I stopped writing letters to Salon years ago because I was worn out by the trolling. This time Salon doesn’t even offer a letter section. I’m thinking it’s a good thing they didn’t.
Back on March 22, 2004, they printed an article called “The confessions of a semi-successful author.” It told the sob story of an author whose first sale drew a whopping $150,000 advance, only for her career to spiral downward from there (that is, if you consider awards and critical acclaim with $35,000 advances “spiraling”).
Salon reprinted this same article on December 7, 2009.
I realize that it’s a sobering look at publishing and all that, but we would have been better served as readers with an update on said miserable writer. Five and a half years is a long time. Things have changed even more dramatically since she whined the first time around, what with the market crash and all the tweeting of the Intertwats. (Her daughter, by the way, wins for wisdom. Her comment about making the NBA was true. I hope her mom truly took it to heart.) And — GASP! — she had to take a job! Has this changed her attitude and given her any perspective? That’s the real follow-up. (Although, Charlie Simpson does a bang-up job of dissecting the original piece and explains what really happened. Thanks to Bel Wilson for the link.)
Reading the article again, it sent me back to Rilke’s “Letters to a Young Poet.” Writing is a vocation, a potentially thankless calling, and expecting a fiction writing career to support one is unreasonable. Some talented — and many completely untalented — writers get hit by the comet, but a great many worthy writers don’t. Too many stars have to align and it simply doesn’t happen for all of us. I know many talented writers who have to do side jobs to stay financially afloat, or who, like me, have another, steadier career that’s more lucrative to support the less lucrative one. I have less time to write but I can do so comfortably with a pension in my future.
In fact, I have two writing careers. I’m a well-paid, award-winning writer in my day job for one of the best-known and best-loved brands in the world. In my other writing career, I’m a talented smart ass who makes very little and hasn’t won a Stoker. I’m not sure where the snobbery came in that says the less lucrative job with the iffy awards is somehow better, but I think I’m doing just fine.
I love writing fiction. And I’ll keep writing, even if bitches don’t give me a damned Stoker, a steady income or anything else. I do it because my love of words overflows my heart and the ideas hammer their way out of my skull. (Or they use dynamite. Usually in the middle of the night.) I’m truly fortunate to do it as well as I do.
And here I go back to doing it.