I have here an email from a high-school senior in Texas who told me he wants to become a writer. He asked if I had any advice. Here is an excerpt from that letter:
“...Please help! I want to know how to pay my bills with writing! Any advice on this career path is appreciated.”
For starters, I have no advice. I’m terrible with advice. I’m even worse at paying bills, which is why my face is on posters at the local post office.
But I can tell you a story. And this story opens on a drizzly night in Atlanta. I was 24 years old. I sat in a little cafe, after hours, with an old man who I’ll call Moe. My band had just finished playing at a nearby beer joint. Moe had filled in as our substitute guitarist that evening.
In the back of the diner, a waitress was trying to force feed an elderly man in rags who was barefoot and shivering. Merle Haggard sang overhead.
Music is what I did before I became a writer. I played guitar with no-name bands. I did construction before that, but I quit that job to pursue music fo a while. Which was a huge mistake. This meant I had to “pay the bills” with music.
I was suddenly forced to take every gig that presented itself, from Chiefland to Timbuktu. So for years I played in ugly joints your mother warned you about. Occasionally, I also played at the Moose Lodge on bingo night. Or I played piano at revivals.
I quickly started to hate music. I discovered that the professional bar-musician life was not the carefree experience I once thought. I slept in crud-covered motels. I ate fast-food. I missed my wife.
I learned that the easiest way to kill what you love is to treat it like a career. I know this sounds painfully trite, but…