I recently marked the 15th anniversary of the day I quit stable, full-time employment to devote my time to freelance writing. It was the kind of milestone that caused people to remark, “Wow. That’s a long time to be writing.” And when you think of it in those stark terms, it is.
In fact, 15 years of freelance writing is anything but a lot of writing. Like most writers, I spent much of that time actually doing things that avoid writing. I thought it deserved a cumulative breakdown:
• I spent about five of those years fast asleep. That number would be higher if I included the 18 months I lay in bed wide awake wondering if some deadbeat publisher was going to pay me the $5,000 he’d promised; if I was ever going to work again; and if it was too late to get a job at some crayon factory or a place where they didn’t lay awake at night wondering if their career’s been one big mistake.
• An entire misguided year can be written off to time spent learning the intricacies of criminal law from Judge Lance Ito. I used to keep a TV in my office on the grounds that every news-gathering organization in the world had one and how could I gather news without CNN? The flip side of that is whenever someone like O.J. Simpson is arrested for killing his wife, I wind up making a garage-sized sum of popcorn and just sitting there watching the show. For what it’s worth, I think he did it.
• Spent about three months trying to coin a word whose sweeping usage will earn a place in the dictionary. Example: Glibberish -- pointless party chatter between two people who’d rather be talking to anyone else.
• I spent about six months watching J.R. Ewing and “Dallas” reruns on the Soap Network. Add another two months spent on the phone talking like schoolgirls about each episode with two other underemployed buddies who, like me, used to build their days around time at South Fork.
• Put down three solid months to reading rejection letters from esteemed editors. There are some editors at major magazines and newspapers who’ve devoted entire weeks of their lives to reminding me over and over that my ideas stink. I also spent about four months waiting at the mailbox or obsessively checking e-mails to learn those discouraging assessments.
• Spent at least three years playing with my daughters and the dog. I’ve heard no one’s ever said on their deathbed, gee, I wish I’d have spent more time working. I’m engaged in a life-long test of that theory and just pray that my deathbed isn’t a shabby piece of cardboard under some bridge.
• Not many writers would brag about it, but I spent about two years doing offbeat features for National Enquirer. I’ve been lucky to have my name published in some magazines that the buying public considers prestigious. But I’ve never had as much fun working as when I was doing more than 1,000 swashbuckling features for America’s most notorious newspaper.
• I spent about six months laughing on sunny golf courses and another six months laughing in darkened taverns. My wife, who calculates time differently than I, would peg those numbers at four years each.
• At least one calendar year’s been spent reading things on the internet that have nothing to do with improving my professional situation, but have become brain barnicles that are impossible to scrub off. For instance, the eyes we’re born with remain the same size throughout our lives, but our ears and noses grow a little bit every day. I’ve probably spent a couple weeks staring in the mirror to see if I could detect any movement in those prominent features.
• I’ve probably spent about six months lamenting that it’s taken me about 15 years to accomplish what other, more focused writers have done in about three.
• I cooked and consumed delicious seafood for lunch for about four months; took long soul-soothing walks for another six months.
• Negated all that accumulated serenity by spending almost six months waiting on hold for Verizon or other tech people to bail me out of infuriating stalls.
• All told, I figure I spent about seven months with my fingers poised on a keyboard actually engaged in the process of freelance writing.
• Took me about 45 minutes to write this.