I do it for the money. Writing has made me very wealthy. It’s widely known that writers of literary fiction are among our richest citizens. I don’t mean figuratively rich, either, as in “rich in love,” which is something poor parents say to their children at Christmas to explain the single sad Tonka Truck under the tree.
I mean I am rich in currency, USD. I have a fat wad of greenbacks in my wallet right now and more in the bank. I pay my rent and my electric bill gladly and on time. My credit cards could not be described as “vexed” or “long-suffering,” and they are not always within fifty cents of their limits. I hope you won’t think I’m being flashy when I tell you I sometimes double up on fur coats just to go down to the bodega.
The wealth isn’t everything, though; I also do it for the fame. Naturally you’ve heard of me. It would surprise me if you hadn’t. I can’t pinpoint exactly when I became a household name, but it was early on. I have many fans, mostly men, and though it’s a little embarrassing I confess that I enjoy the attention. My popularity with men is no surprise. All little boys dream of someday growing up to marry a great intellect. It’s a deeply embedded cultural norm here in America. Blame television and pop culture. Just recently I heard a high school boy bragging, “I went all the way with a very erudite individual.” “Was she any good?” demanded his chums. “Do you mean was she able to explicate the early theories of Wittgenstein?” he replied smugly. “You bet.”
My fans are all handsome, physically strong, and have excellent vision. I don’t know what it is, but writers are repellent to pale young wimps in spectacles. With me, it’s exclusively strong-jawed beefcakes—hunks, really. They stand outside my apartment building wearing tank tops in all kinds of weather, flexing and waving around boxes of candy and fine wines. “We worship you,” they shout up to me. “Your facility with language…” and then trail off as if they’re about to cry.
The approval of my friends and family is another reason I write. My family gets it. They really do. “We get it,” they say to me often. “We always have. Even in the very early years when your ability was dubious, when you were writing stuff about, like, time travel and talking animals. Even then we understood.”
My parents have never suggested alternate career paths in tutoring, or elementary school teaching, or insurance adjusting. My father betrays no disappointment that I did not become a radiologist. We’ve never had a serious family round table about taking a “just for now” job at the town dump.
And my friends. My friends are always fully and righteously stoked when I announce that my story is being published in, say, the prestigious Knucklesville Reader out of a stoner’s basement in Northwest Georgia. “A circulation of seventeen!” they cry. “Just wow!”
Writing is a social occupation—another great reason to do it. There’s no self-exile involved. There’s no sitting all day in quiet, personal agony while outside the sky grows purple and melancholy. There’s no feeling of defeat from another day gone without a single paragraph that’s worth anything. Here’s an explanation everyone is willing to accept for your crappy mood: “My muse forsook me.”
I’ve heard rumors (all false) about the hardships of the writing life: the poverty, the self-doubt, the endless struggle to produce something of value, the success that comes too slow or not at all. Sometimes, people say to me some variation of “Gosh, isn’t being a writer really hard? You must love it so much to keep at it like you do.”
I could respond at length about the many gratifying ways I am compensated daily. I could brandish my tax returns, which I keep in my purse. But I don’t want to brag. So I just laugh and tell them the truth. “Love?” I say. “How ridiculous. Love’s got nothing to do with it. Nothing at all.
- Why Write? #27: Erin Somers - December 27, 2013