It’s the constant toiling, stupid.
What’s better than arduous labor, mediocre money, and widespread rejection? What’s better than ripping your own heart out and slicing it into pieces and handing it to a bunch of strangers? It’s like the miracle of the seven loaves and fish except that people gather, hungry for salvation or a glimpse of Jesus, and then promptly spit out your heart onto the ground and say, “Blecch. This is, seriously, so bad.” Then they go on Yelp and write:
“My meal was totally undercooked and the texture was all wrong. I really expected more umami, with more of an organelle tongue-feel. When I sent my order back, our server yelled, “THAT’S MY ACTUAL HEART RIGHT THERE. I AM DEAD AND NOT FIGURATIVELY, BECAUSE I GAVE YOU EVERYTHING I HAVE.” Drama much? We were disappointed and will not be coming back.”
Except that those words are printed in the New York Times. And then the friends who’ve never read a thing you’ve written or shown up at a single reading (because you bore them and also possibly because you’re deeply unlovable, lol) call you and say, “Wow, that New York Times review! So brutal! I’m so sorry. I’m also so sorry that you’re so unlovable, lol!”
That’s the good stuff, you think. Because you’re a writer! I mean, who doesn’t want attention at any cost, even when it’s 80% pity and 15% rubbernecking and 5% people reassuring themselves that they were wise to go to law school instead of pursuing their crazy dreams of writing YA sci fi noir fantasy romance novels?
Poor suckers. I mean, what could be more boring than working in a posh office far from your filthy home and getting treated like a professional expert with important opinions, instead of being encountered as a delusional, narcissistic dreamer who stubbornly insists on indulging her self-obsession on the page, probably through some alcoholic or drug-fueled haze?
That’s why it’s so satisfying when your bad friends call to “commiserate” about your shitty review. You can hear it in their voices, how desperately they’re longing to become unshowered shut-ins stringing sentences together in some dark, cluttered apartment all day. And they’re dying to spend their free time with other self-obsessed hermits, most of whom really are narcissistic alcoholics living in a constant state of crisis, disappearing for long stretches and then reappearing mid-divorce, mid-tumultuous-affair, mid-rehab, mid-mid-life-crisis, because they’re also distributing tiny pieces of their hearts to indifferent strangers like it’s their fucking job, possibly because it actually is?
But can you blame them? Because what’s better than conjuring every ounce of your self-consciousness and shame and paranoia every single day, just to transform your mediocre pages into something that’s not shitty enough to end your entire career? That’s what separates the almost talented writers from the definitely not talented writers: Paranoia. Paranoia is the seven loaves of the writing life. You feast on paranoia morning, noon, and night. Paranoia motivates you to prune your words, to reduce them to a flavorful word-sauce. But I mean, come on, what’s better than imagining shitty reviews in your head, in order to avoid shitty reviews in real life – even though it won’t work, since half the time the person reviewing you has been waiting for the opportunity to rip you a new asshole in public for a solid decade straight?
But give me a break, who doesn’t love being hated from afar? What could be healthier than channeling all of your people-pleasing compulsions into a lifetime of drudgery? Isn’t it odd to think about professional expert types who start slowly taking on less work and semi-retiring by their mid-50s, instead of taking on increasingly difficult writing projects, year after year? How fucked up would it be not to recognize that your value as a human being is directly linked to your performance on increasingly impossible and gargantuan writing tasks? How fucked up would it be not to work yourself straight into the ground until you’re dead? And then, conveniently, you’re already in the ground? You’ve got a jump on the competition yet again!
So don’t think too much about your wealthy professional peers who sold their dreams up the river. It’ll just make you sad. Why, they could be toiling away on their fourth badly-selling YA sci fi noir fantasy romance novel by now, but instead they’re probably sipping a cocktail on a goddamn river cruise!
Put them out of your mind, they’re too depressing to contemplate. Besides, you’ve got work to do.
You always do. Remember?
Are you #amwriting and #unlovable, #lol? Write to askmolly at protonmail.com!