Friday, June 10, 2011

The Real Truth of the Hard Truth

I read a heartfelt article recently about the difficulties of having a writing career. It talked about the pressure of deadlines, the reality of having to write, even when awful things like spouses dying and mothers with cancer upend your entire existence.

We (those of us who've been "in the business" for a decade or plural), often caution new, excited, hopeful writers about the truth of aspiring for a writing career. The constant rejection, even after success; the sheer enormity of the competition; the ever-more-crowded marketplace, and on and on. We always say that if you can quit, do it. That you have to truly love writing, deep down, if you're going to get through all the hard stuff intact and sane.

But you know what? The real truth is a lot more complicated than that.

My mom was diagnosed with terminal cancer in December of 2002. I was trying very, very hard to break into Silhouette Bombshell. I remember sitting at her kitchen table, working on a partial my agent was going to submit as soon as I could have it ready. Less than two months later, I was cleaning out her apartment all day, sharing fond exasperation and tearful anger with my brother, my aunt, and my cousin while our spouses were rock-like support. At night, I went back to the hotel room and worked on a new proposal for a couple of hours before bed. I didn't have a deadline, but I was desperate to take advantage of the "new line" window of opportunity.

I have a friend whose husband has been laid off for the second time. She has two kids in college, two in elementary school, a new release for one publisher, and a three-book deal with accompanying deadlines with another publisher.

Another friend with a multiple contracts has dealt with losing her day job and starting two new ones, as well as serious, life-threatening medical issues with her kids.

All of which sounds like I'm backing up the original author's point, that you should think twice about embarking on a challenging career that might be difficult to maintain in the face of life's struggles. But that's not the point I want to make.

My point is that those life struggles will occur whether we're authors or not. Does a medical resident have it any easier when they have to take care of a sick parent? How about a single mother working as a customer service representative whose kid is depressed and considering suicide? Will her boss give her a three extra months to do her job, if she asks?

Most people need a job to live. Most people endure extreme hardships of some type or another during the course of their working life. They have to balance the two, and often fail to find that balance. They make sacrifices and have regrets, but quite often—maybe most of the time—they don't have a job that gives them as much joy as it does challenge.

We have it GREAT. If we have to, we can get an extension on deadlines. We don't have to be at work at the hours our bosses demand; we can structure our work time around whatever else we need to do. Of course, it's not always easy, and the logistics are only part of the issue. Writing comedy when you've lost the most important person in your life is damned hard, maybe impossible. But maybe, writing that comedy is the lifeline that gets you through it. How much harder it may be for the person who doesn't have that outlet.

Obviously, those of us who have dual careers, or day jobs that support the writing aspirations, have a bigger struggle and more disruption when a crisis hits. But we're not different from non-writers. It's hard for everyone to weather life's blows. At least in writing we have something to be passionate about, something we love, that can fulfill us utterly, all by itself.


Lisa Kessler said...

I'm so sorry about your Mom!!! My Mom has battled cancer twice. It's a horrid disease...

But you are so right about being grateful and passionate about writing for a living. It isn't an easy path and definitely not for the faint of heart, but if you can face the demons and keep writing, how lucky to be able to do something you love? :)

Great blog!


Karen said...

Life is, or can be, just plain difficult regardless of your profession. In my opinion, how you get through it is defined by your attitude.

Great post - thank you!

Natalie J. Damschroder said...

Thanks, Lisa and Karen! :)

Ava Quinn said...

So true, as always!

Attitude and perspective are key. It's hard to keep both in a positive light sometimes, but fighting the good fight is worth it regardless.

Got me thinking. Again!


Natalie J. Damschroder said...

Thanks, Ava! But did you read my last post, too? You were the one I was most certain would get the song! :(

MJFredrick said...

So true! When my grandmother was dying in 2004, I wrote 1000 words a day on Beneath the Surface. I had interest from an editor, and I'd just had the school year with the principal from hell. I NEEDED that story. I remember people being surprised that I could write during that time, but it kept me sane.

Gwen Hernandez said...

I'm very sorry to hear about your mom, Natalie. You make a good point about everyone facing challenges regardless of what their work is. I lost my mom to cancer in 2007 during a time when I was angling for a promotion at work.

I was trying to balance my need to talk to her daily, fly down to be with her and my dad, and to still be a "good" employee who worked lots of hours and wasn't gone too much.

Of course, if I'd been staying home already we would have had less money for me to fly to visit, and no daycare for when I was gone, so maybe I wouldn't have done any better than I did then.

I quit working eight months later, something I was probably already starting to think about, but my experience with her hastened my decision, I think.

Natalie J. Damschroder said...

Lisa, I just re-read your comment and realized I made assumptions. I hope your mom is doing well now.

Gwen, I'm sorry about your mom, too. That must have been really hard, being that far away.