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Favourite posts: C’est magnifique mais ce ne fait pas l’affaire

December 7, 2010

For the month of December, Write Anything is hosting a retrospective of the posts that have appeared over the past four five years. We hope you enjoy revisiting these posts, as we take stock of where we have come from, and look forward to where we will be heading in the future!

This post first appeared on 13 August 2006.

Eric Maisel’s book Deep Writing peels away some of the romantic notions of grandeur regarding the writer’s life. “The advances for my last eight books have been . . . eighteen, fifteen, twenty, twenty, seven, twenty-five, three, twenty and eight thousand dollars.” That is an average of seventeen thousand dollars per book and not all those titles earned “additional royalties.” Consider that most books are written in a year or two. Also keep in mind that he resides on the Bay Area of sunny California. Maisel’s point is “a writer can’t live by writing — not to mention a poet cannot live by poesy alone. He relates his personal story in which he married “a woman who earns a living wage” and before that he had the help of the GI Bill and his mother. I guess this is a suggestion from the author to maintain good relationships with parents and spouses if you want to choose to make a go of it as a writer — possibly a good argument for marrying up as well.

Lest you think this utterly depressing and a cold bucket of water on your dreams of becoming a poet or writer; consider this observation by Anthony Marshall, proprietary of Alice’s Bookshop in North Carlton, Melbourne, Australia, upon his 56th birthday: “I can now claim to have been a secondhand bookseller for exactly half my life. I note too that my son, at 28, is exactly half my age and — this is the point — earns exactly double what I earn.” In his article “All Jammed Up” (published in the May/June 2006 issue of Book Source Magazine), he writes about the tough life of booksellers. He reports that one bookseller ekes out additional income by “proofreading scientific and mathematical text books” while another writes “commissioned histories of sporting clubs” and yet another supplements his “bookseller’s income by writing poetry.” This last bookseller resonates with me. Being surrounded by books while composing lines of verse and serving patrons appeals to me as an aspiring poet.

So, I guess I’ll keep my day job. Currently, I find myself co-editing an anthology on the topic of current affairs under the weight of AP Styles and learning a lot in the process. “Intellectual grunt work” my superior calls it. I call it getting paid to learn. The anthology’s content is not of my choosing, but I have discovered intriguing stories that inspire me to jot down notes that may lead to a few lines of poetry. There’s a story of a family who adopted a child that was born during the 26th week (normal pregnancies deliver on the 40th week), a profile of an English baroness who flies behind enemy lines to deliver medical aid, and a report from a journalist who recorded the agony of nursing mothers whose children die at their breasts because of the desperate situation in Sudan. If a poet/writer cannot learn from this how then will the poet/writer learn? I think part of the answer rests in a life’s pursuit of knowledge and truth. Thomas Jefferson once advised his nephew to continue his education independently. Self-educating yourself requires time to read and think and write and the courage to discipline yourself.

Eric Maisel writes, “Thinking, it turns out, is simply not so popular. As one newspaper put it, ‘No signs of intelligent life on the New York Times bestseller list.’” Further in his book he discusses why he thinks writers are afraid to write: “Intense thinking . . . unnerves us. Therefore, we create categories — ‘geniuses’ and ourselves, ‘real writers’ and ourselves . . . — and let our brain off the hook.” Commit yourself to the task at hand and write. Don’t worry if it doesn’t pay the bills. That’s why you have a day job. Even if you ascend to the status of a published writer, that does not make you a “real writer” — just a writer who can afford a more expensive bottle of merlot. C’est magnifique mais ce ne fait pas l’affaire (It is magnificent but it does not pay the bills). Write on. Write well.

  1. December 7, 2010 6:12 am

    I particularly like the comment you quote by Eric Maisel. Intense thinking unnerving us is, in my opinion, the medicine today’s artists refuse to take. Too bad for all of us. You see evidence of this truth in every aspect of life and each new generation drifting farther away. But thank you for the encouragement to keep going. Every artist needs an encouraging voice every now and again.

  2. December 7, 2010 11:23 pm

    Very nice article – with a lovely nudge to pursue what we like – thank you 🙂

  3. December 8, 2010 9:19 pm

    It makes me think of the best stand up comedians… good comedy is insightful, it is scathing and sometimes it is the only intelligent observations we have on life.

    And for me – no writing doesn’t pay the bills, neither does my publishing venture and yes, I do rely heavily on the good will of my partner who makes enough money to give me the comfort zone of building up a business as well as finding room and space for my writing.

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