Such a Deal
“God,” I prayed, “let me write for a living.”
Through my garret door strode a dude wearing a red suit and brimstone cologne.
He grinned. “Let’s talk.”
“What? You want my soul?”
He laughed. “A writing career’s not worth that. I’ll accept your sanity.”
Decades later, I’m still in my garret.
He’s still laughing.
WRITING IS A REAL JOB
I’ve been invited to participate in a panel called “Writing Is a Real Job” at the Left Coast Crime conference at the end of March, in Sacramento, California. This assignment has got me thinking about writing as a career. Specifically it has made me wonder if I qualify to talk about this subject. Me? A real writer?
Whenever Susan and I go on vacation, we find ourselves talking to strangers, often in warm, friendly bars. Inevitably someone asks us the question “What do you do?” We refuse to answer. It’s not that we’re shy, or ashamed of what we do, or especially unfriendly. It’s just that we don’t talk about our work when we’re on vacation. We work side by side, fifty hours a week, fifty weeks a year, and the reason we’re in that bar somewhere in the tropics is to forget about the publishing business.
In recent years, however, I’ve developed the sheer brazen gall to say, “I’m a writer.” That warms up the conversation, shines a big spotlight on me, allows me to brag about my books, and gives me a chance to pretend to be modest, just this guy doing his job. I don’t pass out bookmarks or collect emails for my mailing list. But I do say out loud what for decades I’ve been too shy to say: “I’m a writer.”
Why haven’t I dared to say this all my adult life? Have I only recently earned the right? In fact, I’ve been writing all my adult life, and have always been able to make a few dollars doing it. I’ve led a literary life as a bookseller, a free-lance editor, a small-press publisher, and a teacher of creative writing. Along the way I’ve written a lot of books and a ton of stories, and a few of those books and a few dozen stories have appeared in print. Some even brought me some money.
It is true that most of the writing that has earned me a living has been crafting contracts, press releases, catalog copy, back cover copy, and business correspondence. When I’m writing contracts, business letters, and press releases, I’m writing to live. When I’m in the midst of making a novel, on the other hand, I live to write. And by God, I consider that a real job, a respectable job. For practical reasons, I don’t allow myself the addictive pleasure of writing fiction during “business hours,” Monday through Saturday. But I write my fiction all day Sunday, every Sunday, and even a few hours every day on vacation.
I’m a writer. You are too. Say after me: “I am a writer.” We writers are writers because we must write. We made a deal with the devil, I suppose, and the deal was worth it.
I look forward to being on that panel and hearing what other professional writers have to say. If you’re coming to Left Coast Crime, I invite you to sit in with us Friday, March 30, at 2:15 p.m. The panel will be moderated by Simon Wood, and my fellow panelists will be Jill Amadio, Beth Henderson, and LJ Sellers.