Ten years ago when our son moved out of the house for the last time I quickly took over his bedroom. I peeled off ancient wallpaper, patched and painted, bought new office furniture, and custom-made a few pieces in my workshop. I threw pictures on the wall, erected shelves, rolled out a rug and moved in. Having a space of my own where I could write unencumbered was a dream come true. I congratulated myself on reaching professional status. I was a real writer at last. It’s only now I realize I was somewhat confused.I wrote my first two books in the basement on a 64K computer with a floppy disk drive that for its day was the latest in technology. It was a family computer, the only one we had and so I had to negotiate time. Mostly I used it at night after the kids had finished pecking out the alphabet or playing memory games on it. It took 5 years to write two books this way.
In the middle of my third book, I faced a looming deadline. I packed up everything – files, crates of research material, printer, newly purchased laptop – and moved into my tiny basement workshop. I set up a folding card table between the table saw and drill press, strung sheets of plastic from ceiling joists to zone off the area, and hunkered down to work. I let it be known that unless blood-letting was involved under no circumstances was I to be bothered. For the most part, everyone cooperated. My wife – bless her – kept the kids at bay and brought down sweets to stave off starvation. Even the dog stayed away.
Other books followed, all written in different locations around the house or in coffee shops I frequented. When my 25 year old son, who had already left and returned home a few times, made what I considered to be his final move, I was more than ready to claim his room as my own.
Oddly enough creativity and productivity didn’t increase significantly. Life intervened with a few curve balls – a new granddaughter, a kitchen renovation, aging parents – and the surplus time I imagined having when I retired from teaching largely went to other things. All this forced me to re-evaluate my self-worth. Was I any less a writer now?
I’ve come to the conclusion that being a professional might have less to do with actual writing than it does other things. Think deadlines, royalties, tax forms, accountants, media hype, a fan base, websites, speaking engagements, a Facebook presence. For many writers, these are indicators of writing success, but notice the absence of the word ‘writing’. Being a professional writer sometimes has more to do with the business of writing than writing itself.
There is another breed of writer who is often forgotten in our quest for professional status. There are writers who have ink in their blood, and while they might also write professionally, they are motivated by different things. Writing is their way of making sense of the world. They write for the joy it brings, not necessarily for glory or money although these are nice side benefits if they come. Writers with ink in their blood write because they must, it’s an integral part of who they are, it’s their chosen form of expression. They write even if a paycheck isn’t in the offering, and they write often, from anywhere whether it’s from a basement workshop, a jail cell, park bench or even from a newly appointed office.
Larry Verstraete (www.larryverstraete.com) is the author of 13 non-fiction books for youngsters. Science, history and true adventure are his favourite subjects. His version of nirvana is writing about topics that weave together all three.
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