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You Aren’t Working, You’re Writing…

Holiday get-togethers–friends, family, the spouse’s work party, the church choir social–can be a precarious time for the fledgling writer. You have to keep your guard up.

You’ll be asked the question, “So, what do you DO?” A common question, really, meant to kill time more than it is meant to really explore the details of various modes of “making a living,” but you never know what response you’ll get if you say, “I’m a writer.”

“What have you published?” leads to explanations of the literary fiction writer’s life which, even simplified, seems to baffle people. “Can you make a living submitting short stories to online magazines?” No. But the explanation of why anyone would spend dozens, or hundreds, of hours writing a story few people will read and will net, if you’re lucky, a few pennies an hour in pay leaves non-writers staggering about like boxers who’ve been left too long in the ring.

For me, the questioning continues: “So, you’re not working?”

Cami and I have created a unique situation: downsizing to live in a 900 square foot apartment, selling and giving away about half of our “stuff,” structuring our lives to allow us to live, comfortably, on ONE salary. I make a (very) little money on the side–subbing, tutoring, freelancing–but even that little bit is “extra” for us, in this life we’ve cobbled together.

But, I bristle at the idea that I’m “not working.”

A lot of non-writers hear me say that I “go to the beach and write” and they envision a scenes where I’m asleep on the beach blanket, the notebook tented over my eyes to provide shade, the Pilot pen laying lifeless in my open palm as my toes twitch dreamily in sleep.

I admit, I’m a blessed man, to have so many little out-of-the-way, beautiful places to go to write, but don’t be fooled: I’m writing there. I’m thinking, planning, executing the next word, the next line, the next page. I’m working.

Writing–good writing–isn’t something that happens by accident and it isn’t something that happens quickly or without effort. It confuses me that so many people will say with one breath how they could “never do that” when I describe hours of solitary time, writing, editing, revising, re-tooling, starting over from scratch, but then, in the very next breath, utter something along the lines of, “I bet Cami gives you grief when she is working and you’re just writing.”

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