A lady found out I was a writer. “That’s so cool!” she said.
“Well, you would think so, wouldn’t you?” I said.
Youtube stars make more money. Singers don’t have to write so much or so long and can do the same performance over and over. Writers may work for years on one project (though I don’t recommend that.) We rarely attract adoring crowds.
Another guy, upon finding out I write, asked, “Is it worth it?”
“Is it worth it?” I echoed, vacillating between anger, sadness and not understanding the question.
“Yeah,” the guy said. “Do you make any money at it?”
“Any? Some,” I said. Jesus! How did a random chat with a stranger suddenly turn into a shitty conversation with someone I don’t like at a family reunion?
That was one of those uncomfortable moments where, in the mind of another, I was a loser. (Not my first time.)
I wasn’t getting rich off what I was doing, so why bother? I did not measure up to some easily quantifiable standard. The dude wanted to know me by numbers and I’m all about the words. He wouldn’t be satisfied if I told him that ‘writer’ isn’t a title or a hobby. It’s my identity. I’d do it for free. I did it for free for years. Then the doubt creeps in. Maybe he’s right. I could do things that would make me rich but I would not love those things. I’d be divorced, bitter and 48% more suicidal if I did those things.
The doubt remains, though. Am I satisfied? Am I remembering to have fun? Not always.
Many writers are forgetting to have fun. We talk to each other about marketing a lot, but not so much about craft. We emphasize that writing is hard work. It’s not. It’s hard play if you’re swinging the bat right. Still, the writer’s persecution complex persists. If you aren’t having fun when you write, maybe you aren’t on the right story. Or maybe you’ve forgotten horrid alternatives (like cleaning the grease trap at Arby’s).
Time for some healthy perspective.
Recently, I wandered through an art fair. Some of the artists were incredibly talented. I’m sure none of them were rich from all that paint and passion, yet they return to this same art fair, year after year. On a Sunday morning, for a scattering of browsers, they presented their art to say, “Look what I did!” with unselfconscious pride. You see that same pride on the face of every little kid who wants to slide a new drawing under a fridge magnet.
The artists who are only there to sell look miserable. The happy ones talk about history, inspiration and process. (I suspect the ones with the joyful attitude sell more, too.) Is every painter who fails to sell their work for millions wasting their time? Is every athlete who failed to get gold, silver or bronze a failure? Our life metrics are skewed toward what gains the most attention.
Much of our angst comes from focusing on what we don’t have, namely huge success. We want to crush our enemies, see them driven before us and to hear the lamentations of their women. Wait. No. That’s Conan the Barbarian.
Let’s focus on what your writing career means to you. The destination in your mind may not exist. The money may not come. Your art may never justify your existence to your parents. Even if you do make a big number, Dad will say, “Not enough.” There are always larger numbers you didn’t achieve. So why bother?
Writing is about the journey first (and maybe always).
Success and failure come and go and notoriety does not hang out for long. Fame is slutty, always looking for a younger, fresher face. Meanwhile, the pure of heart just want to tell stories. We remain at our desks. We write because that’s who we are. It’s apparently a genetic disease. I don’t know why I do it. I only know I must.
Sometimes, yes, I still forget to have fun.
I am not above jealousy and envy. I’ll hear an author on a podcast talking about his or her mega-successful book and the new boat they’re buying courtesy of Amazon. I have to shut that shit off for a while and clear my head. I go for a walk and pump myself up with some Good Charlotte. I wallow in My Chemical Romance. Then I kick an innocent tree, get over it and get back to work. Envy and jealousy don’t serve me. They surely don’t get the next book written. Only I can do that.
When you have to pee but you put it off to finish a chapter, you know you love it. When you forget or don’t have time to shower, you’re on the trail of a big idea. When you feel a spider crawling on your arm but you have to finish typing a sentence before you can deal with it, you’re in deep. Endorphins wash through your skull and you aren’t at your desk at all, anymore. You’re fighting dragons, falling in love for the first time all over again and murdering your enemies in hilarious clever ways. There’s the joy.
Until Hollywood comes calling, I’ll settle for a small but dedicated following who dig what I’m slinging. My readership is growing, though not as fast as I’d prefer. Still, I’m loving my life now. I’m not waiting to be happy later. I get into my stories. I go deep on funny, snappy dialogue. I craft with cool words and pull plots over my head. I’m doing what I want, hanging out in coffee shops, writing more books and inviting my readers to tickle their brains so we share a common hallucination.
Keep pushing. Keep writing. Keep having fun now.
The readership you seek and the recognition you hope for may be closer than you think. Maybe you’re about to break out and go huge. (I feel like I’ve been on that cusp several times.) Be glad you didn’t wait to be happy. You can always smile now with conviction, clarity of purpose and coffee.
~ I am Robert Chazz Chute and I write suspenseful books about good versus evil, bad versus evil and saving the world with hugs and blades. Check out my crazy train at AllThatChazz.com.
Oh, and here’s one more random encounter for you:
When a lady found out I’m a writer she blurted, “Do you want to be famous?”
“I want to be read. That’s sort of like famous, I guess.”
“What’s the difference?”
“When you’re famous, you have to wear a baseball cap and sunglasses when you go out in public. When you’re read, you infect readers with mind viruses and play piano with their brain stems. Writers are mostly faceless, even those who sell a lot of books.”
“So you don’t want to be, like, famous famous?” she persisted.
“If I were, like, famous, famous, I suppose people might be nicer to me when I nip out for some groceries.”
“Paper or plastic?” she asked.
And, I thought, if I were famous, people wouldn’t be asking me about what I’m not or what I might be. They’d be talking about what I did.