Saturday, November 22, 2008
Dawdling and Maudling. Dare I quit my day job?
This first bit
from an inspiration
© by Holly Lisle
Professional writer Holly Lisle writes on quitting your job to become a full-time writer.
".... It took me about eight years from the time I decided that I wanted to leave nursing to write full-time to the day in November of 1993 when I was able to give away my stethescope and do it. And even then I did it wrong, and jumped too soon, and cost myself some momentum and some money.
" ... I think I still would have jumped when I did. Writing full-time is as cool as you might ever hope it would be on the good days, and scarier than you can believe on the bad ones, and I wouldn't trade any of the rollercoaster ride that it has been up to now for the security a few more years in the day job could have given me.
First things first. If you are wedded to the idea of security and you like knowing that you're going to be able to pay your bills on time every month, kiss the idea of full-time writing a permanent goodbye. At levels of success higher than those I've yet reached, I imagine money is a bit more secure. At my level---which is fourteen or so books in print, all in a solid genre that generates a good audience, no single title breathtakingly successful, but several that have earned out and pay regular if small royalties---it is an adventure. And remember that the definition of adventure is "some poor shmuck having a hell of a hard time of it a thousand miles away." I'm doing what I love, and getting paid for it, and I wouldn't do anything else unless I were in imminent danger of starvation. Life doesn't suck. But I'm one of those people who never minded a bit of adventure. And even for me, sometimes the sheer amount of adventure makes the whole thing dicey.
I reckon in the course of my long career I probably made abou $200,000 from my writing, but a lot of it had had to do with PR work, influence peddling, editing, teaching people how to do it, and a lot of journalism. I can certainly not boast Ms.Lisle's 20 novels--I have only written five.
Ms. Lisle is very lucky, and obviously very talented.
But here is how it really goes:
A working journalist, I had been greatly inspired by yet another writer, Gail Sheehy, who warned that there is something called Catch-3O...that at age 30, you slow right down. Yes! Thirty.
To someone bulletproof, like me at 30, this was depressing news.
I had taken a huge gamble on my novel, The Hat People, quit my job over I starved, but somehow, through the dance of the dialectic, fallen into a million dollars. The novel remained unpublished, save for one chapter in TOPIC magazine, but I was rich.
Still, I had failed to win a New York agent. Rich and depressed.
Why? A paid-for house, two beautiful children and not having to work for the rest of my life.
"Father says, "What is the matter with you. You not got enough to eat? Hah! Pepsi Generation. Good for shit."
(Ukrainian fathers tend to talk that way).
Yet here was Gail Sheehy telling me that it all starts to slow down at thirty, that you don't have the energy of a teenager any more, there is a biological slowdown and soon, you will be delving into more of life's mysteries.
Fact of the matter, I was totally seduced by Sheehy's writing style. It is almost poetry and seems to go past the usual intellectual wall in writing.
I guess marrying Clay Felker, top editor in New York and top magazine publilsher didn't hurt Gail Sheehey..Hey. Me too!
But the writing must have paid the rent. And Mr. Felker had a hit on his hands with his New York Magazine..
When I speak of New York Magazine, I don't mean the New Yorker, which, for the longest time seemed to talk of people living in the l930's, not having a crisis, like Catch-30.
Father used to say, "Not married by 30? Hah. Pepsi generation. Good for...."
Well, I certainly got married before this deadline decade. Family pressure. Girlfriend pressure.
I had proposed in a bathtub and my intentions were straight and clean.
Anyway, as I sat in my neat white cottage, case of beer usually in front of me, I had noticed that I could now guzzle down only seven beers instead of the usual 10.
Catch-30. The slowdown. Lost capacity.
On the typewriter to do some editing; my toddler is tugging at the paper in my typewriter and I complain to my wife over the frequency of my turns at babysitting.
An editor calls. I would at least be out of the house, working for the Star Weekly magazine, writing about baton-twirlers and inventors of the snowboard, chuckling over what Mordecai Richler had said about baton twirling: The Orangeman's flamenco."
Still, at today's equivalent salary of $60,OOO a year, I could put up with it.
Off that morning to interview Toronto's top hostess witth he mostess for the food and drink column.
Yet the novel was going nowhere. Rejected by a writer's co-op! Teased by House of Anansi Press because it might not be "our kind of book."
So what if you were a published writer. The folks at ANANSI were in fact using the word "sellout" quite a bit.
But didn't you sell out a little when your novels had to dovetail with Canada's public policy of political correctness and gay rights?
Well anyway. Catch-30.
Doing stupid stories and slowing down all the while. And the rejection letters for your novel.
Ah, but there were emoluments. The Reader's Digest reprinted something of mine.
Got me a trip to Florida.
Yup. Right to Ft. Myers Beach to join others in a Reader's Digest world of rich middle-aged f*ck-ups.
Wow. Is this how it goes? I want to be a rich middle-aged f*ck-up at once!
Back home at the cottage, with the Thirties Crisis upon me, I was starting to feel like a real middle-aged f*ck- up.
Off to Toronto to see "Jacquea Brel Is Alive and Well", wherein an artist sings, "The Middle Class Can KIss My Ass."
Well, I'd sent a rewrite of The Hat People back to Anansi. Maybe soon, I would be able to sing they dud ub Jaques Brel.
But the news was nor cheerful:
"The character in your novel doesn't entirely avoid self-pity. He is a spoiled brat."
Hah. I am thinking to myself: "Besides that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?"
Clearly I had to stop using myself as my gristmill.
Animal stories. Yes. Animal stories. I wrote about my dog Gulliver and the frequent times I wanted to shoot the son-of-a bitch.
Got an award.
But still the Uncle Vanya feeling. Chekhov. Men who just slowed down and froze.
I was an unpublished novelist while my peers were ploghing deep furrows into Canadian literature.
And I was 30.
Bird in a gilded cage. Married and 30.
"Oh you poor thing," my wife is jibing.
"Look around at all your friends. Living in cramped quarters, drinking cheap booze. Making noises like writers, but not having published a line.
"I am an artist, Martha."
"Well, 'artist', here is the vacuum cleaner. I'm tired of picking up after you."
"But I'm a genius, Martha."
'Who says? I made it in the top percentile at Mensa."
"Oh yes. Mensa. 'Open the encyclopaedia anywhere and I bet I can spell the word.'
Encyclopaedia salesmen all and not an achiever in the crowd"
"So achieve, achiever."
The money had come from her family. She was really my patron.
Wasn't until decades after, I would hear Alanis Morisette singing, "I Got One Hand In My Pocket, And The Other is Swingin' on a Cigarette."
But Alanis had written the song at 24.
And here I am at Catch-70, still trying to write one.
And the turtles have long since passed me.
From white rabbit to something like the Red Queen.
Running madly to stay in just the one place.
Egad. My wife used to call me a king.
Now she's using terms out of anatomy.