Writing through cycles of fat and lean

Two weeks ago I was feeling a lot like Dorothy, locked in the witch’s room, watching the sand running out of the hour glass. I wasn’t fearing for my life, of course. Only the knowledge that my funds were shrinking and so I began spending time online, looking for part-time jobs, and filling out application forms.

When the letter arrived my heart was heavy. The envelope felt too light; only a single page. A page of rejection. I don’t think I got it, I thought, slipping my finger through the top fold of the envelope. I opened the letter and skimmed through the first few sentences. A smile cracked my face, and a great dark weight released its hold around my neck bones and rose up, floated away.

This is what it means to receive a grant. The difference between pinched and anxious, to a wide open window, air and room to shape a full-fleshed story creature.

I am so grateful, and, also, I will work very hard for this money. It is not an easy thing, to write a book. Of course no one is forcing me to do this– this is my chosen profession and my passion.

Sometimes when I am doing author readings someone will ask me if I can make a lot of money as a writer. Often it is a child or young student who asks me this, and I’m glad that they do, because I’m sure a lot of people are wondering and are too polite to ask. I always say, “Ohhh, it’s not easy to make your living as a writer. There are very few J.K. Rowlings. If you think you want to be a writer for the money and glory, I think you might want to reconsider. You have to really really love writing to go into it and stay there. It’s a labour of love. But, I add, I’ve got to travel all over the world because of my writing. I’ve visited many countries I would have never gone to. And I meet a lot of interesting people! It’s not boring. And I’m doing the thing I love the most.

What is enough? What is enough money? What is enough time? What is enough pleasure? What kind of compromises do we make for security, art, family, love?

I’m also speaking from the privilege of my own heated home. There is food in the fridge, and hot and cold running water. If I did not have these things I would think it highly unlikely that I’d be writing novels. (But maybe short stories….) I am far from being a starving artist. But there are cycles of fat and lean and one must develop a disposition or resiliency to ride them out in a balanced way as possible. Maybe like those desert toads, that go through years of stasis, until the rains finally come.

Gabrielle Bell had a funny comic strip up on her site, Lucky, that touches upon the challenges of comics and business that twanged deep in my chest. Jeez, I thought. Comic artists can have it bad, too….

For now, the rains have come once more.

Wet toad, off to make a splash.