It’s Simpler Than You Think. (I Didn’t Say “Easier.”)
So in Salon, writer Ann Bauer spills her guts. If you think you can bear it, this is her opening:
<< Here’s my life. My husband and I get up each morning at 7 o’clock and he showers while I make coffee. By the time he’s dressed I’m already sitting at my desk writing. He kisses me goodbye then leaves for the job where he makes good money, draws excellent benefits and gets many perks, such as travel, catered lunches and full reimbursement for the gym where I attend yoga midday. His career has allowed me to work only sporadically, as a consultant, in a field I enjoy. >>
Yeah, okay. Here’s my life as a published writer:
I’m now retired. I get up when I need to. I live pretty cheap, within the Social Security checks that come in monthly. As a result, I can write full-time and FTW.
The output? In two years – plus, five book titles. More to come, until something gives out, probably me.
Ann Bauer continues:
<< All that disclosure is crass, I know. I’m sorry. Because in this world where women will sit around discussing the various topiary shapes of their bikini waxes, the conversation about money (or privilege) is the one we never have. Why? I think it’s the Marie Antoinette syndrome: Those with privilege and luck don’t want the riffraff knowing the details. >>
Well, crass or not, you, dear readers ain’t riffraff, and I don’t mind you knowing a few more details.
First point: I am NOT Marie Antoinette.
My current “simple luxury” way of life is, as mentioned, only a couple years old. And before that, I had to work. Help raise four kids. Cope with various ups and downs — getting laid off, divorce, publications folding under me, presidents named Bush, wars, rumors of wars, yada yada.
And even so, I wrote and published a bunch of books. (I mean, who needs to sleep?)
None of them made me rich.
But overall they’ve broken even, and some have made tiny, microscopic dents in the world. Better, from time to time I run into somebody who says they’ve read one or another and liked it. Which is worth a lot. So I kept at it, because I had more to say.
Now, it’s easy to envy the writers who have rich spouses, are heirs to old (or even new) money, who don’t need to eat ramen unless they freakin want to, and have nothing but their internal angst and whatever the hell the “topiary shapes of their bikini waxes” are to cope with. In fact, for a few brief periods in the nearly 50 years since my first book appeared, I’ve had grants and other gigs that temporarily freed me up like that. And they were great while they lasted.
But mostly, I had to scrabble to pay bills, and wrote whenever I could. (Did I mention, who needs to sleep anyway?)
And here’s my little confessional secret for all you wannabe writers out there:
My experience is a lot more common than that of Ms. Bauer’s “sponsored” status. And if you make it over the hump and become a “published writer,” it’s still your most likely scenario too.
Yes, I’m talking about published writers here. The legions of wannabes who use the excuses of “I had to work” or “dealing with the kids” or whatever, get limited sympathy from me. Because a lot more published writers have done it my way than Ms. Bauer’s.
Yes, by all means, if you can pick the right parents, ones with names like Rockefeller or Buffett, go for it. And snagging an affluent, indulgent spouse definitely works. (Along the way, be sure to buy Powerball lottery tickets; but not too many. You never know.)
To be sure, “sponsored” status also enables self-indulgence and terminal mediocrity. But not always. My favorite example of successful entitlement was a different kind of writer, composer Felix Mendelssohn. He was born rich, and was able to pursue his musical passion unhindered. Lucky for us, he also happened to be a genius. Some others I could name, not so much.
Those such as Felix, they are who they are. I consider it a public service to point out how they’re a pretty small slice of the published writers’ (and composers’) ranks. If you’re a wannabe, and those smoother options don’t work out, here’s the path that’s much more widely available:
Find a day job (or jobs); juggle that and whatever family you end up with; and keep writing. Once you’re in print, cultivate the ability to revel (tastefully) in it when, now and then, somebody says they read and liked your stuff; because that’s way more likely than getting onto the bestseller lists. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)
If you live long enough and the Republicans don’t kill Social Security, you can retire like me, live thrifty, then get up when you need to, write till you drop, and FTW.
That door is open wide. Go for it.