Dana Schwartz: Writing a Book Did Not Change My Life
Is There Such a Thing as the Mythic Writer's Life?
I did not lose 15 pounds after writing a book. I still go to bed mentally cursing the pouch of fat that has taken up residence beneath my bellybutton that ends up laced with the red marks of too-tight jeans.
My bedroom did not magically become cleaner, or receive more natural light. I wrote a book, but I am still not the type of person who wakes up early Sunday mornings, tucks her hair behind a bandana and scrubs the bathroom like a cheerful, Pinterest-y Cinderella. Post-book Dana still has take-out rotting in her fridge that she couldn’t afford to pay the $3.99 delivery fee on, but did anyway. A curdled skin of soy sauce still dots my kitchen table.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
When I was a Published Author, I would wake up in a bed with clean sheets and a 1,000 thread-count, and, after a breakfast of homemade bread and tea, would make my way over to a solid walnut desk, a fountain pen on hand ready to be lifted and help reveal my genius to reveal itself. The jam on my bread would come from berries in my garden (I can keep a garden not just alive, but thriving)and I end the day with a long jog at twilight that I go on because now I’m the type of person who just loves the way jogging clears my head and not the type of person who feels like throwing up a lung approximately four minutes after she convinces herself that going for a run was a good idea. The evening ends with a literary salon where Donna Tartt and Chimamanda Adichie and Michael Chabon and Lauren Groff and I listen to classical music and drink wine and laugh in my well-upholstered sitting room. None of us spill.
The miserable truth is, writing a book did not change my life. It made me proud, yes, and it made me a little bit of money (less, trust me, always less than people imagine, especially when tax season comes around), but I am still the same messy, procrastinating, nervous, usually sad person I was before I completed what had, up until that point, been my lifelong dream.
If anything, I am slightly more unanchored than I was before: back in the B.B. era (Before Book), whenever I conjured the hazy glowing image for my future, I had a goal post to in order to orient myself with my surroundings. I’ll write a book, I thought. It had been, until recently, the mirage in the distance that remained a hundred paces ahead of me, comforting in the knowledge that until I reached it, I didn’t have to have my shit figured out. I could figure my shit out once I reached it. Or rather, my shit having been figured out would be a thing for the passive voice: by the time I reached the goal, my shit will have been figured out.“We don’t become writers to burn our manuscripts when we complete them like paper-and-ink mandalas: we write for other people to read our work.”
Like a new relationship or a new pet, a new book is a gleeful distraction for one’s own miseries for a brief period of time. Who can wallow when you get to see a new cover design? Or do an interview? Or plan a book party where you get to be the center of attention?
It feels as though here should be the place where I say, if you’re planning on writing a book to become rich or to become influential or to go to glamorous parties, don’t do it. And that’s true: there are much faster and less masochistic ways to achieve all of the above (side note: if anyone has any invitations to glamorous parties, I make a great plus-one.) The advice I feel I’m supposed to give is, write as if you’re just writing for yourself, because you love telling a story. But that advice feels incredibly disingenuous, not only because it’s glib, but also because it’s not always true.
There are a lot of things you should do because you always enjoy doing it: watching Netflix. Going on roller coasters. Writing is not always enjoyable, and truth be told, I do not always write because I’m an artist who simply cannot but help to express herself creatively and who by putting pen to paper achieves the closest we mortals can to experiencing the bliss of Nirvana. We don’t become writers to burn our manuscripts when we complete them like paper-and-ink mandalas: we write for other people to read our work, to communicate something to the outside world. Sometimes writing is joyful and fun. A lot of times it is a chore.
My life did not change after I achieved the self-imposed milestone of writing a book. And so the only thing to do now is to write another. And another. And to keep writing for as long as I can and hope that while I’m doing this, while I’m working on propelling myself forward in the career I’ve chosen by constantly working and constantly improving, that I also become the type of person who makes her bed. I do not know how one becomes the type of person who makes her bed, but I have a sneaking suspicion it begins by making my bed.