The recluse at the typewriter who eschews all press, the garrulous womanizing drunk, the pensive thoughtful academic. The many stereotypes of the writer over the years. The writer’s life has been romanticized in many ways. The book signing where Beatles size crowds of fans show for a signature. Yup. Reality, the author wanders the store looking for people to talk to about books. Increasingly, we’re wandering towns looking for bookstores.
The inspiration that sends us to our machines and drives a book onto the page in finished draft condition and ready for submission to agents and publishers who will be knocking each other over to gather at your door for that piece of wonder you’ve wrought. It’s like that, right? Non writers believe the “life” is as good as the archetypes. Even without a constantly morphing marketplace, it wouldn’t be because the reality is that invention simply doesn’t work that way. How many tries before Edison came up with the light bulb? How many for Salk with the polio vaccine? How many times did Leonardo attempt the Mona Lisa before he considered her complete? Whether science or art, no first attempt will bring about success at the goal.
The writing life does not follow a stereotypical road. It is as varied as the writers treading the path. When people ask writers the secret to being a writer, I want to laugh. This idea that there is some magical elixir that allows everything to take place in the vacuum of a fictive dream is comical. The writing life is no different from the path to becoming a doctor or a lawyer or an engineer. It involves an almost sick passion for something that will allow you to drive your body, your psyche, and your mind as close to the brink as possible. It involves placing your skill out there knowing there will be others better than you and that you may never achieve the success you hope for but for you there is no other path.
For a writer, writing is as necessary as food and water. We take the rejection, the depression, the empty bookstores, and the muse on permanent vacation. We accept it as a small price to pay for the joy of creating worlds on the page. If there are people who will read our words, we’re thrilled. But the “life” is about more than selling books. It’s about sharing humanity through art.
Sometimes, we forget that.
Prayers for the people of Oklahoma this week.