Wednesday, March 5, 2014

the gift of a third eye / gifts from the void

To begin: I'm not complaining. I am leading the life I've chosen.

However, it would be nice if writers were paid for all the time they sit alone concocting stories to provoke, bemuse, engage, titillate; all those hours upon hours of imagined conversations and scenes, arcane monologues on the Oxford comma, walking down the street half-talking out loud, distracted by the graffiti on a brick wall and nearly being hit by a cyclist, the writer's third eye always on the lookout for the random gleam of material (which on closer examination often turns out to be garbage--except you have to get close enough to tell). Some days I'm delighted I'm living among words. Other days I feel suffocated by uselessness because nothing goes as I want it to. I'm not always happy being a writer. The work comes with a lot of upper-case Frustration. But when I'm writing and I think it's good, there isn't a more potent feeling of self-satisfaction.

I should add that I'm not referring to journalists, non-fiction or academic writers. I'm writing about my own pool of fiction writers--we who play with narrative. Poets breathe an even more rarefied air.

There are only a very few fiction writers in the world who make a living from their writing alone. Even those that were are having to retrench--as per this sobering article in The Guardian:

Most writers need to spend the largest chunk of their waking hours pursuing other careers like teaching, copy-editing, translating, lecturing, technical writing--or work that has nothing to do with words. Electricity, heating, internet, food, lodgings need to be paid for. Words don't pay--not anywhere near enough.

Is it because words don't matter? Look at all the people reading. All the movies, many adapted from novels.  

I have been paid very little for my writing. Not even pennies if I were to do the math between hours of work and cheques. One year I got $200. Another year nothing. Another year a whopping $3000!!! I can't possibly think of these amounts as payment because that would be too insulting.

Rather than feel insulted, which would only discourage me from writing, I think of these rare and unpredictable happenings as gifts from the void. I don't use the money to buy anything practical. (Okay, once a cheque for a story paid for glasses, but I got myself top-of-the-line transitional lenses which I wouldn't have been able to afford otherwise.) I buy a piece of jewellery. I get a new coat, though the old one would have lasted for another winter or two yet. I order a piece of furniture that is in no way necessary but that I love. I plan a trip--no resort, just somewhere cheap and warm. The words I've written have given me a gift.  

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