Of the writers I know, few make a living from their work – or not much of one. No holiday pay. No super. Precious little savings. No shouting the bar at Christmas.
They write to be published, but it rarely happens. They write to assume their modest place in the palace of arts and letters, but the doors are often closed or no one answers when they knock.
They write when not commissioned. They submit their work with every hope, against all odds and from afar, as an archer in an open field shoots an arrow across the wall of some towering and impregnable fortress.
Their work is good. They can really write. Their dreams are fair and measured. They want to add, in some small way, to the world’s collective wisdom.
They are published online but their work is unpaid. They are grateful for the platform – for the coverage and exposure – but it doesn’t buy the beer they’ve earned or validate their efforts with a solid coin or two. And it should.
They create a website. They start a blog. They post on open forums. They attract a comment or go unnoticed. Either way, they work.
They keep a journal. They write in a diary. They carry a notebook and pen. They visit a café and scribble their thoughts on the back of a paper napkin.
They write on the train. They write on the tram. They write before work. They write during work. They write after dinner and go to bed late: sometimes elated; more often, deflated. Too tired to sleep, they lie in the dark and are prey to their doubts and grave misgivings.
One of them wrote me a letter last week: “Times are lean now. Looking for work. Hoping for something, soon.”
What could I say?
Brother in the lonely night, sister in the dying day, don’t give in and don’t give up. You of the noble effort – you of the honest art – you who write for everyone but find no audience, I see valour in your work and meaning in your struggle.
So you cannot make a living from your writing; you can make a life. Every word, another footprint. Every piece, another breath.
I think of you often: the writers I know and the writers I don’t. I picture you working. I see you alone. I imagine your effort, and I swear it gives me hope. I see myself in fellowship with every one of you.
I replied to my friend: “I’ll keep writing, if you keep writing.”
First published in The Victorian Writer magazine, March 2014
Image: New York Public Library, 2008; Shirley Bateman