Tuesday, August 30, 2005

But I'm Not Complaining

After my sister got into a car accident a couple of years ago where she fell asleep at the wheel and flipped her truck over a median, everyone told her how lucky she was to be alive. No kidding-- it was no small miracle that she survived this, and with no "devastating" injuries. But because of this "you're so lucky" sentiment, she felt it wasn't okay for her to ever complain about the pain in her arm where the metal plate was put in, or the fact that her toenails were ripped off, or the loss of feeling and strength in her hand.

On the rare occasion that she did mention her pain, someone quickly said, "Just be thankful you're alive." Now, of course, there has to be a sense of perspective. Obviously, that's entirely true-- she IS lucky, and she IS thankful, but it frustrated her that her thankfulness was supposed to negate any of the pain she went through.

That's sort of how I feel about my writing career. I can't complain.

See, I rarely talk about my writing frustrations in my newsletter or on my forums because of that same sort of perspective. I know that many of my readers would give their right elbows to be where I am in my career. I know I'm lucky. I've been making my living as a writer for 8 years. I work from home, I get good assignments, I'm paid well, and I even sometimes get to cavort with celebrities. Because of all that, I don't dare whine in public about some of the difficulties and frustrations that go with it-- because I know that many people will just shake their heads and think, "Just be thankful!"

And I am.

But you have no idea what a relief it was when I got an e-mail from a similarly-experienced writer the other day that said, in part, that she was tired of the way she sometimes gets treated by editors and "experts." She was disillusioned with the writing business. Then she wrote, "I just have to remember that a bad day freelancing still beats a good day at a 9-5 job."

I'm not disillusioned. But there are certainly things that frustrate me. It frustrated me when I found out that a publicist on one of my books never sent galleys to the trade magazines. It frustrated me when a publicist actually did something humiliating to a co-writer of mine. It frustrates me when the scope of a project expands and expands, but my fee doesn't. And when an editor buys an article of mine and never publishes it, but wants to hang onto it indefinitely. (Especially when a publicist writes me every other week to ask when her client's quotations within the article are going to run.) And when an editor leaves in the middle of a project. And when a book editor takes months and months to get back to me with edits, at which point I'm supposed to drop everything and return the revisions in less than a week. And when it's written into my contracts that I get to approve cover art, yet I don't see it until it's already up on Amazon. And...

You see what I mean.

Sometimes I get burnt out and tired of it all. It IS a job to me, not something I'd do if I didn't get paid for it. And sometimes I feel like each book is a marathon and I'm already winded at the end of the first half-mile. Many times I think I'll never be able to keep up this pace for more than another year or two. Many times I fantasize about retirement. There are days of sheer joy and excitement, and other days when it feels like my brain's been rubbed across a washboard a couple hundred times.

I felt like, when that friend wrote to me, we had dissolved some kind of secret code of gratefulness that all successful writers are supposed to exhibit at all times. She took the chance that it was okay to vent to me, and it was. I love my job, and I'm thankful as can be to have it. But the writer's life is not without its difficulties, and sometimes it's nice to admit that.