Slings & Arrows

- by Laura Resnick

I’ve found myself thinking a lot about Being A Writer in recent days, usually when I’m on the elliptical machine at the gym, where I’ve been going more often lately, in hopes of fitting into my summer clothes before summer’s actually OVER (and, yes, time is obviously running out on me now).

Laura's 2007 nonfiction release about the writing life.What I’ve been thinking is, writing books for a living day-in-and-day-out for so long, and especially when I talk with other working writers so often, it’s really easy for me to shrug off, forget, or take for granted how incredibly COOL it is to be a novelist and what a lottery-jackpot professional lifestyle I actually lead.

I get mired down daily in all the slings and arrows and disadvantages of this profession and this life. Which include (but certainly aren’t limited to): sneering rejection letters in response to submissions; dismissive and cranky revision letters in response to delivering a year’s worth of heartfelt work; whole geological eras that pass between when I’m promised payment and when I actually receive payment; trying to pay bills on a regular basis while being paid on the irregular basis just described; publishing art directors who treat genre books as beneath them; publishing production managers and who speak to writers as if we were a particularly disgusting form of pond scum; literary agents who’ve told me I’m “crazy,” “grade B,” and my work “isn’t what people want to read;” editors who’ve told me my career is “disappointing” and my work is “shitty;” and strangers at parties who, upon learning that I write genre fiction, ask when I’m going to write a real book, a serious book, a book that means something, blah blah blah.

(Because, after all, I only write about love, war, life, death, murder, joy, trust, pleasure, pain, sacrifice, redemption, honor, disgrace, sexuality, vengeance, guilt, good, evil, moral ambivalence, sorrow, sin, grief, hatred, passion, religious fervor, ideological fanaticism, loyalty, betrayal, power, surrender, fate, and friendship. You know–kid stuff.)

But I digress. (As I often do, when reflecting on the slings and arrows of the writing life.)
Alas, when digressing, I forget over and over, or take for granted over and over, how COOL it is, what a blessed lifestyle it is, that I get paid to live in my head and put my visions on paper. That I get paid for what would probably be my obsessive hobby if it weren’t my obsessive profession.

And that, having been paid and published, I get read. There is, all over the world, in almost all people, a great desire to be HEARD. And I not only get “heard” all of the time, by many many people, I even get paid to be heard.

And note that, among the many slings and arrows that I mention above, I don’t mention readers. Because (barring a statistically inevitable but tiny number of dangerous lunatics) readers are the great pleasure and privilege of writing professionally. One of the greatest gifts of my fate is that people who don’t even know me sit down with my books and spend hours reading my work. There aren’t many things in life that can top that, as far as I’m concerned.

I mean–WOW. Who says my life ain’t workin’ out?

And although I’ve made compromises as a writer in order to pay the bills over the years (ex. I’ve sometimes worked with people I didn’t want to work with, and/or written stuff I didn’t want to write, and/or accepted monies or contract terms I didn’t like because I really needed a deal, etc.), I don’t have a boss, no one tells me what to do, no one tells me when to do anything, and no one can get me to do anything I’m not willing to do. Even if I’m not that thrilled with all of my own choices at all times, they are at least always my choices and no one else’s.

Simply out of habit, I tend to speak about my work as a burden: I “have to” write this book, I “have to” send in a new proposal, I “have to” research such-and-such, I “have to” finish this short story, etc.

But, looked at from a proper perspective–and probably the perspective that most of the world would view what I do for a living–I get to write this book that will actually be published and paid for and read by people, I get to send in a new book proposal to an editor who’ll actually read it and at least consider the possibility of buying it, I get to research something that interests me and call it “work,” I get to finish a short story that was requested from me and will be paid for and published.

Sometimes, as the slings and arrows keep flying straight at me, it’s good to pause and remember the blessings of the writing life, too.

Laura Resnick

5 comments

  1. Hey, La Resnick, that rumbling roll you feel under your feet is the groundswell of agreement from your compatriots. From time to time, we all need to be reminded that, despite all of the &$%^! that goes on in our industry, we are blessed to live in a Communications Age where we can take the vision that was born inside our head and put it on international display. Hooray!

  2. Hey Laura:

    That was a sobering list to read. I can’t wrap my head around an editor telling someone their work is “shitty.”

    I’ve been a fan of yours since the World Con in Boston and hope to read you for many more years.

    jude

  3. ‘I can’t wrap my head around an editor telling someone their work is “shitty.” ‘

    Don’t even get me STARTED on the things that editors and agents have said to me over the years.

    LauraR

  4. Oh, but I should add–anyone as shocked by the use of the word “fuck” as some of our blog readers recently expressed themselves to be… should probably not pursue a career that involves dealing with New York publishing professionals. Their sensibilities would be at risk every time their colleagues communicated with them.

    LauraR

  5. Hurrah for carrying on even if you have been told your work is ‘shitty’.
    That is only one persons opinion.