Thursday, March 16, 2006

Why is it bad to do what you love for money?

It sounds like a blessing, to be able to take the thing you're really good at it and make a living at it, and I'm not going to be ungrateful enough to poo-poo my good fortune. That being said: poo poo!

The trouble is -- okay. Remember when you were in college, and you had to read so much for class that the very thought of reading for fun seemed ridiculous? I never got to that point, fortch, and I remember when I was reading an Ann Tyler novel I was roundly mocked by my snobby-snoot boyfriend and his über-competitive suitemates for doing for fun what I had to do anyway. (For him, the only acceptable forms of recreation were (a) listening to mid-career Miles Davis while sipping bourbon in a darkened room, (b) mocking the earnest efforts of others, and (c) finding excuses not to have sex with me, but do I judge? Nay! And I'm clearly over it.)

Anyway, where was I. Right, crapping on my good fortune. The deal is, you get paid to write stuff, but you're not paid to, you know, reminisce about your college boyfriend or make fun of passersby; you're paid to write 1200-word front-of-book articles about tattoo trends or pre-date rituals. So you learn to do this in the blink of an eye, because the quicker you can produce a high volume of words, the more money you make. You learn to nail it on the first draft so there are minimal rewrites. You learn to nail your pitches, too, so that you don't waste time pitching things that won't sell. In fact, you come to see any time not spent earning a dollar a word as wasted. And that's where the worm starts to turn.

It's so scary not knowing when your next assignment will come in. A slow month means your credit card gets stretched to ridiculous proportions. A good month means you don't sleep at night because you're thinking of all the things that are due on the same day. And every pitch that doesn't fly, every proposal that you have to rejigger, every short story that has no hope of making it into the New Yorker makes you see the opposite of dollar signs.

Which means you never write for yourself. Which means you only write for The Man. Which means you crap on people who write for themselves, because they don't get to put "writer" as their occupation on their passports. Which means you slowly forget that thrilling feeling of getting a germ of an idea in the middle of a shower, hopping out, and getting lost in blissful thrilldom of typing while your hair dries funny. Which means you slowly but surely forget what it was you loved about writing in the first place. And you forget what you wanted to write about when you thought you'd never get to write for a living. And you live in a rut for a loooong time till one day you start a blog.

That's what I'm hoping, anyway.

Gosh, I'm earnest today. What WOULD my college boyfriend think of me. (Answer: (D) I don't give a tinker's shit.)

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