(Originally published in The Beach Reporter on 2/19/93)
I recently read that becoming a writer was one of the top fantasies of the American public, right up there next to trading places with Julia Roberts for a day.
I don’t want to burst anyone’s bubble, but in my personal experience as a freelance writer for the past eight years this is the least glamorous job I have ever had, and I have had plenty of jobs.
My former biggest fantasy about being a writer (before I actually became one) was that I would write for uninterrupted hours, surrounded by the accoutrements of my trade.
I still harbor that fantasy. However, most of my writing is done at an enormous slab of a desk that my husband once did his homework on, in a room that could best be described as the junk room.
I insist on calling it my office, but it also holds my sewing machine, bookshelves overflowing with books, shoe boxes of photos dating back to 1976, photo albums, quilting and stenciling supplies, unfinished craft projects, and our suitcases. The room is a monument to my inability to get organized.
I have become very good at blocking that stuff out though, when I sit down to write. I turn the phone machine on, turn my computer on, and wait for the lightning bolt of inspiration – and wait and wait.
Sound glamorous and exciting so far? You probably wonder why I haven’t mentioned Oprah or Phil or Geraldo. Don’t all writers spend a great deal of time jetting about on the talk show circuit? The reality is most writers spend most of their time in solitary confinement.
When I find myself talking to the cat (I ask him questions, and then answer for him) then I know I need to get out in the Real World. The Real World peopled by those with Real Jobs. Jobs where you have to be somewhere at the same time every day, and where you get paid for your time no matter what. Jobs where you have a boss and a lunch hour and paid vacations and benefits.
When you’re a writer, you are your own boss and you set your own pace; and you are last on everyone’s list to get paid.
The downfall of many a would-be writer is lack of discipline. There are so many things at home that beckon for immediate attention. Children and husbands are top of the list. Then there are pets, laundry, grocery shopping, and cooking meals. Not to mention the dustballs in the hallway that must be swept up before you begin your novel, or the spices that need to be arranged in alphabetical order, or the houseplants that need to be dusted.
I wonder if Jackie Collins or Danielle Steele have these problems?
Yes, it’s a glamorous life. You turn on your computer or sharpen your pencil. You turn the heater up. You make a cup of tea. You get one cookie, then go back for another. You turn the heater down. You warm up your tea in the microwave. You make a list of things you will buy when you are a rich and famous author.
You wonder if it’s too early for lunch. You read the newspaper (research). You write your Oscar acceptance speech. You toy with some sentences on your computer. You read them, and consider plumbing school.
You accept UPS packages for neighbors all morning, since you are the only one in the neighborhood who is home during the day. A great idea comes to you when you are warming up your tea and you rush to write it down. You work for a while in the thrall of your brilliant prose. Then you go back and read it. Not great, but not bad.
The mail comes, and there are three rejections and a slew of bills. The bills inspire you like nothing else has, and you go back to your brilliant idea and keep working on it. You put your novel aside and work on an article for Home Health Care Magazine, because they pay well.
Another great thing about being a writer is that you get to dress fabulously. When you aren’t going to see anyone but the mailman and the UPS guy, you don’t go out of your way to look good. Fuzzy slippers and sweats are my outfit of choice. Except for when I go on Oprah.
Then there are those times when you do venture out, and you are mobbed by your fans. Just last week, I was at Target, and a grandmotherly woman shyly asked me if I wasn’t “that lady who writes for one of those freebie newspapers.” I told her she could have my autograph, if she kept it quiet.