When you write for a living as opposed to "just writing", suddenly, everything is seen in terms of cash. How much money could I be making for a short story that just came to me one night, the characters already forming, like the opposite of ghosts in my head, transparent people growing more opaque? Presently, I fetch about Rs 5 a word, on average, more if I'm lucky, and I try to never let it go lower. This is a good rate for a freelance writer in India, given that every second person I meet wants to be a freelancer themselves, and most newspapers offer you Rs 2. You have to make it worth your while, otherwise it shows in your writing. A hurried piece is unsatisfactory, even if you consider yourself a fairly good writer, even if the readers of that paper may have never read your stuff before, you know it's not your finest.
But it's hard to stay fine when it's what you do for cash. I think (and this may not be a great metaphor, but it's the only one I can come up with at the moment that seems to fit) of a prostitute. That's intimate stuff, and it's being put out there for money. Much like a freelance writer. Do you imagine the prostitute always performs well? Or are there hit or miss days for them as well, days when they make love with passion and energy and days when they scrape by with just a well done hand job? I know, writing wise, I have hand job days--my work is swift, it gets you to the end, it's not unsatisfactory. But it's not the orgasm the reader could have had.
Freelance work is most days a whole lotta nothing. There are days I spend watching mindless TV, going back to bed and reading after the maid has gone for the day and can't judge me, texting friends as early as I can (not before 4, because you don't want to look like you have nothing to do, not after 5, because they'll have already made plans for the evening) to see if they want to meet later that day. Killing time. I may as well be a murderer, like the Mad Hatter said to Alice. There is no genius burning, nothing like I imagine the old days of writers to be, a lot of writing in an attic and then an evening pint with other writer friends. And the funny thing is, if you count all the extra (meaning: non-book related) work I have, and the amount of Twitter/Facebook/blog stuff I do, I'm writing more than I have in my entire life. It's just not "work" writing. Not "career" writing either. It's just... writing.
They don't tell you about the not glamorous days. I met a boy at the IIM I was at recently, and he said to me, shiny eyed, "Tell me about your life! I watch Californication, is your life like that?" I laughed and said that was like asking a surgeon whether their life was like Grey's Anatomy, but even friends, random people I meet say, "Oh, your life looks so exciting!" And I feel the need to wave my cigarette holder about, kiss people on the cheek, weave flowers through my hair, compulsively write in my little Moleskine at parties, be the kind of writer that people who want to be writers try to be. Horn rimmed glasses and all. Throw about a good mango/seduction metaphor. Talk about my perfect writer-y life, in the perfect writer-y flat with the perfect writer-y cat. When in reality, some days, I wake up to uninspiration. Some days, I am longing for the sound of someone else's voice inside my head. Some days I think I'll never be able to write again, that every word that leaves my fingertips sounds hackneyed and trite. Some days, my perfect writer-y cat greets me with a perfect poop in the middle of the living room floor.
They don't tell you how lonely it's going to be. That being a writer means long hours, thankless wages and no distractions. That there's no such thing as "no distractions". Very rare meetings. No colleagues. The fact that you lose all social skills after a while because you no longer know how to talk to people. Irritability that lasts for days. Insomnia. Days when you feel completely and utterly worthless because all you are, all your self worth is tied into how well you can write and you haven't written a sentence in two weeks. Days when you kind of hate that everyone is moving on with their lives on to bigger better things and you're still stuck with a job that will never pay you as much as your MBA friends are getting. Days when the Project Of Your Life that you're working on, your new baby, has to be described to someone who asks "what do you do?" quite innocently at a party and as the words leave your mouth and they look even slightly skeptical, you're suddenly thrown into doubt, "OH MY GOD, WHAT AM I DOING?"
To know that you're doing what you've wanted to do since you were a little girl, so convinced were you that you would some day be a Writer that no one was actually surprised except you when you became one, is the most wonderful feeling. But still. Some days are better than others. Some weeks are better than others. You do what you love and you do what you can.