Writers are the independent type, in several ways. The most common: independence of mind. The least likely: independence of bank account.
Until a decade ago, I’d nearly always had another full-time job. Writing was something I did mostly nights and weekends. Aside from practice, which has value, I didn’t get much done. I also seldom made money writing. The fact is that if my husband hadn’t said when we were going to buy our house “look, if you really want to write full time I’m with you and you should quit your job now so that we don’t go out and get a mortgage based on two salaries”, I’d still be floundering. He saw the writing on the wall of what writing on the page might pay and faced reality with great generosity. Since then, I’ve made some money from screenwriting, but that’s still a curvy road and I’d rather write my novel, which for now pays nothing.
When I quit my last day job I was working in IT as a programmer/analyst, far from my degree in Journalism. After I quit, someone complimented me, saying, gee, that was brave to give up a good salary just to try writing. But, I had a safety net. One that didn’t just earn the money, but backed me up all the way, encouraged me and tried to understand my work. So, my question is, just how independent am I?
The answer is in other parts of working as a writer. Trust me, when the first time you’ve spoken to a human since breakfast is when you answer the phone at four in the afternoon, you get it. Writing is a job done mostly alone, but it’s not lonely most of the time. The bigger problem is that you start to lose your grasp on the mainstream world because you take yourself out of it to write. I’ve got to plug back in periodically to ground myself.
And then there’s my frequent liberation from basic hygiene—the days when I realize it’s quitting time and I still haven’t showered. Or my freedom to take a punch from someone who smiles condescendingly and says, “Well, you don’t work” in response to anything I’ve said about having time to cook or clean or making sure to get enough sleep or having just finished reading a good book. You name it, and apparently the reason I have 48 hours in a day to everyone else’s 24 is because I “don’t work.” It’s always a treat to hear people sum you up that way.
My most treasured but also sometimes most painful independent streak? It’s that oddness of personality that I believe most people feel, but that writers feel acutely. It’s that gnawing, frustrating sense that you are always, always somehow apart from everyone else. Writers operate at a different elevation from sea level. We take in everything out there with a perspective that differs from that of the crowd. It’s like being a lightening rod in a field of wild flowers. But, oh, the view!
So, I fight the not so pretty aspects of my independence and cherish the good. I tell myself, sometimes with a sigh, that it doesn’t matter if no one gets me, so long as someday someone gets something I write. That’s why we stand out in that big field of flowers, taking in every breeze, ray of sun, and bolt of electricity, and then write it all into something we hope others can be struck by, reveling in that few moments of connection between our worlds.