I would like to think that someday people will stop asking me whether I'm working or writing in *that* tone. The one that sneers and says "so are you a productive member of society or are you still a big ol' loser?"
I am sensitive to the fact that I have written a couple of books now- put thousands of hours into this writing thing- and have little to show the outside world. I know I may never have anything to show other people except for a few bylines, a drawer full of rejections and a shelf of unpublished (but complete) novels. But hey. It isn't really any of your* business, is it? I'm not asking you for anything. In all likelihood, the only thing I said to you was "hey, how's it going?"
Let's make it about you though because what your question really is is a way to show me that you are valuable and I am not. In America working for pay is good and working without steady pay (or no pay at all) is bad.
I want you, person who feels like this is a reasonable question, to ask yourself what you have to show for your working life? You what? Take care of your family? I do that too. You get recognition for your good work? Great! Find fulfillment in what you do? Me too! Work long and uncomfortable hours for a demanding and unreasonable boss? I do that too- but I can never escape from mine. Ever.
When next you meet a working artist (and writers are artists as well as craftspeople) I implore you to to think before you speak. You may have an idea that you're clever, that you'll somehow guilt the artist back into the 9-5 mold from which you can not, do not want to, escape but trust me she has heard it before. I'm here to tell you that you're not half as clever, or persuasive, as you think you are. **
And yes, I am touchy.
This has been a tough and humbling year for my family and me. For one thing, I haven't been able to write as much as I need to and I'm uptight about it, disappointed in myself and so incredibly frustrated. It has taken me more than a year to write 100 pages of my WIP- it took two months to write the first 100- and I had to fight to complete every page. I wrote in the car. I tried to write at the table in the only habitable room of the house we're renovating. Heck I even tried to write in public but found it completely impossible. I have had to face the fact that the conditions in which I live aren't all that conducive to creating art.***
Eventually I just got tired of fighting to write but not writing made it so I was also not sleeping.
I've kind of struck a balance lately. Some days I maybe write a word or a paragraph. These disjointed words tend to suck so I don't feel like they count for much. I skim a favorite writing blog or two, check in with PW just to feel like I'm still in the game. It's enough to make it so I can sleep but not enough to finish the damned book. Which, in spite of everything else that's pressing on me, is a weight that's almost impossible to live with or relieve.
What I feel like I need is two weeks of uninterrupted time to finish this novel. The inescapable truth is that there is no way I can get that here until life becomes as it should be. An occasion, best case, months in the future. Leaving sounds like a good idea but even if I could come up with the money to get away I can't afford the time.
So really I am neither writing or working (y'know except for rebuilding a house and trying to make as normal a life as possible for my family) and would dearly love to throat punch the next person who brings it up.
* By you I don't mean my blog readers necessarily. I mean the *you* that asks questions like that at places like reunions, funerals, the grocery store etc.
**Job offers are a different story of course- many writers have day jobs and have a vibrant and productive writing life as well. IMHO It's perfectly reasonable to offer any artist a day job that pays well but still gives the artist time to create.
Interestingly enough, I am frequently asked whether I'm working but have never once been offered a paying gig from someone who has asked me if I work (though I have been offered, and have accepted, writing work from people who ask if I'm taking any. That's just networking and a vital part of being a successful freelancer). In short, "hey are you taking any freelance gigs?"= good especially if you are asking for (or are) a paying client. "Hey are you working or are you still writing?"= bad. Period.
*** Like sooo not conducive. This house was abandoned for three years before we got here and seriously neglected for many years before that. We have to remove and replace almost everything but the studs. And the studs even need repair and cleaning. All the major systems need serious work- it's a fucking nightmare of a project. The funny part is that we are only renting this house. Hahahasobhasobha. It is part of our "living a simpler and more intentional life" plan. A temporary, uncomfortable readjustment before a better life.
Frankly I liked our "live in debt and denial" life plan better but it had some sustainability issues that we couldn't overcome. It's an amusing little twist that part of the reason we decided to simplify was so that I could write more and "work" less. Hahahahasobhasobha