Friday, December 7, 2007

This Is Your Letter

At one time I wanted to be a philosopher.  When I applied to graduate school in philosophy, I got a letter from the American Philosophical Association.  It pretty much said:

You just applied to a graduate school in philosophy.  Don't do it.  It will only bring you grief.  Philosophy is the least popular college major.  There are no jobs for people who teach philosophy. If you can think of anything else to do with your life, do that instead.  We are not kidding.

Okay, those weren't the exact words, but the letter covered all those salient points.

Undeterred, I got my master's degree in analytical philosophy and got a job at a university satellite campus on a Marine base.  I decided, after teaching a couple of courses, that the American Philosophical Association was right: Philosophy was no career for a sensible person.

So, I decided to be a writer.  I wanted to publish stories and novels.

Someone, somewhere, should have sent me a letter.

Writing is no career for a sensible person.

I teach writing and hang out with writers, and no one I know actually makes a living writing. We all have sensible jobs as editors or teachers or Barnes & Noble employees or bartenders.

I work hard at my writing, and I've actually got a pretty impressive resume—over the years I've published twenty-something books; I've had a magazine column; I've published fiction, non-fiction, and poetry; I've even had a play produced.  I published one book last month, have another coming out in April, and yet another next fall.

Yet, if you add up all the income I made from writing this year, it wouldn't pay for the Christmas presents I'm about to buy.

Sure, there's a glamour associated with writing that is lacking in most other, similarly lucrative, part-time jobs—Amway sales, let's say; or babysitting.  But it's a lot of work, and it won't make you famous, even if you're really good at it.  Unless Oprah smiles on you (and she won't), it's a tough, discouraging, and flinty life for most.

So if you're thinking of becoming a writer, don't do it unless you honestly can't imagine a life where you aren't doing it.

Consider this your letter.