Not long ago I was sitting around a table with three people I know, all of us in late middle age. One has made his living helping municipalities draw up bond issues, one is a lawyer, the third is a social worker. We were talking about our dream careers, what work we would have really wanted to do if we had had our druthers. The first person said he wanted to be a musician. The lawyer wanted to be a novelist. The social worker wanted to be an actor. All would have chosen a career in the arts.
When it was my turn, I could honestly say that, as a writer, I’m doing exactly the work I’ve always wanted to do. I actually get to write poetry and drama, and to translate writers whose work I idolize. True, I don’t make a living at my vocation, and I need to piece together more than one job to make ends meet. But I was the only one at that table who could say that I had no regrets about my career choice.
That doesn’t mean that I have no second thoughts. There are times when the choice I’ve made to be an artist is agonizing. I’ve had to tell my daughter that she needed to wait to get her impacted wisdom teeth out, because the limited insurance I have didn’t cover the procedure during the current year (fortunately she wasn't in serious pain). I have to concede to contracts with publishers where the royalties are so small I might as well give away the hard work that took me years to finish. Then I hear people with more lucrative jobs describe their astounding vacations on the Galapagos Islands or at a villa in Tuscany, and the envy rises in me.
But I do feel enormous gratitude for being a writer. I picture literature as a river as wide as the Nile or the Mississippi or the Amazon. That river is fed by many different tributaries, which in turn are filled by many rivulets. If I can add a few drops to one of those rivulets, I feel I will have done my job as an artist. And if someone comes up to me after a reading and tells me they liked a particular poem I read, if I win a prize or two, if I get a good review here or there (rarer than a prize these days), I won’t complain.Other recent posts about writing topics:
How to Get Published
Getting the Most from Your Writing Workshop
How Not to Become a Literary Dropout
Putting Together a Book Manuscript
Working with a Writing Mentor
How to Deliver Your Message
Does the Muse Have a Cell Phone?
Why Write Poetry?
Poetic Forms: Introduction; The Sonnet, The Sestina, The Ghazal, The Tanka
Praise and Lament
How to Be an American Writer