I was stunned. The message, of course is that what he does is infinitely more important than what I do. Out of curiosity, I asked him what he wanted to pay, and he told me there were many people around who would be willing to read and edit a whole 400 page manuscript and come up with 20 pages of notes for...the price of a great dinner in Manhattan.
Today, I was reading a piece about a 58-year-old man who had lost his job in the financial world and how he was stressing about finding another. My heart was shattering for him, right up until he brightly quipped, "But I can use this time to write a novel!"
Is being a novelist the catch-all job that anyone can do if he or she only had the time? (I once dated a Wall Street guy who insisted he was "going to write that novel" when he had banked enough money and could take a break. Um, he had four million banked. I had a friend who loved the idea of being a writer and told everyone that was her calling, but since she could not sit alone in a room for the hours every day she would need to, the best she did was jot down ideas in a notebook she carried around.) I welcome anyone to the writing party, but am I amiss to want those people to take the job seriously? Do people really not recognize how terrifically hard (and terrifically rewarding) a job it is? Do they imagine we sit at our desks daydreaming happily, waiting for inspiration, and then when it comes, the words pour out of us and we are giddy with delight? I welcome anyone who has the passion and drive and wants to write, but I want the 15 drafts, the angst, the false starts, the desperate, mad need to write--to be understood and to break through this idea that writing is all fun and glamour and a beach house filled with champagne.
Writing is a calling, but it is also a really difficult, exhilarating, grueling, terrifying, wonderful job. I just wish people would treat it that way, rather than something that everyone can take up in spare time like knitting, which, by the way, is not so easy, either.