So This Is What It’s Like Being a Writer?

The last time I was at a launch party for one of my books, someone came up to me and said, “So this is what it’s like being a writer? Just one party after another, huh.”

They were kind of kidding, but they were also kind of not. “Oh yeah,” I wanted to say. “The whole thing is just one big fat party.”

For whatever reason, lots of people have the idea that writers are these ethereal beings who wear only black turtlenecks, fly to New York, and attend endless cocktail parties. That they are people who make million dollar advances and only work a few days a year. And that when they are working, they are locked away on a desert island, overlooking a desolate sea, drinking brandy, and musing on the injustices of the world. Maybe it’s because people only see writers at their launch parties, they only hear about advances for superstar authors like J. K. Rowling or Stephen King. Somehow Hemingway is still too large in our imaginations. When we writers aren’t at a launch party, we are probably on safari hunting lions.

I wonder if it’s because in the back of their minds, everyone thinks they have a book in them and no one wants to hear that making that book is actually going to be hard. They are not interested in the late nights, the fights with your publisher, the wanting to get it right, the fear of getting it wrong, the hours and hours of research, and then the days and weeks and months of actually doing the work. Plus the waiting. The waiting is what may kill us writers. You do your work and it’s weeks or months before you find out if it was good enough to move to the next stage; it’s months or years before it ever comes to fruition. And that’s the work that’s good. If you’re really writing and really producing good work, then there’s going to be tons of stuff that doesn’t make it, that goes to recycling or the “use later” pile. Work you chalk up to “that was good experience” or that you send straight to the rubbish bin. And then there’s waiting for the paycheck. Royalties only come twice a year.

Don’t get me wrong. I love writing. I love being a writer. Sometimes I hear people–published authors–talk about the experience of writing and publishing and how arduous it was, how painful–even how traumatizing–and I think: that is not me. That is maybe not even a writer, but rather someone who has written a book. The real writers I know love to write. They thrive on it. They can’t not write and they are happiest when they are working. But it is hard work. It is difficult and painful and insecurity-inducing. Yes, it is also creative and rewarding and just plain fun. Yes, I love the writing life. I couldn’t be more blessed, and I’m very aware of what a privilege it is to write for a living. How lucky to spend one’s days making art and telling stories. When you get to that place when the rest of the world vanishes because you’ve been writing for hours and are just so immersed in the work that it is the only thing that is real–that is magic.

I want people to know that writing is wonderful. But I also want them to know that writing is work. It is hard work in an odd, anachronistic industry and you have to have a lot of patience and a lot of stamina to have this job. People who are writers work for their living.

But when that book finally comes out and you get to hold it in your hand and heft it and smell the ink and you have a tangible, beautiful thing that you are adding to the world–then it is true what people think. At that point there is no denying that being a writer is the biggest, fattest party of all.