Wednesday, March 13, 2013


Such a Deal

“God,” I prayed, “let me write for a living.”
Through my garret door strode a dude wearing a red suit and brimstone cologne.
He grinned. “Let’s talk.”
“What? You want my soul?”
He laughed. “A writing career’s not worth that. I’ll accept your sanity.”
Decades later, I’m still in my garret.
He’s still laughing.


Whenever Susan and I go on vacation, we find ourselves talking to strangers, often in warm, friendly bars. Inevitably someone asks us the question “What do you do?” We refuse to answer. It’s not that we’re shy, or ashamed of what we do, or especially unfriendly. It’s just that we don’t talk about our work when we’re on vacation. We work side by side, fifty hours a week, fifty weeks a year, and the reason we’re in that bar somewhere in the tropics is to forget about the publishing business.

In recent years, however, I’ve developed the sheer brazen gall to say, “I’m a writer.” That warms up the conversation, shines a big spotlight on me, allows me to brag about my books, and gives me a chance to pretend to be modest, just this guy doing his job. I don’t pass out bookmarks or collect emails for my mailing list. But I do say out loud what for decades I’ve been too shy to say: “I’m a writer.”

Why haven’t I dared to say this all my adult life? Have I only recently earned the right? In fact, I’ve been writing all my adult life, and have always been able to make a few dollars doing it. I’ve led a literary life as a bookseller, a free-lance editor, a small-press publisher, and a teacher of creative writing. Along the way I’ve written a lot of books and a ton of stories, and some of those books and a few dozen stories have appeared in print. Some even brought me some money.

It is true that most of the writing that has earned me a living has been crafting contracts, press releases, catalog copy, back cover copy, and business correspondence. When I’m writing contracts, business letters, and press releases, I’m writing to live. When I’m in the midst of making a novel, on the other hand, I live to write. And by God, I consider that a real job, a respectable job. For practical reasons, I don’t allow myself the addictive pleasure of writing fiction during “business hours,” Monday through Saturday. But I write my fiction all day Sunday, every Sunday, and even a few hours every day on vacation.

I’m a writer. You are too. Say after me: “I am a writer.” We writers are writers because we must write. We made a deal with the devil, I suppose, and the deal was worth it.


Julie Luek said...

I always take a big gulp of air before I declare, "I write". I know the inevitable questions will be 1)What have you written/are you published (fortunately I have some published pieces I can reference) and 2) Can you make a living at that? (no, I haven't yet).

Ah well, it's what I love and feel so fortunate to be able to pursue it.

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

I've been able to say "I'm a writer" for a long time now. I'm not often in a bar (only happens at mystery conventions because that's where everyone hangs out), but where ever else I am, if people ask, I have no trouble saying "I'm a writer." Do I make a lot of money? Sadly, no.

john M. Daniel said...

Thanks for commenting, Julie and Marilyn. No, we don't make big bucks at this, but for a lot of us (certainly for me), money ain't the big issue. I write, and so do many, perhaps yourselves included, because: how could I not?

Lorna Collins - said...

I love saying I'm an author. (That's someone who not only writes but is published.) My friend, Marilyn Meredith, once told me you can get lots of information from people simply by identifying yourself as a writer and saying you want to get it (whatever 'it' is) right. We're currently working on a historical. We've gotten help from several local experts by just using that line. So, heck yes! I am a writer!

Beryl Reichenberg said...

I agree when I write a children's book, I live to write. Nicely put, John.