will not pay off the house or send the kid to college.
So, why do it?
The straight answer is that I have to. All I ever wanted to be was a writer. For over 30 years, I believed what my family, teachers, and friends told me when I revealed my dream to them. You’ll never make it, they said. You can’t compete. There will always be someone out there who’s better than you. It’s better to get a regular job and build a retirement and sit back and watch your accounts grow from your hard work.
When I finally cast off the fears of my youth and became a writer, I found they were right. I can’t make it on writing alone. There’s always someone out there who’s better than me. But they were sorely mistaken when they said I could not compete. As I became a writer, I found I have competition in my blood and bones. There are few people more determined and motivated than me. While I haven’t made the big time and likely will not, I know of few people who put their heads down and work as hard as I do.
Those are the people I want to meet—those who have accepted rejection as their lot in life but keep going, keep writing, keep submitting. Those people are my kin. They are the family I never thought I’d have.
I have a good friend who’s published five books, numerous essays, and lots of travel pieces. He’s a respected author and writer. He lives in France, where people admire writers. He’s comfortable there. But he is broke. He has many projects underway and just finished a feature-length documentary he can’t sell to anyone. He put seven years of his life into that film.
When I tell him what I’m doing, he advises me to write my own book, not the one that someone wants, not the one that may sell a million. Instead, put your effort into the thing that’s going to satisfy the part of my soul that’s always wanted to be a writer.
I have another friend who’s published 24 books. He’s got an agent. But for all the books, he has to face what my friend in France does: Every book is a new one. What came before doesn’t count. The work continues regardless of how much they’ve done before.
In a sense, they are both in the same place I am. We write. Hopefully, what we write finds some traction and makes us a little money. But if it doesn’t, the act of writing has to be an end in itself. All three of us want to get struck by the lightning that pops a handful of writers every year. But the publishing business is the most heartless of all. That’s why, when I sit down here to write something for you, I’m writing something for myself. I hope my tenacity and grit inspire someone. If not, I’ve just finished another essay.