In a concerted effort to “give back” what has been provided to me by writers who have come before me, I have made myself available as a writing mentor for several universities and organizations. I believe you pay back as you go, not when your career is over. The following questions and answers are from student writers who found me via the Columbia University Center for Career Services Alumni Resource Network.
Q: What do you think I need to know to make an intelligent decision about writing for a living?
BOLES: The first thing to realize that the life of a writer, be it one of a playwright, author, freelancer or screenwriter is governed by instability and unpredictability when you begin. Starting out in the writing business means that one month you might make $12,000 in royalties and then the next six months you earn nothing. It’s the nature of the beast. I’m lucky that I have a lovely and loving wife who understood the caste of a creative writer when we first got married. It was her steady income early on that freed me to write. We considered her paycheck our “daily bread” while my waning and waxing riches were the butter we sometimes spread across our crumbs. Writing is a Calling and its cures and curses are not unlike those who serve The Cloth of God. Read my Go Inside article, Greater Goodness, for the details on that comparison. The key for me is writing — it doesn’t matter how, when or what as long as I can do it to experience the world.
Q: What is the best practical preparation for this? Can you think of an especially worthwhile internship/part-time job? Do you know of companies that offer such?
BOLES: The best thing you can do to prepare yourself for the life of a writer is to make certain you have a steady form of income that will cover your monthly nut. After you’ve accomplished that feat, you need to read and drink in every worldly experience you can and then process it through your unique voice and point of view.
I’ve started over 60 new writers here in Go Inside by giving them their first publication in print, so dedicating yourself to an effort similar to the mission we share here will speak a lot about your passion and perspective while giving outside Editors a chance to read and enjoy your work.
Q: If you could do it all over again, would you choose the same path for yourself? Is there anything you would change?
BOLES: Writing isn’t a choice. You either must do it or not.
I probably would’ve majored in History instead of English if I could change one thing. History is important because it is a roadmap to what we’ve become. History helps you navigate and associate the unknown by revealing the patterns of pleasure and problems embedded in the experience of the Family Of Man. There’s nothing new in the world and good writing is simply re-inventing what has come before you in a new and delightful way.
If I didn’t have the Calling to write, I would’ve majored in Mathematics because your work is either right or wrong. Taste doesn’t play a part in the solution of your math problem. When you’re a Writer, however, there is no right or wrong. You can become a slave to a thousand differing tastes, and that disparity can kill you if you try to please everyone. Make yourself your own worst critic and then write to please yourself first and the audience will follow if you write well enough to lead them.
Q: What is your workday like? How does your creative process work?
BOLES: A writer’s life is never-ending. I’m up at 8 am and writing until midnight every day, all day. That can be hard on a marriage. Vacations? They don’t usually exist. I have several projects in various states of completion in several arenas and I’m torn across the globe to complete them all on deadline. I write because I must, not because I love it.
The secret of good writing, as Howard Stein (my former Columbia University Playwriting Professor and Contributing Editor for this magazine) taught me is: “Ass on chair.” Making yourself sit down and create is more important than the desire to write.
My creative process is sparked by “What If” scenarios inspired by the daily news. I have hundreds of “What Ifs?” popping into my head every day. I then self-hypnotize myself to discover if playing out these “What If?” ideas in my mind are worth pursuing on the page or not.
Q: From your perspective, what are the pros and cons for working in this area?
BOLES: Pros: You are your own boss. You make your own schedule. You can experience life from an aesthetic point of view. You selflessly serve the spirit of humanity. You can get very rich. Royalties from your writing becomes your annuity.
Cons: Unpredictable payments. People lie about your talent in order to steal your ideas. You must deal with some people who are stupider than you but have more money than you and they have the final say on your creative project. The final con is the inability to separate taste from judgement — and in a writer’s life — there’s no conundrum more frustrating that can serve such a severe effect on a career.
Q: Which professional organizations and journals should I know about?
BOLES: I don’t bother with organizations or journals because there’s too much time and energy spent on “the politics of the group” than on writing. Writers work alone and when you get a bunch of writers together in a room, no one gets any writing done!
When you become an established writer, there will be various bodies you’ll be required to join due to union restrictions, but worrying about them now is unimportant.
What’s important now is to find someone who understands your need to write — for writing is a lonesome life and sharing that isolation with someone who unconditionally accepts your Calling is paramount to protecting your sanity and career.
Q: Could you think of someone else I should contact or ask for advice?
BOLES: No. Ask no more! Now do. You have all the answers you need to get started. Write. Just write. There is nothing else.
As I get more questions from other writers, I’ll add to this Q&A accordingly. Keep the Faith and Keep Writing!