I have a friend, a novelist, who I would swear is much better-natured than I am. But even she gets tired of the constant remarks and questions writers get.
“The next time somebody tells me he wants to be a writer,” she said a few months ago, “I’m going to say I want to be a brain surgeon. That shouldn’t be hard, should it?”
I have a theory about this. Everybody thinks he can write and that it will be easy. Anybody can grasp a pen or work a keyboard, right? It’s just that they … haven’t gotten around to it yet. Unlike you, the writer. Lucky you. (If there’s anything that annoys me more than being told I’ve been lucky to be published, I can’t think of it. Nothing like a little bit of luck to go along with your decades of striving, rejection, poverty and keening self-doubt.)
But, somehow, writing is considered to be everybody’s domain, the key to easy, instant success and happiness. People have similar delusions, I’ve noticed, about having a baby (so they’ll be loved unconditionally), buying a dog (ditto) and owning a restaurant (what could be more fun than serving food to friends and getting paid for it? It would be kind of like a year-round party! And haven’t people always commented about what a fabulous party-thrower you are? Yes, indeed.)
But this writing business. Spare me. Several days ago, someone I just met told me he wanted to be a newspaper columnist. He’d sent a prospective column to our local newspaper and, surprising to say, hadn’t gotten a reply.
“You know,” I said, “everybody wants to have a newspaper column.”
He shrugged and looked at me like I was the grinch, a source of moisture on his booming parade. I didn’t mention my own experience with finally landing a newspaper column after years of writing and publications, guest columns, proven ability to meet deadlines, constant battering at the door, nagging, wheedling, constant professions of fraudulent good cheer. It almost killed me — but I wanted it so badly that I was willing to push forever. Oh, and by the way, did I also mention I was good at writing?
To prove his point, he went ahead and sent me his proposed op-ed column. I’m supposed to look over it and comment. As if I don’t have anything else to do.
Unfortunately, I’m too busy. Haven’t I mentioned that already? I’ve joined the pre-med club with my novelist friend. We’re tired of the easy life. We’re moving up in the world.
(Copyright 2008 by Ruth Pennebaker)