Harlan Ellison’s recent demise and an upcoming eulogy in his honor at a science fiction convention have caused me to remember the time when I first knew that I had to be a writer and nothing else. I’ve written about it on numerous occasions because it is such an integral piece of my past. I was moping through my year at the University of Santa Clara, majoring in drugs and degradation, when I happened to take a class on science fiction as literature. In the textbook was Ellison’s story “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream.” By the end of reading that story I knew that I wanted to become a writer and thrill readers as I had just been thrilled.
It was the writing that fate had gifted me at that moment. Not money, not fame, not even publication. The writing itself. The knowledge that I was a writer thrilled me through and through. If I had been in it for the money, I would have chosen an occupation that had more certain possibilities of fiscal rewards. Instead, I wanted the words, the pure words. To find them, I took off on the road, near broke but full of vision. I ended up staying gone for thirty-five years and living in all sorts of far corners of the Earth. I found my voice, though; that was the whole point of the trip.
And it continues to be. Lately – or perhaps I should say for several years now – I have been longing for a strong flow of finances so that I can focus purely on the writing that comes from the gut and the heart and the soul. The way it works now, with my present schedule, from seven in the morning until eight in the evening I write articles and suchlike things to pay the bills. Then from about nine-thirty or ten at night, I work on my creative endeavors until about eleven or eleven-fifteen. My vision is to put a stop to that pointless for-money-only work and spend all those hours on the writing I love.
But let’s get back to the core of this essay, the concept of the writing as the gift. When I received that burst of insight that caused me to realize I was a writer, I didn’t think about the money and I didn’t think about the fame; I thought about the words and the effects of the words. That’s all there was for me at that moment. All the rest are bells and whistles. Not to say I don’t need those things: more and more, as time goes on, I realize the urgency of increasing my income. However, what I have to keep in mind is that whether I am wealthy or not, I still have the words. It doesn’t cost anything to write the words. And thanks to self-publishing outlets like Kindle and other sites, it doesn’t cost anything to publish them either. Those sites have got cover creators and layout assistance and instructions to guide you every step of the way.
Don’t get me wrong. We all want that fame and fortune. Well, to be honest, I don’t give a damn about the fame. I want people to read my words, but I’m more than content to stay off the talk shows and podcasts. The money, though: that I need. I’m getting tired and I need to be able to slow down the pace.
In the meantime, I have the words. They’ve been with me for over forty-five years now and show no sign of abating. They’re like a perpetual fountain, always ready to arrange themselves through my direction and focus. Remember this, writers young and old: through all of life’s vagaries you may lose a lot; you may be frequently disoriented and unsure and downright lost; you may even despair from time to time. Remember that despite all your difficulties, you still have the words. The writing is the gift; the writing is the reward.