Friday, November 20, 2009

The Real Writing Life

When the little folk gather around TG's knees to ask their innocent questions, one of the first out of their mouths is the statement, “Oh, TG, I do so want to be a writer.” TG's response is, usually, “Why on God's green earth would you want to do that?” Really, for the most part, it's a terrible job, a terrible life, though public perception gives it a sort of glamour. It's like the way people now see chefs as heroic, extremely cool figures. I agree, they're heroic, (full disclosure, TG's son is a professional chef) but for the thousands of regular chefs who aren't on TV, it's an incredibly grueling and dangerous job. Ask one of them who's been in the kitchen for 12 hours, eight of them in front of a six burner Viking with the flame on high, hair singed, burn scars on their hands and arms, sweating like a pig, having to down quarts and quarts of liquids to keep from passing out, ask that guy how cool it is to be a chef.

Now find a regular, working writer who's facing a deadline, or worse, has no work at all, who can't come up with a decent idea or paying project, who's spent years working on a book that's perfectly good but no publisher will touch because they've heard that no one is buying books these days, who knows that the only money he's going to make is a product of beating the bushes, pleading, sending out queries and thinking, thinking, thinking. Ask that writer how cool it is to sit alone in a room facing a blank computer screen.
So when a writer comes to me with an essay like the following, I say good for you. Will I put it up? You bet. This is a place for Thriller Guy to bitch and moan about the business. All you other real writers out there, you got a beef? Send it in.
Reader, sit back away from your computer. Anonymous here is about to burn down your screen.

(And click on the comments to hear what other writers have to say.)

The One Phrase About Writing That’s Makes Me Want to Kill

I cheerfully admit that I have a lot of hate. It keeps me going. We all draw our strength and creativity from somewhere. I get mine from anger. (Also from absurdity, but that’s a different story.)

There’s one thing that I hate more than anything else. It’s not a certain country, a person or even how jalapeno peppers are not hot anymore. Before I tell you the collection of words that makes me want to puke, let me offer some back story about me.

I am a working writer. Even having to put the word ‘working’ before the word writer makes me gag, but that’s what separates me from people who think they want the glamour of being a writer and those who actually do it. And before you jump down my throat for being a jerk… when people ask me what I do for a living and I tell them I am a writer, their next question usually is: Really, have you had anything published? Of course, you idiot. How else could I be writing for my job. Would you ask a lawyer if he has any cases or doctor if he has any patients? (Have you guessed the phase that bugs me yet?) It’s related, as you’ll see in a minute.

For the past 30 years I have earned my living as a writer. I have written books, magazine articles, I worked in newspapers, newsletters, speeches – if you can write it, I have written it. Anything that makes a buck. I am one of a handful of people who actually make a living – some years are better than others – by sitting my ass in front of my computer and typing out dollars. Aside: I mainly write non-fiction books but also a mystery novel which paid my admission to the Squatting Toad group. Currently, I am making dough by writing and editing a website about Homeland Security.

I’m what you call a journeyman (probably a politically incorrect word but journeyperson sounds dumb). I get up every morning and go to work. In many respects, I’m like the adults in the Brooklyn neighborhood where I grew up who were plumbers, electricians, mailmen, movie projectionists. They got up and did their jobs. Sometimes they liked it and sometimes not so much. But what held it together was making money to support themselves and their families.

And that brings me to the phrase that doesn’t pay. The one I abhor.
Writer’s Block.”

What the hell is that?

Do plumbers have have plumber’s block? Do electricians have electrician’s block? Do people who work in McDonald’s have hamburger block?

That’s often the second question people ask me. “Do you ever have writer’s block?” My answer always involves plumbers and electricians delivered with a sneer. I hope the listener gets what I’m saying, but usually not.

Yeah, I have days that I don’t feel like working, but who doesn’t? And there are days I’m sick of writing. Do teachers want to face snotty-faced kids everyday? No, but they do it.
Like them, I can’t afford not to work. So when I hear the phrase writer’s block it demeans my life’s work, as if I have a choice of working or not.

If my angry countenance has not chased away the cocktail party questioner who wants to further discuss writing, the third question is often this: “I would love to write if I had the time. I know I can do it when I get my creative juices flowing. You know, when I feel my muse. How do you get your ideas?”


Real writers,” I say, in my best condescending voice, “don’t have muses. They have mortgages.”

This usually drives them away, and under their breath I often hear them mutter: “What an asshole.”


  1. Here's a comment that came in to TG...
    Thank you Anonymous. Well said. Here's something I hate. When you're at a social function and you get into a conversation with a lawyer or some other highly paid person and they ask you what you do and you say "Oh, I'm a writer," and they say, "Wow, I've always wanted to be a writer," and they start to go on about how they have this novel in their head and you get the feeling that they think all they have to do is sit down at a desk and type sh*t into a computer and before you know it -- there's a book! Usually I say something like, "Hey, if you want to make 20 thousand dollars a year or less, you can be a writer too." That usually shuts them up.

  2. To quote Red Smith -

    All you have to do is stare at the blank page until beads of blood appear on your forehead.

    drh (a more or less sometimes working writer)

  3. After posting that quote from Red Smith I had to admit to myself it seemed too glib. The truth is I like the actual writing process, at least when it's going well. Having worked as a reporter for more than twenty years I find I don't have much trouble from writers' block (which is no assurance of quality - and I am libel to be torture myself over what I've written).

    The worst part of the actual process is that it's SO draining and makes me want to sleep a lot. But I've done jobs that are a lot worse (see TG's lines about cooking for a living).

    The main trouble with writing is that it's so damn hard to get paid for it.

  4. Excellent line, Anonymous, "The main trouble with writing is that it's so hard to get paid for it." I wonder how much of the pain would go away if we were paid well for what we do and didn't have to fight so hard to get jobs and work published.

  5. I have been published in really small time, online websites and so far, (after nearly ten years of trying to make a "go" of it)I've made a total of twenty three bucks. (Three was from a website and twenty was from a friend who read one of my books and had the grace to hand me a twenty for an enjoyable reading experience).

    And yet.... I keep trying.

    The few positives ?

    1 A supportive wife who allows me the time to write (while secretly (I suspect) is starting to wonder if I'll ever really "make it")

    2 The actual process of the work is one of the few things I can look forward to each day.
    The negatives?

    Well, theres actually far too many to list here but the top ten....
    1 Lack of sleep

    2 Not enough true friends who are willing to tell you the truth about it (with suggestions that would help the work) beyond, "Oh, yeah, yeah, I really liked it."

    3 Lack of sleep

    4 Constant, occasional reminders in book news that OTHER "first timers" get book contracts, with advances in the "lower six figures"

    5 Lack of sleep

    6 You're browsing in a bookstore and discover one of your favorite authors managed to publish yet ANOTHER book while you're still hammering away on your first.(Want to really get depressed? James Patterson is going to have FOUR books published next year alone)

    7 Lack of sleep

    8 Seemingly unending rejection letters (and most of THOSE are xeroxed copies)

    9 Lack of sleep

    10 Lack of steady income while holding down a low paying "day job" that barely covers the bills.

    Didn't mean for this to get so dark-ish but as a friend continues to tell me, "Lying to a writer to cheer him up only hurts him later on."

    On the bright side, I do have a REAL (hand typed) rejection letter from New York from an agent who really liked my work enough to read it and consider it for a few weeks back in 2003

    That letter has always meant a kind of validation for my Don Quixote quest which in my heart of hearts I truly believe will have a happy ending
    (sooner than later since I am not getting any younger here)
    Frank Zubek
    curious? Look me up
    Look for "Molly"

  6. ALLAN.



    RON K.