The Opportunity Cost

I’m one of the unfortunates blessed with more than one ability. For writers it is helpful if they are instead blessed only with one ability: to write. If you’re capable of achieving success in multiple endeavors, writing by comparison is a difficult pill to swallow. Writing is a solitary endeavor plagued frequently by immense investment and little fiscal reward.  Sure,  it’s easy to say that the intrinsic rewards make it all worthwhile, but at the end of the day we’ve all gotta eat. And this is the quandary someone like myself faces. I can do more than write. I can do a lot of things well which pay well. I can make a living as an economist, working as an analyst at a bank, or as a computer scientist, developing out-of-this world software. Money beckons. But fulfillment lies in writing,  and that is a future much more uncertain. So, as I have a family for which I provide, I must find a way to make the ends meet while pursuing the unlikely (or so I’m told) dream of making a living as a writer. And yes, it doesn’t have to be gobs of money. My wife and I can swing a double-wide on a few acres of land in the middle of nowhere and live “off the grid” if that’s what it takes… But we still have to get there. Which means I’m going to have to suffer being good at things which make lots of money until the day I’ve developed my abilities enough and my reader-base enough to rely on the writing income alone. The challenge–the primary challenge–is to put in the blood, sweat, and tears necessary to develop as a writer when the easy tedium of a “normal” life calls so strongly… The fat paychecks arrive reliably on a biweekly schedule, and life does it’s best to be similarly uncomplicated. There is no uncertainty there, and if you’re reasonably good even the loss of a cushy gig doesn’t scare you much because other cushy gigs abound. A writer chooses a much more uncertain, dangerous path. How much will you make? When will you get paid? Will it be enough to cover rent, utilities, credit card payments, groceries, insurance? Your wife may never ask, but these are the questions you both worry about. Sometimes it seems easier to smother the creative voices inside which percolate ideas and themes and images and opt for the easy road early. But therein lies the rub. Smother those voices and you become just another unfulfilled middle-aged male watching football on Sundays while his wife nags him to take out the garbage, stain the porch, and show more interest in the kids. Those people drink more beer than they should and drown themselves in whatever meaningless entertainment they can find to distract themselves from the screams of their dying creative side. But they have a steady paycheck and life is okay.

There are no easy answers. The only one which is clear is that in order to be fulfilled a writer must write, even if only for themselves. Making a living at it is a secondary concern which will mostly realize itself as more books are written. They say you have to write a million words before you’re any good anyhow, and that’s a lot of words. So you write your ten books and then start writing good stuff, and maybe you self-publish on Amazon, and maybe 100 people buy your book(s). And maybe that’s not enough to pay the bills and you have to keep the job with the steady paycheck, but at least that way you’re still fulfilled. And then, even if you are a middle-aged balding male, you don’t feel empty inside because you’re listening to the voices inside, expressing them, and by doing so validating yourself more deeply than anything else in your life can. You may even voluntarily take out the trash, stain the deck, and help the kids with their homework.

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