It’s almost impossible to make a living as a writer. Do you have any idea how many words you have to write to pay for the removal of four wisdom teeth from a teenager’s mouth? I do. I figured it out this week. I have three teenagers. They have four wisdom teeth each. That’s 12 teeth that have to go at roughly $1,500 a pop. Each of those teeth is worth about 5,000-10,000 words, as best I can figure it. Teenagers are expensive.
At some point or another, every famous writer you can name wrote about the struggle to combine the desire to write with the practical demands of regular life—like being able to afford groceries, for example. Most of the writers in the great canon of literature—you know, the mostly dead guys and gals you were required to read in school– nearly starved to death. I’m not exaggerating. When he died, William Faulkner was out of print. Can you believe that? You couldn’t walk in to a book shop and find his books on the shelves. My point is that if Faulkner had trouble paying his bills, and he did, then what in the world is going to happen in my own life?
I definitely need a high-paying back-up career. Prostitution is out. I’d have to lose twenty pounds, step-up my gym workout, and, well, it is illegal and all. I’m a mother. Also, I’m married to a judge. I can cook, but as the mother of three teens, I already work as a short-order cook every single day. I can teach. I used to love doing that, but nobody really cares where the apostrophe goes anymore. I can also sing but only in a church-choir-garden-variety way. Nobody is going to pay cash to hear me. I can also arrange flowers, but that is not exactly a rainmaker either. There you have it: writing, teaching, cooking, singing, and flower arranging. I would have been a hell of a 19th century woman. Unfortunately, here I am, right smack in the 21st century with the smarty-pants mouth to prove it. It’s a good thing I’m married to someone with good health insurance.
I write books of humorous essays. No one thinks, “I think I’ll grow up to be an essay writer.” Of course not. It just happens. I had three children in five years. I thought I was losing my mind, so I began writing for twenty people just for fun. Humor comes quickly to me. It’s easy, and back then I needed to write in short blocks of time while my kids were napping. You can guess what happened. Those people had friends, relatives, and roommates, and soon that list grew to 5,000 people in thirty-eight states. That’s when I wrote my first book, SWAG: Southern Women Aging Gracefully. The success of that book led to the 2nd, The SWAG Life, and the third, I Love You—Now Hush. I have a new book coming out this spring: I’ve Had It Up To Here With Teenagers. If you’ve ever lived with a teenager, or you plan to live with a teenager in the future, or you want to laugh about your own teenage years from the safe distance of adulthood, this is the book for you. I promise you will laugh.
When my publisher suggested rather firmly (as in “let’s put it in the contract from now on”) that I “embrace a significant online presence as an author,” all I could think about was: Not more passwords. Please. No more passwords. I have trouble remembering the ones I have already! Wi-Fi. Bank accounts. Bill-paying. Cable. Cell phones. School accounts for my kids. PayPal. eBay. I’m not a number person. Numbers are horrid, inflexible things. “You’ll love it!” my editor wrote in her email.
I doubt it, I thought.
Now my day goes like this: Check my Facebook fan page. Twitter. Blog. Change the cat litter. Get the kids to school. Revise. Run errands. Edit. Do laundry. Cook. Blog. My life is already busy and complicated. I decided the quickest way to get past the looming social media hurdles was to hire a professional tutor. I found a highly skilled, poor graduate student and offered him cash and baked goods to get me up and going. He accepted. Then I never heard from him again. I worried about him. He seemed like a highly strung individual. His parents are missionaries. He didn’t look at all well-fed to me. Later, I heard he got a real job offer and moved away. Good for him! Bad for me. I found another woman to help me. I like her. Our first session went just fine until we accidently invited everyone in my address book to “friend” my new online accounts. Not good. Not good at all. Awful, in fact, the exact thing I’d hoped to avoid by hiring someone who knows a lot more than I do about social media. Frankly, I could have made that mistake all by myself and saved the hourly fee.
The result? I inadvertently invited the guy who fixed my refrigerator to be my friend online. I also hit on my sons’ basketball, baseball, and football coaches as well as perfect strangers who have interviewed me or asked me to speak to their groups. The receptionist at my doctor’s office got a friend request. It was very unprofessional, a little creepy, and just plain embarrassing.
That wasn’t all. The mother of all accidental friend requests went to: The Bishop. The big dog himself. Yep. You read that correctly. I am an Episcopalian. Our Bishop has no sense of direction. I know that because when he read a chapter about my own lack of innate navigational skills (“I Can’t Get There From Here”), he emailed me. I responded. That’s how his address ended up in my address book, and that’s how he got propositioned by me accidently.
I was mortified, as you can imagine. Luckily, I am quite accustomed to humbling life experiences. They’re my bread and butter, in fact. I get all my material for my books from my real life, and God sends me lots of character-building lessons.
Pretty soon I got to wondering: Would the Bishop accept my friend request? The way I see it, he has to, doesn’t he? I’m a sheep in his flock and all that. Right? That’s part of the Bishop job description, don’t you think? Tending to lost sheep? I’m not lost in the big picture, of course. I’m not a drug addict or suicidal or thinking about blowing anything up, but still–I’m out here panhandling with words, trying to make a living as a writer in suburbia. I’m expecting a call from my parish priest at any moment. I may be in big, big trouble.
I’ll keep you posted. Stay tuned.