When students ask me for advice with regard to how to “make it as a writer”, I tell them to get a job that also gives them time and space somehow to write; I tell them find a job that, if they still have it 10 years from now, it wouldn’t make them sad. I worry often that they think this means I don’t think their work is worthy; that I don’t believe they’ll make it in the way that they imagine making it, but this advice is me trying help them sustain themselves enough to make the work I know they can.
A dirty secret: you can only be a writer if you can afford it
I see you, boo. I feel you. Wendy's is not where you were supposed to end up. Trust me, it isn't. It's where you are now. I know how badly you want to roll around in this like a dog with a possum carcass. I don't know if you've noticed, though, but you lack the fortitude to wallow in it. You drown. So best look at this another way:
This here land of opportunity has led us to believe that if we want it hard enough we can get it. That's because from 1945 until 1973, IE when the 'boomers were born, grew up and got their first jobs, white people faced fewer limits. And hey - since they're still who culture is for, since they're still making the laws, since they're still controlling the resources, they still think you aren't getting ahead because you aren't applying yourself. But that hasn't been true for 50 years and it's been getting progressively shittier my entire life.
That doesn't mean it's total shit.
One of my formative experiences was discussing musicianship with some guys in a cover band I was mixing. They were both die-hard rivetheads but Bob Marley covers bought their bread. So they were living their dream - but also listening to Front Line Assembly in the car while playing "No Woman No Cry" four times a week. I bought gear from them in an economic downturn. Because I had an engineering degree. And could afford to build a 5.1 studio at 40% off without invoking a credit card. Which I thought was cool until I started hanging out with a MicroSerf with ten times the gear I had and no time to use it.
One of the thing about shitty-ass dayjobs is they give you the freedom to pursue your passions on your own terms and yeah - the dayjobs have definitely been getting shittier. But self-actualization requires an income, yours or someone else's, doesn't matter. And lemme tell ya - that is nowhere clearer than Hollywood. I got a buddy who's been writing on Hawaii Five-0 for years. That's because when he came to town his parents paid for his $6k a month apartment while he did 90-hour weeks for free. I got another buddy who's a titlecard on Maze Runner. That's because when he came to town his parents paid for his $3k a month apartment while he holed up and wrote 20 screenplays. I got another buddy who constantly compares himself to his buddy Max Landis who is a whole lot more successful than him because his last name is Landis. I got another buddy who I thought was rich and able to do whatever the fuck he wanted because his grandfather was rich and famous but as it turns out, he was able to do whatever the fuck he wanted because his father is fuck-you rich.
You and me? We ain't fuck-you rich and neither are our parents. But look me in the eye, young man: I own a house, I work five months a year, I drive a Porsche and I can order a pizza whenever I want without checking my bank account. And that kicks the shit out of where I came from and at some point you have to stop listening to the 'boomers telling you what success is.
See this bitch? See her hair? See her kindly eyes? See her artfully unkempt Karendreads? That's Anne LaMott, patron saint of the struggling author. She wrote a book called "bird by bird." The subtitle is "some instructions on writing and life." I shit you not.
“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’”
Know where that starts to come apart? "our family cabin in Bolinas." Know where it continues?
Lamott is based in Marin County, California.
Lamott was born in San Francisco, and is a graduate of Drew School
Her high school is currently $50k a year.
She was a student at Goucher College for two years where she wrote for the newspaper.
$60k a year
Her father, Kenneth Lamott, was also a writer.
Who went to Yale and worked for the OSS in the State Department. Look -
In that marvelous set of "instructions on writing and life" Anne lets slip that she sent twenty.fucking.drafts of her first novel to her dad's agent before he decided it was worth publishing. Meanwhile she was supported full time by her parents and her boyfriend. Then she wrote a book about how hard it is to be a tortured artist while zipping between Tiburon and Bolinas, the two richest enclaves of the richest city in the United States. So her "instructions" are basically
be born rich and waste the time of people who are professionally obligated to put up with your bullshit until you've finally scraped together something semi-viable enough to vanity publish on a tiny shitty vanity press and then publicize the shit out of it and be in three movies showing off your homespun sense of struggle and your carefully coiffed dreadlocks.
You know what? You can't compare yourself to these people and the more you do, the more pissed off you will be. But more than that? And here, take this, wisdom from 20 years in the future, 20 years down the road from you, 20 years into the struggle you are just now engaging?
Don't let them take away your victories.
That's what they're doing. Trust me, if you're writing for The Onion you're cashing weekly checks from your parents. And there they are, feeling angry about their lack of self-actualization and that's because their parents could only afford Swarthmore not Yale.
Any fucking time you find to pursue your passions on your terms is a goddamn victory and don't let anyone take it away from you. Your forebears fought like mutherfuckers for a 40 hour week and if you can spend two hours on a Saturday failing on a Fender their fight was not in vain.
We can't all be Anderson Cooper because we can't all be born Vanderbilts. Fuckin' hell though we can sure as shit take joy in the shit that brings us joy.