I’ve found the perfect career.
For the past five years, I’ve felt a magnetic pull, drawing me into the process of writing. Words to sentences to paragraphs, I built a blog and completed two novels. I discovered the vulnerability, fear, validation, triumph of publishing. The positive reviews were exhilarating, but even the negative reviews felt oddly affirming, a necessary part of the experience. I figured my credentials were in order, and I was officially an author.
But apparently, I’m officially retired.
Since I began writing, countless folks have opened conversations, variations on the same theme:
“I want to be a writer.”
Amy: “I love writing.”
“Yeah, it’s the perfect career.”
Amy: unable to contain her smile, discovering a kindred spirit.
“I mean, I have a real job, but some day I want to retire and write.”
Amy: radiant smile growing dimmer.
“Being a writer, so perfect. You sit in a comfortable chair. All you do is nothing.”
Sometimes, the tone is matter-of-fact. More often, the words are laced with underlying condescension, as though my taking my writing seriously is a bit of a joke. Setting aside my annoyance, it’s a fascinating cultural commentary. With so many professing to be “avid readers,” I wonder how these folks think books are made — apparently by people parked on soft cushions, doing nothing.
When I hear these comments, I try to understand their perspective. A good book reads with a rhythm and flow that sweeps the reader into a current. If reading feels effortless, then I suppose it’s a logical conclusion that writing is effortless as well.
But it’s not.
It’s hard to argue the point without sounding bitter or whiny. In fact, I feel neither. Mainly, I feel curious about the gap between the common perception of writing, and the actual experience. I know how much thought I put into my work. I know I lie awake at night, puzzling over one word. I know how many thousands of hours go into each manuscript. Any good work is the result of hard-core effort. Yes, I love writing and yes, I feel grateful for the opportunity to write. I’m happy in my work but yes, it is actual work. Maybe it’s in the job description, extremely fine print: being an ongoing joke is a part of a writer’s career trajectory.
So I’m signing off, returning to my perfect career. I’m holding my laptop, seated in my favorite chair, diving into a process I can’t defend. An invisible window opens within, and a force deeper than consciousness begins to stir. I wait, trusting the tendrils that I can feel growing toward the surface. I concentrate as thoughts clarify themselves, begin to take form. The shape evolves into a structure with a pulse, an extension of my own heartbeat. I wander through a vast field of language, choosing sounds, dissonance, cadence.
After six minutes or six hours, I stretch and take a short break. Then I sit back down and do it again, and again, and again.
Amy Kaufman Burk is a novelist, blogger and mother of three grown children. Amy wrote her first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, in reaction to seeing gay students bullied in high school. Her second novel, Tightwire, follows a rookie psych intern through her first year of training. Amy blogs on a variety of subjects including parenting, LGBTQ+, gender equality and a Rolling Stones concert. She also collaborates with educators who include her books in their curriculum. To learn more about Amy, visit her website.