When I attended the program in writing at the University of Iowa, my first prof was John Irving. Early on he gave us this assessment of the writing life: “Fiction writers had better realize, like poets do, that they won’t make a living off their writing, so they need to count on working some other job and writing on the side.”

Okay, good advice, no matter that a couple years later his book The World According to Garp set him permanently free from any work but writing.

My daughter Zoe likes expensive homes. I believe, or hope at least, it’s not the expense that impresses her but the aesthetics, the grace of architecture and decor. Anyway, a comment of hers led me to explain that as a novelist, one never knows what might happen soon. A friend of mine changed agents and in less than a month increased his annual income from $10,000 to several million.

Sure, the odds of my even qualifying for one of those homes Zoe admires, even if she could convince me to fall for one, are hovering just above zero. But, over the course of my rather lengthy life, the potential of a blockbuster has given me excuses for making some mighty unsound decisions. Such as giving up jobs a sane fellow would’ve kept, and so not having the resources to buy the three lots surrounding my home for $10,000. Fast forward about fifteen years: the last of the three lots sold for $300,000 and a mighty annoying McMansion is currently under construction.

When I taught at the University of Arizona, the chair of my department told me that each advance and all royalties from his five or six novels had gone into savings or investments. He hadn’t spent a dime of that loot on what I would’ve done, which is living without a job while I concentrated on writing.

On the other hand, if I were a practical fellow, I wouldn’t be such a dreamer. And if I weren’t such a dreamer, I probably wouldn’t feel compelled to write. I don’t know, maybe Bob the department chair had a sensible wife who handled the money. Lucky fellow.

I’m fairly content with what I have, except when my car, computer, washing machine or other pricey gizmo breaks and I need another. But people I love aren’t always so content, which is part of the reason I have two ex-wives, one of whom is currently lobbying for me to buy a new couch, just because the old one has some stains.

And it’s also a reason she, Zoe’s mom, would consider having her daughter committed if she chooses to become a writer.

Some people just don’t get it.


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