Thursday, November 18, 2010

Can A Writer Be Too Comfortable?

There's a great discussion going on over in the comments section on Dean Wesley Smith's blog. (The post is about someone else's post about the new James Frey scandal.) The comments discussion, as usual on Dean's blog, covers a lot of territory. But the major topic on this one is education, what it's good for, day jobs, and work ethic.

And one of the things I have to admit is that I am a little too comfortable to be really successful as a writer. But I don't know that that's a bad thing. Sure I wish that the opportunities available today had been available when I was younger and hungrier.

One problem with comfort is that opportunities alone aren't enough. They are like the teacher in the zen saying "When the student is ready, the teacher appears." If you need something, you make opportunities even when they aren't there. If you don't really need something, well, it's like that scene in the last Shrek movie where an overweight Puss In Boots won't go after the mouse which is drinking out of his bowl of cream. "I'll get him later," he says.

That mouse is an opportunity which Puss is too comfortable to take.

On the other hand....

I am a contrarian. I come from a very stubborn lineage - a mixture of English Puritans, French Canadians and Irish. I prefer to dance my own steps. I always choose the tougher path. (I can only wish I would be as prescient as Gonzo the Great - who in The Muppet Movie was headed to Bombay to break in to movies. He felt that heading for Hollywood would be doing it the easy way. And now look! Mumbai is the center of Bollywood - the biggest film industry in the world.)

I am also a late bloomer. I like to explore everything carefully before I make up my mind and throw myself into something. When I was young, I ate a very limited diet. Mainly Cheerios, bananas and white rice. I am now one of those aggressive foodies who will eat just about anything. I learned to read Chinese so I could ask for the Real Stuff in Chinese restaurants. (I still won't eat animals which I consider to be pets, and I would be reluctant to eat most insects. But chicken feet? No problem.)

The time I have taken over these many years (nearly thirty since Clarion) have given me tools to do exactly what I want. Having all of that stuff from my life lying around, and having the opportunities of the new ebook revolution, AND having the luxury to pursue it my own way at my own pace - that's all really very cool.

The French have a phrase "d'un certain age" (often applied to women, although it gets applied to men too especially in terms of a midlife crisis). This is the era of women of a certain age. We drive a lot of the market now. (We buy far more DVDs than those younger men that advertisers used to go after, for instance.) It's the age where you're comfortable enough to not give a shit. There's power in that.

So let's face it, I may be reasonably comfortable, but I'm not satisfied. I'm not where I want to be. That mouse should not feel too comfortable around me. I don't actually have to get him right this second, but when I want him, I will get him. Like an old momma cat, no messing around.


DavidRM said...

I can relate to this, though not from the writer angle.

I've spent the last 11 years as a self-employed independent software developer. Before that, I worked a full time job during the day while I built my own software at night. I probably quit that full time job at least a year too early, because the first several years of self-employment were ... "lean" is a good word. Now, though, and for the past 3-4 years, I've been almost comfortable. My software brings in enough to keep the family fed and clothed and sheltered. Even enough for some savings.

Now I'm doing to my indie software what I once did to my full time job: I'm pushing it to one side (some) as I put in the time to build a writing career. Unlike before, though, my software income is mostly "passive". I don't have to clock more than a small number of hours a day to keep that going. I have almost an ideal situation with which to build a writing career.

But yet, that same situation takes off some of the edge, the need to succeed. Not *all* of the edge. I still get impatient with the slow build (especially because I've gone through this before, starting from nothing selling my software), but if it doesn't work out, I don't starve. Neither does my family.

I prefer positive, non-starvation-oriented motivation. But sometimes I miss the thrill, the fear. Sometimes I wonder if I'm too comfortable and if that's going to slow me down.

Anyway, that's my rambling response. =)

Thanks for a good post.


The Daring Novelist said...

Thanks, David. Certainly these kinds of thoughts are important inside and outside of writing.

The key is to find the balance - what works, what gets you motivated, and encourage that in your life.