I don’t have 2 pretend 2 admire a writer’s work 2 secure an endowed chair.
I can write or I can refuse to write. No one cares either way. The pressure to “out perform” or “out do” whatever I did in a previous book disappears. No one waits with bated breath for my next publication. No one reviews my work. No one is worried if I don't write this week, or this month, or this year. Life trudges on without my insight. The world continues without my literary vision.
I don’t have the hassle of flying first-class to Prague or Paris or London to take part in some international writing conference. I’m not ravaged by jet lag and different time zones. I know exactly where I’ll lie my head down to sleep this month, next month, and for every month to come in the near future.
I can wallow in obscurity and live a normal life, free from money and awards, free from accolades and invitations, free from throngs of crazed followers, free from that messy paperwork involved in book publication, royalties, speaker fees, publicists. After work, I am able to eat my chicken noodle soup and grilled cheese sandwich at the table with my lovely wife.
I’m not called away to plush parties where people eat delicious food and drink good wine, gossip, tell jokes and stories about famous authors. I’m not obliged to attend lunches or dinners at expensive restaurants with other writers and critics and publishers who listen to every word I say, trying to interpret the subtext of my conversation. I can sit in my pyjamas and watch the football play-offs with a bag of chips and some of that yummy French onion dip.
By not being famous, I bypass the stress of negotiating a price for selling the movie rights to my book. I don’t have to deal with directors, producers, and actors vying for my book rights and inviting me to movie sets. I don’t have to dress up for the screening of the movie adaptation of my book. I am perfectly happy with Netflix, a bag of popcorn in the microwave, and a bottle of Yellow Tail merlot.
I have the humble experience of figuring out how to pay all of my bills each month without completely depleting my checking account.
I can be happy, grumpy, distasteful, generous, belligerent, or cocky because I don’t have to “play nice” with editors, publishers, or writers of notoriety. The press does not come calling me, asking for a comment. I don’t have to pretend to admire some writer’s work in order to secure an endowed chair. In fact, I don’t have to know what an endowed chair even looks like.
Since I am not a famous writer, I receive no invitations to speak or read at conferences or residencies. No one wants me to teach at a low-residency MFA program. I’m not weighed down by my own huge ego, expecting people to love everything and anything I write or say or think. Instead, I am able to live quietly and write in fear and extreme doubt.
If I was a famous writer, I would probably teach for an elite university (who would be delighted to have me) and I might teach one seminar class per semester consisting of ten students. I might teach two classes if I felt really motivated. Since I am not famous, I don’t have to deal with the all-consuming worry about how to fill my free time after work. I get to teach six classes per semester at a community college—three composition II classes (with 25 students in each), one composition I (25 students), one creative writing class (24 students) and one introduction to playwriting and screenwriting (16 students). I know how to keep busy.
There are minor perks that follow those of us who have eluded fame and fortune. We try to take some satisfaction from those writers who walked this road before us, good people like Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson. But the question remains: would I want to be a famous writer? After forty years on the force, I don’t think about it anymore. I join the millions of people who keep at it, writing without fame, without money, without accolades.
Like all writers, it’s what we do…
Can you think of more concrete benefits that arise from being an unknown writer?