The Beginning and The End

I’ve interviewed enough writers to notice a cumulative trend: Many writers have worked a day job they did not particularly love, yet made a fine living at it anyway. Every writer I know who makes a living writing, loves to write. Even writers who don’t make a living writing love to write. I used to be a waiter. It wasn’t bad work: I liked people, I liked moving around, I liked wine and food. Also, the world seems to need a lot of waiters. It’s hard to be an unemployed waiter. So it wasn’t bad work. I would not, however, have worked one minute as a waiter without the guarantee that I would be paid to do so. I will not tell you how many books, how many pages, how many words I wrote for which I was not nor will ever be paid a single cent.

But like most jobs, waiting tables serves a physical need. Like most jobs, waiting tables is a part of the never-ending business of not-dying, of staying clothed and fed, of trading stuff, of building stuff, and of knowing the rules of the world. It’s all very practical. The physical world is a practical place. You’ve got to chop some wood if you want to stay warm in the cold, cold winter.

The arts, of which writing is a part, are a little different. Yes, a book is a product, but this product serves only purpose, and it’s not a particularly practical one: to make people happy. People consume art not to keep themselves alive, but simply because they love it. That is the currency of art – love. Money comes with it, but first there is love.

Which is why, I think, the artist must love his or her work. It’s a transfer of love, after all. The writer says, “I love this idea! I want to write it.” Then an agent says, “I love it! I want to sell it.” And then a publisher says, “I love it! I want to publish it.” And then a reader says, “I love it! I want to tell other people about it.” And onward turns this great, impractical cycle, as books, just like the people who write and read them, will always begin and end in exactly the same place.

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