Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Writers in the Closet

An article in the New York Times details our secret sides, the alternate personalities we create in response to trauma or to hide unsavory behavior. Family men (and it does seem to be mostly men) by all appearances, but with second wives, addiction to coke, frequent flyer points at the local brothel. Typical stuff.

I also have a secret life that involves hookers and heroin. (If it were only that interesting.) No, my secret life is as writer. Like an addiction, you could argue that writing is destroying me, that it is a compulsion that has no ultimate reward; it serves an escape from ordinary boredom and unpleasantness. If insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result, then writing -- with its cycle of toil, rejection, sometime reward, and toil again -- fits the bill.

As with any compulsive behavior, I keep this secret hidden from many. Primarily, people in two groups: my work colleagues, and acquaintences who don't write. The former is an easy call, as my full-time job is not the place to parade such hobbies or ambitions, lest they interfere with my stated duty to the company. Paranoid, perhaps, but daddy's gotta earn some bread and he don't like taking chances. Just like an alcoholic who doesn't drink at work.

Civilians are a different matter. It might be condescending not to detail my writing inner life to these folks, but hey! When you tell someone you write fiction in any capacity, the next question is, inevitably: "Have you published a book?" And when you tell them no, you haven't, or no, but publishers are considering it, it is greeted with the incoherent nod or self-protective smile of the unimpressed.

My first employment following college was decidedly boring, and at parties and such, to impress people, I would say, "I work at this crappy job, but I'm working on a novel." And every subsequent time I would meet these same people, I would hear the same questions: "So, have you published your novel yet?" or "How's the novel going?" or "Can I read your novel?" and before I could excuse myself to get more beer and Doritos, I had to answer, "Uh, I'm not finished. It's going shitty. I'm a shitty writer. Go away."

Other writers tell me tales of similar woe. Non-writers just don't get it. Then again, they're not insane.