By Drew Hayden Taylor
Original published in June 2014
As with many things in life, there are many benefits and just as many drawbacks to being a writer: The proverbial double edged sword. I have frequently written about many of my favourite aspects to the career I have chosen. I love the travel opportunities it has provided. I love the people it has allowed me to meet. I love being able to discuss issues, topics and humorous stories that tickle my fancy.
No getting up at seven in the morning, grabbing a quick shower, breakfast, feed the kids, and making it to work at the same time everybody else does. Don’t have a sore back at the end of the day. No office politics to deal with (unless they are with yourself). That’s just to name a few. All in all, a pretty good life. It’s usually indoors, air conditioned, and clothing optional (while writing that is).
And the downsides to a literary career? Some of them may seem silly. Waking up and figuring out what city you are in when on a book tour. Sitting in a chair the entire day. Not getting out of the house all day. There are also the infrequent cheques to manoeuver, but you learn to deal with it. Trying to figure out the difference between a split infinitive and a dangling participle. Stuff like that.
But occasionally, one of the more unique annoyances pops up when you least expect it. Lately, it’s been at poker. About a month or so ago, when I was taking a break from a casual game at a local restaurant, a man stopped me on the way to the bathroom. He had heard I was a writer. Most of the other players were retired working class white guys, so I guess I stood out as both Native and actively employed in the literary arts.
Eagerly, he told me he had tried to get a book published, a series of short stories about Algonquin Park, and realized upon re-reading it, he needed somebody to ghost write it for him. Another perspective to rewrite and polish the tales he was trying to tell. He asked if I wanted to take a shot at the stories for him.
Several months before, in the midst of a similar game, a new member to the poker festivities found out I was a writer. For the next 15 or 20 minutes during the game, this man immediately tried to convince me that I needed to write his biography. He swore up and down it was a fabulous story and that I should drop everything and put his life on paper. This man literally seemed confused and puzzled that I didn’t jump at the chance.
What gets me is they never ask what kind of writer I am. The term “writer” is such a broad term, with so many different genres, they never ask what kind of writing I do—fiction, journalism, prose, poetry, creative non-fiction, theatre, etc. Granted I do write in most of those fields, but that’s beside the point. It’s like saying you are a scientist. There are so many different branches of science that to say you are just a scientist is practically meaningless.
For all these people know, I could be a writer of technical manuals for the operation of Zambonis. Or episodes of Murdoch Mysteries. Or even more interestingly, maybe I only write gay porn. That would definitely add a unique flavour to those short stories about Algonquin Park or that man’s biography!
You want to be polite, but frequently they are quite insistent. Nobody more than a writer knows the hope and, occasional desperation, that can come from wanting to tell your story, and finding a way to do it. Still, it never occurs to them that maybe you have projects of your own lined up for the next year or three.
Books these people suggest are a serious investment of your time, taking up a sizable chunk of the year. This means you have to really have a personal attachment to the concepts. You don’t troll restaurants and poker games looking for projects like this to occupy your time.
Oh well, I suppose it’s a small cross to bear. My mother once told me she worked for 40 years and never once had a job she enjoyed. Now that scares me.