How does writing fit into a person’s life? Is it a hobby, a passion, a compulsion—there’s usually little difference between the two—a way of living, a habit, or perhaps a mindset? Often it’s all of those and still not enough to fit into anything well. Least of all, a life. Other things come first; family, relationships, health, obviously money (the dirty word in the art world). And dare I say happiness? Too lofty. Alright, forget about happiness. Household chores then. More often than not, they too come before writing.
Writers like to say that writing is a priority for them, but in practice, if we pin down the moment when it happens, it figures somewhere between decluttering the garage and playing video games.
I honestly think that this is why many talented writers struggle to do anything about their gift. At some point, the simple act of writing is not enough. You need to draft, finish, and polish your pieces, go from a doodle to a sketch to a complete drawing. The time commitment required by each stage goes up exponentially.
Most people in my life know that I’m a writer, insofar as I write a lot, and yet they insist on asking,
“How’s your book going?”
My bluntly honest answer has been “Horribly, thank you” for a while.
My relationship with writing can be best described as toxic. It doesn’t do me much good, but I can’t bring myself to ask for a divorce. Not yet, not before I figure it out.
Why, you may ask? I enjoy a good challenge—a quirk of character that has carried me through life. Only writing remains a nut I can’t crack, a bar set too high, an obstacle I’ve no idea how to overcome. Every day I try, or do—in the spirit of “do or do not, there is no try”—because writing helps me think straight, making me a better person than I’d otherwise be, but writing has also made it clear that it doesn’t love me back.
During one of my weaker moments, I may have argued that writing is a bitch that doesn’t love anybody back, but that would be the whiskey talking. It’s not like there aren’t any good moments. (A triple-negative that I’d otherwise hurry to edit out, but which I’ll leave just this once.)
A few years ago, I earned the right of calling myself a traditionally published writer. The news came when my wife was about to go to the hospital to get her chemo, so the joy of the first publication didn’t last long, feel significant or real. At a time when nothing made sense, it begged the biggest “so what?” of them all.
I decided to pursue writing anyway, arguing that it needed to move up my priorities list to play a bigger role in my life. And what better way to achieve that than to make it my source of income. An idea pretty far out there for most, I realize. But these days, anybody willing to put in the hours and the effort can make a living doing about anything for a living. Forest bathing is a thing. Clay pots are making a comeback. And there’s always someone who wants to learn how to play the ukulele. So why not writing? Or, in my case, editing.
It worked well. Until.
The moment cancer reared its ugly head again, I got to experience, first hand, the uncomfortable truth about being a freelance artist of any kind. No matter how good you are, how much you make, how well you plan for eventualities freelancing offers you zero security. If something happens to you, and you’re not rich by the time it does, you’re screwed. It’s basically like being an American.
People have warned me, and I didn’t listen. I have willingly thrown myself at this problem to experience it myself, to see if I can find a solution, a different way of thinking, or a trick others have missed. But I didn’t. I have tried, succeeded in the craft, one could argue but failed to find the kind of stable foothold a corporate career offers.
Generally, relationships where one party becomes too invested struggle. Perhaps I expected too much from writing. I wanted purpose, happiness, security, great sex, accomplishment, and recognition. And like a fiery affair, it answered some of my needs oh-so-very well, but it was never as straightforward as promised, and when it threatened to leave the rest of my life in tatters, I had to take a step back. For the time being, writing full-time is a luxury I cannot afford.
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