Why the Writer’s Life Is a Lie

Secret garden with snow in morning light This month’s theme is “The Writing Life,” which is a recurrent theme among writers – particularly aspiring ones, I think – but one I find kind of funny to contemplate.

I mean, no one ever talks about “The Stockbroking Life,” or “The Grocery-Bagging Life.” There’s even this idea that The Writing Life (always capitalized!) should be somehow glamorous and filled with riches. Even my sister Contemporary Romance Cafe writers who’ve posted on the theme so far this month – nothing against you, Reese and Jana – talk about how it’s not at all like that.

What I wonder is – why do so many think it will be?

Everybody dreams big, sure. The young woman who moves to Hollywood plans on being Charlize Theron, not a bit part player with a waitressing job. The high school quarterback with the promising college draft options hopes to play pro-football someday, not graduate with a free degree in accounting. So, of course we all dream about being Nora Roberts or JK Rowling. That’s natural hopefulness.

Yet, with writers, we want – even expect – more than that.

When I first decided to be a writer, a friend gave me a book (that I won’t name) by a Famous Writer, that included all sorts of meditations on Being a Writer. Naturally these were not musings on the agony of pounding out word count to meet a deadline while fighting the certainty that every single one of those words sucks beyond imagining. Nor were they about publishers refusing to return rights, or editors who went on maternity leave, never to return, orphaning series that then got kicked to the curb. No, these were lovely, light-filled essays about watching the sky change colors or daily revisting the same spot on a morning walk to meticulously detail the changes in a cocoon found there.

Perhaps it’s a poetic view, this idea of living the Life of the Mind, of long walks and longer afternoons spent on the lawn at some country manor, scratching away a story that will change the world.

Probably long after our deaths, but that’s no never mind.

From this screed the alert reader will detect that I am not immune to these fantasies. I love all of these ideas, though by no means do I live them. This morning my hubs went to sit at a high table we set up on the east side of the house, to drink his coffee in the morning sun. I thought about joining him. I wanted to. It sounded lovely, really. I even contemplated grabbing one of the plethora of romantic paper journals I own – delightful for their handmade paper and beautifully embossed covers – and taking it with my coffee, to maybe brainstorm ideas for the novel I’m writing. But I didn’t do any of these things, because I know if I don’t get in 1,000 words by a certain time in the morning, the chances I’ll make my word count goal for the day go down drastically.

I don’t know why this is. It just is.

So, no – I didn’t go sit in the sun and make notes in my journal. Nor did I take a long walk to revisit the same spot daily, nor did I while away the afternoon on the lawn drinking tea while my companions played croquet.

Like my fellow writers, I put in the work. Like my fellow stockbrokers and grocery baggers, I worked at my job. It’s a great job and I love it – don’t get me wrong! But it IS a job. There are wonderful aspects to it and, like any job, irritating and even agonizing parts.

In the end, the writer’s life is, well, just life. We all do the best we can. We find joy where we seek it, count our blessings and hope they’ll outweigh the sorrows.

And if you can make a living doing something you love, all the better.


Why the Writer’s Life Is a Lie — 15 Comments

  1. So much yes, Jeffe.

    I went to a guest speaker event hosted by a local creative writing group and somehow ended up on their mailing list. Now every Monday I’m treated to a saccharine, faux-erudite and wildly overwritten ‘motivational musing’ with suggested exercises like, “Have your character ask a question, but don’t let the other character answer it. The reader must find the answer.” or trite advice like, “your characters are shards of yourself, take risks!”

    And every Monday I think, “who the hell has time for this?” If I want to write one scene a year, sure, I’ll stare out the window and contemplate each adjective. But to stay afloat in our fast-paced genre there simply isn’t room for navel gazing – not in my experience, anyway!

    Thanks for this frank look at the writer’s life, Jeffe. Maybe it’s time I unsubscribed from that list. 😉

    • Ha! I love your examples and how you describe those overwritten motivational musings! Sound like it’s time to unsubscribe to me, too! You don’t need to start your week with those ideas in your head. :/

  2. Like other creative pursuits, there is this delusion of grandeur. Everyone wants to Stephen King. For me, not so much. I just want to do what I love, and be able to eat while doing it. Lol.

    I’m not one for the flowery advice about writing and the writing life. I want to know how to improve at my craft, how to get deeper into my characters, how to bring setting to life. How to be more productive and write faster. That’s the type of writing advice I get excited about.

  3. Thinking about it a little more, here’s why I do feel there is some merit to this idea of a “writers life.” A grocery bagger or an office worker do their work, have good days and bad. But they go home at the end of the day and their work is over for the time being. For a creative person, the life is more fully involved. We think about our craft, characters and stories all the time. It’s a part of the fabric of who we are, not just what we do. And we commit much unpaid time and effort to our work, out of a sheer love of our art. Often without promise that anything will become of it. A grocery bagger and office worker know they will get a paycheck for their efforts. So I do find some difference there.

    However, like the stock broker and any other worker, commitment and dedication are required if you want to be good at what you do and succeed at it.That’s the reality anyone serious about being a writer needs to understand and be committed to.

    • So, yes, you’re absolutely right about this – an element I deliberately ignored to make my point. I’ve never been a grocery bagger, but it’s always my go-to analogy to contrast with writing. Maybe partly because I’ve never done it? Also I understand it generally pays well for that kind of job, has decent benefits and looks easy! But right – I don’t imagine the grocery baggers of the world stew over the eternal question of paper or plastic. Being an artist of any type involves more of the essential self. Writing is hugely different for me than when I worked as a cocktail waitress, restaurant hostess or even environmental consultant. You’re right that it’s rewarding on its own, even if the money never materializes. It’s just … never full of glamour!

  4. Great post Jeffe. Spot on with a lot of things. Ladies, I’ve found your comments just as insightful as the post. This is exactly what I’ve been contemplating for a while now. Thanks for sharing!

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