I run into people every day—at the track, in the casino, around the pool—who think it would be great to live the writer’s life. They look at me and think: really, how hard can it be?
It would be fun, they think, to sit around and smoke cigarettes all day and say cynically witty things that are re-Tweeted on Facebook and attributed to the wrong person. They want to know what it’s like to walk into a Barnes & Noble and see your book piled by the dozens in the discount section for 70 percent off. They envy the idea of being a respected “intellectual” whose ideas are ignored by millions. Lying around the pool, eyes closed, agonizing over that next chapter—it all sounds so romantic to them. And wiggling their fingers over a keyboard for a few hours a day seems to them like a painless way to both make millions and maintain their finger dexterity well into old age.
And so, they think, the writer’s life is for them.
Unfortunately, what these people don’t know about the writer’s life could easily fill a book they are not writing. I know this because I am a writer, and I’m willing to trade lives with just about anybody.
Donald Trump, for instance. I’d trade lives with The Donald in a heartbeat. Bill Gates is living a life I’d like to have, too, although I hear Melinda can be a handful sometimes. I’d trade lives with Anthony Bourdain, too, because eating and drinking and saying sarcastic things about other people on national television sounds like a hoot. I wouldn’t mind being a supermodel, either, or Taylor Swift. There’s a woman in my building who is always smiling, and sometimes I think it would be worth trading lives with her just to see why she’s so happy all the time. My fear, of course, is that it’s the result of over-medication, but those are the chances you take when you trade lives with people.
Irony abounds, of course. People look at me and think, hey, wouldn’t it be great to be that guy? And here I am, that guy, thinking hey, wouldn’t it be great to be somebody—anybody—else?
Why is that?
Well, most people think the writing profession is all about getting up at noon, chugging a fifth of Jack Daniels, sitting down, and waiting for the inspiration to flow. But nothing could be further from the truth. Many writers sleep all day and chug their fifth of JD at night. Some get up very early and have their JD over cereal. Others use their JD to wash down a handful of amphetamines, and still others do not drink JD at all—they rely on various hallucinogens and narcotics to get their creative juices flowing. Every writer is different; you have to find out what works for you, and that can take years.
People who do not struggle with the terror of the blank page tend to think all they’d have to do to be a writer is wake up early, make a pot of strong coffee and start typing. Unfortunately, that’s the sort of misconception that leads to such literary tragedies as Fifty Shades of Grey and the whole Twilight series. Lame S&M fantasies and high schools full of teenage vampires are the sort of thing that happens when people try to write using nothing but coffee and a laptop. Such calamities also lead other people to believe that they too could lead a writer’s life, if only they could muster the courage to visit their nearest Starbuck’s and hog a table all day.
Nobody needs a license to write, but they should. As is true with so many other occupations, writing should be left to the professionals. Allowing amateurs to lead a writer’s life is a mistake. Amateurs who think the writer’s life is for them should trade lives with a writer first to see if it really is. But be forewarned, the writer they trade with may not want to give their life back, in which case they’d be stuck with no choice but to write for a living.
Goodbye Starbuck’s, hello Liquor Barn.