I read the funniest thing today: Some poll found that 60 percent of British people wish they could be authors, making it the most-desired job in all of England. A writer at The Guardian had the same first instinct I did, which was to explain to people why it’s actually a terrible job. He’s right about the “insecurity, loneliness, and paranoia” referenced in the headline. I’d add to that the fact that it’s not even really a “job” for most people who do it — at least not a full-time one. Even the reasonably paid ones (which I feel lucky to count myself among, because nonfiction sells better than fiction on average) don’t make enough on books alone to call a living. We either have full-time jobs and write around them, which means having no life at all, or freelance, which means we spend most of our time chasing down tiny checks just to make our bill payments every month. I would also add the routine rejection, on a daily/weekly basis from editors we pitch freelance pieces to, and on a grander scale when we submit our work to public consumption and reviews.
That said, I think I understand where these people are coming from, all these people who said they’d rather be an author than a “television presenter” (I like this Britishism better than our “TV host”) or a movie star. Being an author, at least a hugely successful one, allows a person to be some level of “famous” but does not involve being chase by paparazzi. No one is too concerned about, say, whom Stephen King or Gillian Flynn is dating. (I think they’re both married, but you get the idea.) It also allows a person to be famous for his or her brains and talent, not for a “bikini bod” or some other unsustainable quality. For a scant few very successful authors, the job allows for the best of all modern worlds: fame, recognition, respect, money, a profession born of passion, and a chance to work from home in a bathrobe. (I am literally in a bathrobe right now, so at least I got one of those down.) I submit to you that television presenter is a better job — you just read stuff off a screen and are still unlikely to be tailed much by paparazzi. But I guess you do have to spend more on skincare and get dressed, so maybe that’s a tossup.
In any case, I’ve decided to take this hilarious and rather meaningless poll as an opportunity to appreciate my “job” instead of indulging in the defensive urge to complain about it (aside from the above nitpicks). Writers have a funny habit of complaining about what they do at every opportunity. I think it’s actually related to this poll: Something about the job of “author” makes almost everyone think he or she could do it, so we feel the urge to explain that it’s not as easy as it looks. And that’s true; to be the kind of “author” these people are dreaming of takes a lot of work beyond sitting at the computer with coffee. Still, being an author does involve sitting at the computer with coffee, and those of us who do it for a living can also take a moment to appreciate that. Then we’ll get back to the complaining.