The Voluntary Luxury of Writing

When a young man approached Philip Roth to ask his advice to a newly published novelist, Roth told the man to quit while he was ahead. Roth went on to describe the life of a writer as torturous and “awful.” But fellow famous scribe, Elizabeth Gilbert, can’t fathom why anyone would complain about being a writer. The Eat, Pray, Love author published a response on Bookish in which she puts it all in perspective:
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I’m going to share a little secret about the writing life that nobody likes to admit: Compared to almost every other occupation on earth, it’s f*cking great. I say this as somebody who spent years earning exactly zero dollars for my writing (while waiting tables, like Mr. Tepper) and who now makes many dollars at it. But zero dollars or many dollars, I can honestly say it’s the best life there is, because you get to live within the realm of your own mind, and that is a profoundly rare human privilege.

The sad reality is that we live in a sorrowful world, where people all around us suffer and die in great injustice and pain. That suffering is real. And even those souls who are not abjectly suffering at any given moment are often bored and restless, or trapped in truly rotten occupations where they are daily degraded and unappreciated in a thousand mundane ways. To choose to be a mere writer in this tearful world, then (either for pleasure, or for a living) is a profoundly luxurious act. Because let’s keep it in perspective, writers: Our books don’t exactly feed the hungry.


In short, established writers out there, never throw yourself a pity party. And emerging writers, don’t be discouraged by the cranky old, white men trying to dissuade your tiny, passionate dreams.

Oscar Raymundo
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