Getting Paid to Type as a Writer
I woke up this morning, which means I have to sit down at this computer and type. This computer, the one with the screen that never seems to be without smudges and smears despite my strict adherence to never placing a finger or thumb upon it. Oh well. There’s no such thing as a perfect writing scenario. No amount of notebook, cup of tea, or neatly-sharpened pencils strategically organized next to this filthy computer screen and its attached keyboard will ever exist. There’s nothing cute or neat about having to go to work. Swiffer rag the dust off the desk is about the best it gets. I have a hard time trusting writers who make a thing about their writing workspace. Organization comes in the editing. And to get to the editing, one must first get past the writing.
Today, I’m at a loud coffee shop sucking back a dark double espresso. I don’t really need the caffeine right now but this place tends to frown on anyone who props open their laptop and attempts to drain the free wifi without making a purchase. I would have stayed at the home office but my wife is in there today and this is one of those days where our shared workspace feels a little crowded. Despite her headphones secure over her ears, the sound of my untrained clicking and clacking on the keyboard drives her nuts. So, too, does the sound of me chewing gum. And I need to chew gum. It helps keep me from biting my nails — a sound she loathes more than any other sound I have ever made.
The volume of the music in this coffee shop is so great that I could bang on these keys for hours like a coked-out pianist, smack my gum like an ’80s valley girl and bite my nails with moans of ecstasy and no one in here would be the wiser. And it only costs me a little over four bucks investment in a double espresso for this kind of freedom. But that four dollars and change spent means I need to type enough to earn that money back on top of the debts and fiscal needs I had fueling the burning fire in all four of my pockets before I stepped foot inside.
It’d be nice if I could make a living as a writer by focusing on one kind of writing. Sit down, write a book. Sit down, write a script. Sit down, write some short fiction. Sit down, write a proposal. Sit down, write a social media campaign. Sit down, write a feature piece for some magazine. But this writer’s life and living comes from bouncing between all of the above and more. And that makes the day at work more strenuous than it would be if I had my druthers.
It’s like going to the gym and spending a minimum of eight hours there working legs, arms, back, chest, neck, knees, bones, delts, glutes, knuckles, etc. Moving the focus from machine to machine to get the best from each part puts you at risk of not giving your legs the best effort you’d like. You try to focus on the legs but you also have to keep an eye on the clock and the next opening on that machine that’ll make your arms look like Michelle Obama’s. It can be distracting. And sometimes, you have to make a sacrifice. Some weeks you end up putting most of the focus and effort on the arms and you end up looking like Mr. Incredible. Or Ronnie from The Jersey Shore.
It’s a good look and you’ll save the day, but it becomes a little more difficult to kick down the door of off-Hollywood with that script that desperately needs your attention because you know in your soul that the people need that script. You’re a genius and now you feel like you’re wasting your talent and you’re missing opportunity and oh, my god, what’s the point in all this!?
Is it time for a drink?
No. Drinking at the gym is frowned upon.
Besides, drinking while writing usually just puts me in a place of nostalgia, and I’m trying to write for the future, man. The past is prologue, but writing prologue doesn’t pay the bills.
Every day, I make a to-do list on a Post-it Note. Today’s list, in general detail:
• Literate Ape
--Finalize publication proposal
--Reconciling with an abuser
-Catch up with contributors
• Write live radio show script
• Spoof Script
-Write death scene
-Write character descriptions
• Product client
-Draft presentation script
• New work
-Follow up with forthcoming job
-Follow up on invoices sent
• That kids book about your dog
• Last DJ
-Build marketing campaign
-Organize campaign budget
• Gilda’s Club meeting
-Continue booking trip details
• Spend time with wife
• Make a dent in reading that big book
• Open new IRA
• Drink water, you chimphole
It’s not an unusually busy day. It’s just a day. And this is the life. And sometimes, it’s hard to keep it all straight. Sometimes, most things don’t get crossed off the list. Sometimes, they do. And then I don’t know what to do with myself other than to go back and edit or re-edit. Or zone out in front of the cable television for which I’m paying way too much. Or have that drink. But with extra ice because I didn’t drink enough water.
A day with a handful of different mental demands is not unique to the typist — I say typist because a true writer often feels more like a keyboard jockey pecking away at the letters than they do a seasoned writer like E. L. James or Stephenie Meyers or that On The Road guy. I’m not complaining here. But I do routinely dream of a workday where I get up, shower, get dressed, feed the kid, walk the dog, kiss the wife, and head out to a job ideal for an autistic person. Plug and chug. Churn and burn. Follow the directions. Something that demands more of my whole body than just my brain having to construct something from nothing or from disjointed client thinking. I’d rather feel physically exhausted from the physical labor than just the mental labor that manages to make my feet ache even though I’ve been sitting on my ass all day. I suppose that’s the feeling of my body embracing atrophy.
So why haven’t I closed the laptop and secured a job as a waste management professional? Because the allure of self-imposed mental illness is too magnetic for me to pull away from. Because when I get it right, it’s worth it. I killed my ego a long time ago, but it’s nice to go to the graveyard and visit it.
Not everything has to be gold. Not everything has to be a bestseller. Most things won’t be either. But it’s nice to work toward something like that. Spending your days trying to leave something that will survive you, something that will separate you from the herd, something that your wife and kid and parents and grandparents and friends can be proud of. Something you can be proud of. Something that means anything to anyone anywhere. Even for a moment. Because if you can do that, then you’ve got proof to show the gods you’ve done something of value while you were here breathing the free air. It wasn’t a life spent taking; it was one that gave back, too.
If I complete the list, or most of the list, will I have earned back the money spent on that espresso? Yes. Will I have earned much more? Potentially. It’s a long game. Although, today’s list includes a lot of spending money. But as they say, you gotta spend money to make it. And yes, I firmly believe that a trip to Holbox, Mexico is a wise investment into my career because it’s investing in myself. Because there’s nothing better than productive writing, and the best way for me to achieve productive writing is to bask in warm saltwater and nap in my SPF-protected skin.
And sometimes, the other best way to achieve productive writing is to write about the great and constant fear about not being productive. The fear is necessary. And it should not be dressed up with cute writing memes. All that shit is a distraction — like someone typing and chewing gum in your office.