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January 31st, 2013

On the writing life...

Well, yesterday was a pretty good day.

I heard from the magazine US Catholic, who had solicited an article from me about spiritual reflections on astronomical images, that they've accepted my revisions to the first draft, and, by the way, where should they send the check?

A few emails later, the contract finally arrived from my agent (we'd heard the offer last November, as I recall); an outfit that apparently used to be (and may still be) Image Books but which has a variety of other legal names -- contracts can be confusing that way -- a subsection of Random House, has agreed to hand over $20K to my agent (most of which will find its way into my community's account in Tucson) once we sign this piece of paper, with subsequent similarly large hunks of money coming along when we deliver the manuscript and when it finally appears in print. Oh, yeah; we're supposed to hand them 100,000 words by next November. Piece of cake.

I was thinking about these bits of good news while contemplating Scalzi's recent post on "why I write: to get rich". I know what he's talking about. To deny the importance of payment, denies the work involved in the writing. Simply sitting in front of a keyboard typing in 100,000 words is physical labor in and of itself, not even thinking about having to dream up those words. And exposing one's soul in public with those words comes at a cost as well, one that cannot easily be measured in money but which money does help compensate.

But I see that money that comes from my writing only long enough to hand it over to my community. And my community supports me, physically and emotionally, whether I sell a story or not. So obviously I write for reasons that are independent of money.

Scalzi probably publishes as many words a year in his blog and tweets as he sells to Tor. A cynic might say that his public presence online is a very clever marketing ploy. Certainly if a reasonable fraction of his followers buys each book as it comes out, out of a sense of "friendship" to someone they think they know well even if he can't possibly know them, he'll sell more books in a year than I ever will. But "being somebody" online only to sell books doesn't work -- lesser authors who try that trick come across as phony. And meanwhile, even with a huge ego, at some level it's dreadful to be somebody, to be public, like a frog... as Emily Dickinson pointed out more than a century ago.

Scalzi's public life also comes at a cost to the privacy of the rest of his family. I am reminded, actually, of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., who wrote a regular column in the mid 1800's called "The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table" that was the equivalent of such a blog. His son was mortified to have all his doings (including later articles describing his service in the Civil War) spread across the month pages of the Atlantic. Somehow, OWH Junior survived the experience, however.

We who write, write because we have to. If we didn't have to, we wouldn't. But we can't not write.

Getting paid for it, lets some of us feed the habit. But it validates the experience for all of us, whether we need the cash or not.

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