A professor interviewed me today about journalism, taking me back to my old career for a half-hour or so. After I got off the phone, I found myself wondering if I missed journalism.
The answer was … sort of. I certainly don’t miss being enmeshed in the industry’s woes and anxieties, and feeling like my best efforts are a bit of spit in a hurricane. I do miss the adrenaline rush of having a huge story burst into being, forcing everybody to scrap everything and race like hell to get their arms around whatever’s happened. But what I miss most of all is the camaraderie of the newsroom.
Writing out of your own home has its advantages — the dress code can’t be beat, and the commute isn’t bad either. (It’s 19 degrees in New York City right now.) But it’s also true that writing is fundamentally a lonely business. It’s days and days of being at your station, broken up by hours of collaboration with editors or other folks and stolen minutes of (largely digital) exchanges with readers and friends.
If you’re a writer, you signed up for this: Nothing happens unless you’re at your desk and dedicating your brain to chiseling a finished piece of writing out of the rough block of an idea. Nothing happens unless you devote the time — and it’s time spent necessarily in isolation.
Is there a way to mitigate this? Not for me. I sometimes wish I could write in coffee shops, but my Star Wars books require a ton of reference material kept close at hand, and no matter what I’m writing, I work through problems and dead ends by wandering around, sometimes muttering to myself. That attracts little notice in newsrooms, which are preserves for eccentrics and malcontents anyway. But a Starbucks barista would probably call the law.
When I first daydreamed about being a full-time writer, I suspect I let myself imagine some fantasia of non-stop book tours and conventions, packed readings and signings. And hey, sometimes I still do. The reality, of course, is that the vast majority of writers are signing up for a life of obscurity and financial peril. And even the brightest stars in the literary firmament spend most of their time alone, with their butts in their chairs.