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What is 'The Writer's Life'?


It’s about 2:30 in the morning and my cat has a UTI that I’ve been keeping an eye on with this OTC remedy and that. However, I woke up at an unusual time about an hour and half ago to find that things had gotten worse. He’s that cat upon whom I’ve spent much time, money and tears trying to keep alive.

But when I was about to fall back to sleep, having called in ‘sick’ to [insert school name here] as [insert teaching position 654,984 here], like a good pet parent should when she plans on taking her fur-baby to the doctor in the morning, it occurred to me that I had left out an important piece of my heroine’s character arch that could literally be written in a paragraph or less and inserted between the two lines I saw vividly pop into my head.

I laid back in the darkness of my bedroom and white noise of my fan and saw it all; how I had somehow set myself up for a perfect moment to finally get at the raison d’etre of my character in just a few lines, but had up until that moment, not created it. So I turned on the light and got out of bed, made a quick check of my poor cat’s urinary agony, and retrieved my laptop. I sat back down in bed and began crafting the moment.

But what I found pouring out of me in the wee small hours of the morning (to which I am no stranger), was Me. Or, rather a moment from my own past that had been for me a critical moment; my own raison d’etre. It suited the story well. Although, the actual moment was not so much of a plot twist for me as it was for my heroine. For me it was the moment attached to the moment which then led to the moment when I realized I wanted a literary life; much too convoluted for fiction. All the way back when I was ten.

From that time to this, the road to getting not only successfully published, but ultimately being able to make a living at my craft, has been long and torturous, filled with nearly interminable detours. The most significant of those being, an educator.

Oh, what a mistake that turned out to be. And, the fact that I kept doing it for nearly two decades, achieved an advanced degree in, and felt robbed of living the vaunted "writer's life," only proves my insanity. Coupled with my near-daily disaffection for the profession, it has been a very expensive, very long lesson in humility and perseverance. Sadly, the job I thought I was signing up for not only never materialized- only 187 days of work for 365 days of pay ("think of all the free time I'll have to write!")- but, I don’t think it ever existed.

So as I sit here, a low-grade anxiety supporting my fingers as they dance across the keyboard and my little boy’s noisy, but steady breaths next to me, I find myself not in an ignorant gratitude of a miserable profession (something to the effect of “gee, I’m so glad I have a job to pay for the upcoming vet horror.”), but I find myself reflecting on a man who has posthumously become my greatest writing coach and dare I say it, literary friend- Jack M. Bickham.

I’m going to paraphrase him only because it’s still the wee small hours and I’m not gonna scrounge around in my writing library right now for his quote. But he said this about the writing life: it is about having a job you hate, about having shit happen to you and still sitting down to the typewriter/word processor (when he wrote the book in the ‘90’s we were still casting about for the vernacular of the Information Age) and just writing. Even when you’re tired. Even when you’ve got life pulling at you from all directions. Thus it is brought home to me tonight, in the middle of the night, to a greater or lesser extent, that I have been living the writer's life all along.

Maybe there’s a good reason I was given a saddle with the name "Dorothy" stamped on the cantle binder.

Good night.

 

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