On The Privilege Of Being A Writer

My mother’s father was a coal miner. (Died of black lung.)

My father’s father was a farmer. Sun up to sun down.

My father worked 4AM to 4PM in a chemical-rich pigment factory.

My mother cleaned houses. Day in, day out, back-breaking work.

I am a writer. I sit in a fairly comfy office chair put words down on screens and on paper and I tell stories. And outside my window is a pretty forest and lots of sunlight and my walls are a bright and optimistic green. I have a terrier who sometimes warms my feet (or tries to kill me with her intestinal miasma).

It’s pretty cushy business, this writing gig.

Now, here’s the thing. I don’t think that what I do is not work. It is hard work. It is real work. Stories matter. Art matters. What we do is a craft and it takes some mad combination of skill and talent to both survive and thrive, and I’m not going to take that away from myself or any other hardworking ass-busting wordsmith out there. It can be mentally exhausting. It can leave me worn and tattered and gutted like a rotten stump. Some days the words run free like rabbits. Others are like pulling teeth out of a rabid dog.

Just the same, I think it’s important to find a little perspective. A little… appreciation. Because being a writer — being allowed to earn a living doing what I do — is obscenely delightful, unwholesome in its privilege. I’m a lucky fuck. I’m lucky I don’t have to wreck my body and break my bones and come home dirty and pissed off and ruined doing something I don’t want to do. I’m not saying that there’s not room for complaints. Or room for improvement or examination or a place to talk about our struggles and our fears. But I think from time to time it’s a good idea to stop and sit back and say, “At least I’m not castrating llamas or mopping up the floor at a porn store.” I think it’s a good idea sometimes to say, “This thing we do, it’s pretty great and we’re pretty lucky to be able to do it.” Because it is. And we are.

37 comments

  • Amen, Brother Chuck!

    In other news, I’m halfway through Blackbirds and the nightmares are flowing freely. Just wanted to thank you for that. I have no more comfort zone.

  • Amen to that! Every so often I’ll catch myself grumbling about getting an article in on time or how dull the topics are for a client, and then I’ll remember, “Wait a second….remember that call center hell-on-earth you were in for three years before that?” and suddenly I feel so much better.

  • Truthity truth is in this post. I hope to make this writing thing my real living some day. I love my teaching, and the privilege of being able to teach in a foreign country, but oh how I can’t wait to write.

  • I’m often up at 3:30 a.m. because it’s the only time available to me to write since I have a full-time job, an hour commute, and two kids. I don’t usually mention that to people because they think I’m complaining or looking for sympathy. But I’m not looking for sympathy; It makes me happy.

    And I too come from a long line of coal miners, farmers, janitors, and hash slingers. I gots it good. Thanks for the perspective, Chuck.

  • True that. It works every time really, when I find myself slacking off to finish an article, I remember the days when “work” meant talking for 10hours and dealing with people at their worst days.

  • *delurk*
    Amen Lord and pass the potatoes! This is my ultimate goal, I don’t mind working hard but to be able to do something I love, rather than just what pays the bills…well, that would be awesome.

    And a belated Happy Mothers Day to the Lady Wendig!

    *relurk*

  • Yeah, I think we can all bear that in mind even if we don’t write, or if you’re a wannabe like me who’s trying to weave it around the 8-5 grind and a family. Even when it’s very, very hard, it’s not like our jobs these days are so risky or likely to give us something horrible and incurable.

    Nice bit of perspective, dude!

  • After over 20 years doing this, I do get spoiled. Never leaving the house to work. Dog lying at my feet. Headache from compressing the timeline on my current thriller. But it’s hard to beat.

  • Yes! Yes!! Yes!!!
    My writing is confined to evenings after work but even though it makes for an endless day, those hours are rewarding, worthwhile, and oh so yummy. And after I select the publish button on my blogging site I come away with a feeling of validation. To be able to devote all day to writing would be a dream come true.
    Chuck, you are a lucky man and it’s nice to hear you acknowledge it

  • At one point, I weighed cancerous mice for a living. EVERY job I’ve had since then has been better.

