Writing isn’t hard work,
it’s a nightmare.
– Philip Roth
For those of us who make our living at least partly by writing, it’s been an alarming two months.
Not that I mean to imply that professional writers are only those who can support themselves entirely by writing and publishing. Far from it. If that were the criterion, America’s professional writing class could be jammed into a stretch Escalade. Certainly there would be no poets or short story writers. There would be a tiny handful of big-selling novelists, a few popular historians and biographers, and some columnists for the national newspapers and magazines. That’s about it.
But, no, professional writers are people who act like professionals when it comes to writing, people who write diligently and everyday, who don’t make excuses for why they can’t make the time.(1)
I’m a poor cousin to the fraternity of professional writers, having always made my living elsewhere. Although I’ve published six books, fifty white papers, a book of poems, 116 blog posts, and innumerable essays and op-eds, the reality is that a lifetime of my royalties wouldn’t cover one year at any of the colleges my kids have gone to.(2)
Still, I consider myself a professional, if part-time, writer. I write and publish 5,000 words every week, fifty-two weeks a year. That makes me a slacker compared to most serious writers, who typically aim for about 1,000 words/day. Trollope famously targeted, in his words, “250 words every quarter of an hour,” a pace that allowed him to complete two dozen books while working full-time for the British post office.(3) Faulkner typically produced three times that figure.
A part-time writer writes in the random moment: in the wee hours, when no one else is awake; in a narrow airline seat en route to LGA, my seatmate trying to read over my shoulder; while chaperoning my son’s twelfth birthday party; during the Super Bowl.
I try to take it seriously. One of my proudest moments as a writer occurred just last year when, over a span of fourteen days, I suffered a heart attack while traveling in France, returned to the US a week later, underwent a failed heart catheterization, had open heart surgery, spent a long day in the critical care recovery unit, and was finally discharged from the hospital three days later.
During this period I completed all client work for Greycourt, finished and sent off to John Wiley & Sons a proposal for my next investment book (the contract for which was finally signed in December), produced the first draft of the introduction to a book of poetry (which eventually appeared in November), and published my blog posts precisely on schedule. The first post was written three days after the heart attack and the second was written one day after sextuple bypass surgery.
Of course, it didn’t have to happen that way. The Wiley proposal could have been sent off weeks later. The poetry book could have appeared this year rather than last year. And if I’d missed two blog posts in a row all that would have happened is that I’d have received a lot of emails from readers asking if I’d gone on a bender.
In other words, although the period between June 24 and July 6 was marked by chaos and fear for my family, to my readers it was just another seamless period in the life of a peripatetic writer. Which is as it should be. To the readers, it wouldn’t have mattered if I’d written a word during that period. But it mattered to me.
Writing, of course, isn’t normally a matter of life and death. Heart attacks are a matter of life and death. Open heart surgery is a matter of life and death. But writing, not so much. That’s not to say that writing is all peaches and cream. My books, white papers and blog posts are opinionated, and, naturally, other opinions differ, sometimes violently. And then there are the benighted Internet trolls, people who hide behind the Net’s anonymity in order to hurl creepy barbs without fear of retaliation. Once, some years ago, my life was threatened – in open court, of all places – by a fellow who then raced off and was at large for nine days. I had to send my family out of town and every morning when I left for work I wore my trusty Smith & Wesson .38 Caliber Chief Special on my hip.(4)
Still, I was unprepared for what happened on January 7, when the radicalized Kouachi brothers stormed into the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris and gunned down six members of the editorial staff. And when, a few days later, several million French men and women marched in support of Charlie Hebdo, I was with them in spirit, outraged and horrified that expressing opinions could get you assassinated.
But then, as the days and weeks went by, I began to reexamine this opinion. I became more familiar with Charlie Hebdo, and I became more familiar with the France in which it flourished. I slowly realized that I’m not Charlie at all, and neither should you be. I’ll explain why in my next post.
(1) As Kafka put it, “ time is short, my strength is limited, the office is a horror, the apartment is noisy, and if a pleasant, straight-forward life is not possible then one must try to wriggle through by subtle maneuvers.”
(2) Oberlin, Chicago, Georgetown, Harvard, Davidson. So far. Two still to go.
(3) Trollope’s total production during his lifetime was an astonishing 63 books, mostly novels.
(4) Yes, I have a carry permit and, yes, I know how to use the .38. I was an MP back in the Vietnam days, in case you’ve forgotten. I’m officially qualified to kill you with six different weapons.
Next up: Am I Charlie? (Part 2)
[To subscribe or unsubscribe, drop me a note at GregoryCurtisBlog@gmail.com.]
Please note that this post is intended to provide interested persons with an insight on the capital markets and is not intended to promote any manager or firm, nor does it intend to advertise their performance. All opinions expressed are those of Gregory Curtis and do not necessarily represent the views of Greycourt & Co., Inc., the wealth management firm with which he is associated. The information in this report is not intended to address the needs of any particular investor.