One of my favourite writers Pico Iyer (stellar travel writer, lukewarm novelist) taught a one-day writing class recently. I didn’t take the class, but someone who did provided some notes on it.
Excerpted from Laurie King’s notes:
“On making a living: Concentrate on your writing. Make it really good. Get your enjoyment from the writing, and consider getting published “extra.” “Books hardly pay anything, even if it seems like people are buying them.” Iyer says he writes 10 articles a month to pay the bills; the books are extra.”
I find that really gratifiying and reassuring. When I was young, I wanted to be a writer, and got a mixed family response from my family on that: my grand-dad bought me my first typewriter, but my parents discouraged me from majoring in English and steered me towards the sciences instead. “How are you going to earn a living?”
Here and now, I’ve figured my writing genre is travel-writing, I enjoy it, it’s easy for me, and I have lots of material. Unlike short stories (was never quite able to finish any of them). Forget the great American novel (too long to even begin properly). Once upon a time I did want to write a history of my family, especially about my grandfather (my typewriter benefactor), but for one reason or another, it’s just too complicated to do. Some events, memories and personalities are too sensitive and tender to air out while they are still living.
Most of friends read my travelogues say: ‘You should become a travel writer.’ (Which is the most ‘pleum’ compliment. I don’t know how to translate the nuance of this Thai word, but it’s roughly “thrilling and full of pride”)
And in the moments where I despair of my job, I fantasize about it, but then would I really make enough money to live on from it? After I took the travel-writing class, I actually leaned away from that direction. Why?
To do travel-writing for bread and butter entails writing in a commercialized flavour, unless you’re Pico Iyer, in which case, anything you write would be published.
When I do write, I write what I want to write about, and sometimes they are the trite and tangential details I want to point out, even if they actually aren’t worth the time to read them. For me writing is a self-indulgence, and allows me to exercise my style. (And of course, that’s why I also like blogging.) To write otherwise would be unenjoyable and untrue to myself.
If I were ever to get published and paid for it, it would simply be frosting on the cake.