    Now I’m freelancing, and even though it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, I’ll never, ever complain. I can’t imagine doing anything else.

  • Amen.

    It’s one of the reasons why I think it’s important for writers to have had many other jobs in their lives — not just because the wealth of experience really helps with the “write what you know” thing, but because it gives a valuable frame of reference for just how fucking lucky we are to be able to make shit up for a living.

    • Word. This is why I just don’t truck with writers who bitch and moan all the time about this thing that we do. Talking about our struggles, sure. Being clear about the difficulties, fuck yeah. I’m not saying it’s an easy job. And we all set our own pace and process and I don’t aim to judge folks based on word count or page count or whatever. But some folks could use a little perspective. Or they could use to realize that this isn’t the thing they were meant to do and they should find something that makes them happier.

      – c.

  • I hear that. We’ve all got our own issues with our writing which can feel like a rabid wombat tearing through soft abdominal flesh. Mine is time management. I suck at it royally and can never be as productive as I want. But no matter how frustrated I can get with a half page day, it will always beat my day job. I’m a weld inspector at a shipyard. Submarines light me fire, electrocute me and slowly cripple my knees. Those boats go out to sea with the blood and sweat of many on them. Writing is gravy. It’s easy to forget sometimes. Having a reminder of that perspective helps. Thanks man.

  • Full disclosure, I write flash fiction and pocket poetry (http://www.amazon.com/Unselected-ebook/dp/B0073YYXRC).

    I think that writing is a mandate. If you write, you can’t help but do it. “Writers write,” as the saying goes. I think the hardest part is being new or feeling like you have to be contemporary or as good as the masters. It’s all about practice and patience. Do what you do and eventually (after 10,000 hours) you’ll be great at it. Or so says Outliers.

    I’m glad you wrote this blog article. It made me reflect on both my family history and my current situation.

    And it made me want to write.

  • I am not, as yet, a full time writer, but the time I spend writing is usually a joy. Lately, my muse has been fucking with me (and not in a fun, toe curling kind of way) and the words have been a struggle, but I still do it. I’m lucky I have a day job that’s pretty decent, but it’s not like writing full time. Yes, being grateful for what one has is never a waste of time.

    BTW, I’ve had a job going down into sewer manholes and taking water samples, so I can relate to ‘crappy’ jobs. :)

  • Hell yes.

    I MAKE SHIT UP FOR A LIVING!

    Actually I put pictures on people’s skin and make shit up for a living, but who’s quibbling. lol.

    No I have worked real jobs. I’ve been a bouncer, I’ve done landscaping, I done collections, been a youth pastor, cook, waiter, busboy, truck driver, meter reader…..I’ve done a lot of shit in my life.

    I know that hands down I am the luckiest sumbitch in the world to be able to do what I do now.

    NO BITCHIN’ KEEP WRITING.

  • Word. Working hard to get to the day where I can enjoy the same privilege.

    (Though I can’t complain now. I currently work from home as a software developer. Pigment factory it ain’t.)

  • My worst ever job was at a call centre for unemployment benefits. I had to take around 100 calls a day (actually I spent so much time avoiding the phone that my average was more like 80) and I never knew which ones would explode in my ear with abuse. I spent time every day of those 14 months wondering if I could survive on unemployment benefits myself if I quit.

    Now I edit fiction in my own home, in school hours, helping developing writers polish their stories. And I am very very grateful. That is not to say it isn’t a job, or isn’t hard, or that I wouldn’t rather be playing Rift. But it is several hundred times more fun than having a stranger act like you have personally withheld their payment for your own amusement.

  • I hope one day I’ll have the privilege of complaining about the writing life. For now, I have FT job, but I have a couple of hours to write before my shift at the Cubiclestan begins.

    During the lowest trough of the recession I was underemployed, but I had a surfeit of time to write. I wrote 2-5 hours a day at least 5 days a week and recall with amazement how my craft improved. I wrote stories and books with the words in the right order, learned to be self-critical and make like a doppelganger and look at my writing from another perspective.

    I’d love another year where I can spend half my waking hours writing.

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