I've never had dreams about fame or fortune related to writing. It seems odd to pretty much everyone I tell, but it's true. I have never felt that sense of urgency to get my work out and published either. If there is a vanity I will confess to, it's that I hope to one day write something worthy (and I use the term loosely) of some critic's acclaim.
My career explains, I think, why I'm indifferent to the idea of fame and money when it comes to writing. I'm neither rich nor famous, but I have experienced a bizarre Cinderella story in my professional life. You could say that after years of toiling in obscurity in the suffocating world of government contracting and government service, a fairy godfather saw some potential in me and the next thing I knew, I was working for a start-up company, had a fancy job title, quadrupled my income, stock options, an unlimited expense account and was jetting all over the place, pretending to be a business person.
I say pretending because I have always felt like I'm playing a role when I'm working, and I am. I'm a sales representative. My wise Uncle Denis asked me a long time ago, how I'd answer a client's question, "what time is it?" Naturally, I shrugged and said I'd tell him the correct time. Uncle Denis shook his head. "You ask him what time he wants it to be." That's sales.
For the first couple of months, I felt like a fraud. All of these other sales guys and business men (they are almost all men) were confident, cocky even and they knew what they were doing. Sometimes I'd listen to what they said and I'd think that it didn't make sense to me, but I must just be stupid. I must not get it. And then it hit me like a Wylie Coyote anvil dropped on my head. Holy shit. They don't know anything more than I do. They just act like they do.
That revelation freed me of my lifelong anxiety about whether or not I was good enough, smart enough or gosh darn it, whether people liked me or not. For more than eight years I've been the top sales rep in my company (and the only woman). Now and then I get a little maudlin and I think maybe I'm wasting my time, maybe I should be out doing something more meaningful and trying to save the world, but then I remember all the things this job has allowed me to do and I'm grateful. The executives listen to what I say and ask what I think, I get to work from home and set my own schedule and for the most part, I do what I want to do. The income has given me the freedom to travel when I want to and to save for the future so that I may one day retire. And when I really think hard about it, the interaction with so many people from such different walks of life, different jobs, different countries and different values and opinions provides a wealth of material for creating stories and fiction.
Several days ago, I read this post about writers and work at The Quarterly Conversation and I found that it comforted me.
Some writers manage to live off their art. Some inhabit a grey area in which they earn a livable wage off non-creative writing. And some writers work 40 hours a week elsewhere. Wallace Stevens retired as the vice president of an insurance company, notably turning down a professorship from Yale to stick with his office. William Carlos Williams decided in high school that he would become both a writer and a doctor—which he did. That’s one kind of writer. Among their present-day successors is Edward P. Jones, who worked as a business writer for almost 19 years after earning his MFA. During this time, his coworkers might have been surprised to know that his first story collection was nominated for a National Book Award. Robert Olen Butler published his first four books while working as editor for an energy industry trade magazine. Continue Reading.Yes, there are real authors out there (authors we've actually heard of) who have jobs and careers apart from writing. I've spent far too long mooning over the academics and the MFAs who have followed a path so much different from mine when I should have been appreciating the path I'm on. It's my comfort zone and it feels right. My confession is that I do have an ego and I have to admit that it's nice to do something that I'm rewarded and praised for. It provides more than enough of a balance for the insecurity and obscurity that define the writer in me. I'm not sure I could handle the self-doubt and the absence of approbation if I didn't have some aspect of my life that provided that.
One day, I'll have a slim novel finished and polished up and I'll look for an agent and hopefully, I'll find one who is passionate about what I've done. Maybe luck will shine down on me and my book will be published by a big New York house and it will become a big success. Maybe I'll end up published by a small press and if I'm lucky, a few people will say something nice about what I've done. Maybe I'll write more books and eventually, I'll retire and be able to write all the time. I don't know.
Check out Therese's post and share your thoughts here. Money or acclaim? Work and writing? How do you support yourself and how is it working for you?
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Saturday night the doorbell rang and the FedEx man dropped off a box full of all kinds of delightful surprises. Some months back I entered the Spring 2008 flash fiction contest at Women on Writing and was delighted to win an honorable mention. After thanking the academy, I went on with life and sort of forgot about the whole thing, including the goodie bag that was part of the mention. Check this out:
Lots of "Best of" and "The Year in Books" lists are coming out. Vote on best book covers at The Book Design Review. The New York Times has their 100 Notable Books of the Year available for your review. The Millions has a great series of posts on A Year in Reading 2008.
Author of Orange Mint and Honey and Pajama Gardener, Carleen Brice has been stirring up all kinds of buzz with her new blog, White Readers Meet Black Authors and with National Buy a Book by a Black Author and Give it to Someone Not Black Month. I've got a post coming on this project and Carleen has been getting some high level attention for this fun project.
Having trouble coming up with the name of a black author besides Toni Morrison, Alice Walker or Maya Angelou?
Check out some of the great posts and comments and be officially welcomed to the African American section of your local bookstore.
And don't forget to keep checking in at the Cups of Kindness website. Art pieces will be available for online sale next week and they make great Christmas presents and these art pieces will help feed the hungry. Or, to make a direct donation to the Akron-Canton Regional Food Bank, click here.