Thank goodness I don’t have to write for a living. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. Those that do often teach to pay the rent, to have a reliable income, or they spend a lot of time tooting their own horn.
I am cleaning out my attic (when it’s cool enough), mainly of boxes of New Yorker articles from the 1960s. My office was located right across from the company’s Xerox room, and when I came across an interesting article, I would bring in the issue, Xerox the article, take home the copy, and file it by author. Now, I have access to The New Yorker archives, so all I save are the references. The New Yorker comes every week and is often overwhelming.
I had circulated to my desk the company’s copy of Publisher’s Weekly. It had short capsule summaries of the new books that week. Many of my saved copies were of those, too. I thought someday our local library would have access to the books, but I never had enough time to check, although many of the books sounded very interesting and were often someone’s life work. Just like today, there were more writers writing than readers reading.
Those guys whose articles are stored in the attic boxes were really talented writers, but you probably never heard of most of them. Most wrote nonfiction, and they spent a lot of time on the articles, interviewing subjects and traveling to distant locations. There’s a lot more to writing than sitting alone in a quiet room and writing.
Here are a sampling of a few names: Calvin Trillin, Roger Angell, S. J. Perelman, E. B. White, Burton Roueché, Donald Barthelme, Ved Mehta, Truman Capote, Stephen Tracy, John Seabrook, John McPhee. The Eagle’s defensive front line is better known (and make more money, too).
This is not a list of my favorite authors. It is merely a list of authors that once wrote something that I thought worthy of keeping. Well, maybe some are my favorites. Okay, all of them are my favorites plus several others that I haven’t named.
There are no women in my list. Women, in those days, tended to write fiction, and the articles I saved, articles I might want to retrieve someday, were nonfiction. But there were a few women, like Joyce Carol Oates, whose fiction I kept. Men, too, fiction writers like Woody Allen and recently, T. Coraghessan Boyle (I will call him Mr. Boyle if I ever meet him, or “TC”).
All of these people are talented, hard-working and well-known as long as they are writing. But once they stop, they are quickly forgotten despite their talents that are rare. Only a few, like Woody Allen, reach a star status, but even that is often from other activities, such as movie-making: writing, directing, producing.
There are now home computers, word processors, spell-checkers, the Internet, Google, and blogs. We can research a topic at home in our jammies, rather than traveling to a distant city or university library. Any of us can become authors by writing our own stuff and publishing it in a blog.
We can write about whatever interests us at the moment. We can ignore publishing house editors. We can write long or short articles. Readership doesn’t matter. We just don’t get paid.