At the end of the pilot episode for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel—which I watched religiously during my hysterectomy recovery—Midge Maisel asked Lenny Bruce if he loved stand-up comedy. Standing at the entrance to the jail where they’d met, he lit a cigarette and said, “If there was anything else in the entire world I could possibly do to earn a living, I would. It’s a terrible job. It should not exist. Like Cancer. And God.” Then he grinned at her and walked away.
I know what he means. Maybe not entirely but that’s how I feel about being a writer. Granted, I’m not nearly as cool as Lenny Bruce was, I’m not doing stand-up (although I’ve had two dreams in the past month where I am doing stand-up), and I’m in no way making a living as a writer.
In fact, it’s quite the opposite. If you ask most writers, they don’t do it for the money. It’s really not at all about the money. Ask almost any writer if they’d keep doing it even if no one read their books, articles, or blogs and most would say yes without blinking. At least the writers I know.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve actually shelled out more money than I’ve earned in royalties since I released my first book in October of last year. Oh, yeah. It’s true. I’ve paid to keep my website domains and certificates active, I’ve paid to renew my publishing LLC, and add in the proofreading, editing, formatting, book cover design and book proof costs and I’m in the hole. Not even breaking even. I didn’t even mention needing to purchase ISBN numbers, which I now have.
Writing a book and publishing it probably doesn’t need to be so complicated. There are a ton of books out there without the backing of a website, a publishing LLC, or ISBNs. I could simply use a free site like Wix or WordPress and just publish on the retail demon (Amazon), allowing them to own my books and my soul. But I don’t wanna. The site forces me to keep my writing sharp. The LLC protects me and forces me to take myself seriously. And I don’t even want to think about publishing any books without my team (Heather & Justin—website peeps, Jo—formatter, Kayli—editor, Ryan—book designer Lauren—writing coach).
The same as a painter doesn’t paint to make millions from their art, I don’t write for the money. So, why do it?
Because it’s the only time I feel one hundred percent me. The only time I’m in the zone, in flow. My dear friends Melissa and J.A Plosker do a live Instagram every Monday, and recently the topic was being in flow. Wayne Dyer calls it Spirit, I call it The Zone. It’s all essentially the same thing. When one is in flow, The Zone, or Spirit, one is doing the thing that causes them to lose time. The thing that makes them who they are. For some that may be cooking, painting, welding (my husband), playing a sport, cleaning, singing, whatever. I don’t need to keep going. For me, it’s writing.
What It’s Not
While pulling out my bank card each time something needed to be paid for (the website updates and certificates, the LLC renewal, edits, and formatting) I text my friend Melissa and said, “I just want to write! I want to write and have all the logistics take care of themselves!” And Melissa, in her infinite, calm wisdom, said, “These hurdles are temporary. Once they’re set, you can get right back to what you love.” She’s right.
It’s not always about the logistics. It’s not about paying money to enter an indie book contest and getting zilch. It’s definitely not about being the next book on Oprah or Reese’s booklist—let’s face it, what I write wouldn’t fit in with what’s on their lists. Like Lenny Bruce, I talk dirty and maybe I’ve even influenced a few people, but I’m not as marketable as what’s on Oprah and Reese’s booklists. It’s not about becoming a New York Times Bestseller—I gotta scratch my head at some of the titles that make it there. It’s okay, that’s not why I write and not at all why Lenny did stand-up.
What It Is
It’s about what inspires me, what stirs in my chest and works itself into a frenzy so fast from my brain to my hands that I can’t write legibly, or even in a straight line. It’s about what keeps me up at night. Sometimes my characters actually wake me up. Sounds crazy, but it’s a thing. Literally, I wake up and lie in bed for hours fleshing out dialogue, scene changes, comma placement.
It’s about having so much to say and being afraid that I’ll die with unspoken words that are still looking for an escape. No lie, I drafted a document for my husband on who to contact and what to do with my writing in case I didn’t come out of surgery. So, clearly it’s passion and longing; a romantic love of story, characters, and the emotions they conjure up all on their own when the right mix is found. It’s about the science of letters, grammar, and words so perfectly put together, they become fixed math equations. Weird, I know but it makes sense to me.
It’s about all that and more. If anyone ever asks me, “Do you love it?” I’ll say what Lenny Bruce said, grin, and walk away.