What You Can’t Buy

So there was this woman who really wanted to be a full-time writer. She was desperate to leave her boring old job, to stop getting up at 6 am every day and suffering through an endless commute while hating every second she couldn’t spend writing. Her job was at an institution of higher learning, and as such jobs often do, it kept spilling over into evenings and weekends. It was a running joke among her friends how entirely unsuited she was to a life of a regular 8 to 6 worker who has to show up at her job early each morning. 

The woman snatched every free moment she had to write, write, write. And finally her books started selling. And then bestselling. And finally she had enough money to quit her boring old job, buy a beautiful big house with a view, and do nothing but write. So that’s what she did. 

And. . . for the next three years, she didn’t write a word. All she did was stay in bed and weep. And eat. And weep some more. She gained a ton of weight and drove everybody who knew her to distraction because it’s hard to feel much compassion for a bestselling author with a beautiful big house and no money worries. The worst part was that she couldn’t explain what was torturing her.

“But isn’t this what you always wanted?” her long-suffering husband would ask.

“Yes,” she’d say and start weeping.

Finally, her agent got fed up with not getting paid. He showed up at her house one day, packed her into his car, and drove her to his office. He led her to a tiny windowless closet and said,

“Look, I put a desk and a chair here for you. Each day you’ll arrive here by 7 am, like it’s a job, and stay working for the next 8 hours, like it’s a job. And you’ll keep doing it every day. Like it’s a fucking job!”

So that’s what the woman did. She started writing again, and selling, and even bestselling. The writing is not as good (I’m a fan, I read all she writes) but it’s good enough. Most importantly, she is smiling again. She lost back the weight and started taking dancing lessons. 

Self-awareness is a great and rare gift.

P.S. It’s a completely true story that the writer herself has shared in a multitude of interviews.


10 thoughts on “What You Can’t Buy”

  1. Yes, I pine away for summer almost every day of the school year. But I’ve been at my office since 9:30 and haven’t written a word. All I’ve been doing is working on things like trying to get a Home Equity Line of Credit and fighting with our insurance company about an unpaid claim.

    Well, I take it back — I did write two poems and submitted them. That took most of my morning. But I haven’t worked on scholarship at all. I feel like a bum. I’m just not as inspired to work on scholarship right now as I am to work on creative writing. 😦


    1. I don’t pine away for summer unless summer means leaving. I don’t like weekends or summers in this town; having class and meetings distracts me from how I feel about it but the minute I have any time to myself I notice where I am. I need either a job I am happier in, or a place. Not having either makes it hard to work on things that require access to self, since I need to suppress self in order to stay in place. It would be easier if I had someone I needed to support, I think.


        1. About that I cannot complain but what I want is to just reside, not travel, somewhere where I can feel more normal. With the right job, in this town, I’d be fine. I wonder how I would feel just in a different college or department in the university: some immediate atmosphere that was less troubled. It could make a huge difference.


  2. So in my case, the moral of the story is, I should have been self-aware enough to realize my career choices weren’t crazy, and gone with them instead of doing this so as to be acceptable to the people whose love I was trying to earn. I have SO much more energy for my volunteer work, that is in the field I wanted to be in professionally, and people who are in it say I fit in it whereas academics say I don’t fit in, which I realize.

    But what is the moral of the story for this woman: that she needed to work on a schedule, that too much opulence wasn’t right for her, that she needed to see that writing was a job, what?


    1. She says that her problem is that she can’t deal with the basic life tasks if there is nothing that forces her to do them. So if there’s no alarm clock, she can’t get out of bed. This is a person who needs negative motivation to do anything. I can imagine what her parents were like to make her this way.

      I get it because for the longest time I could only motivate myself with feelings of guilt. So I would engineer situations that would make me feel guilty just so that I could do any work.


      1. Oh, I see! I find guilt very de-motivating — if someone tries to motivate with guilt I can become angry enough to get really destructive. Positive motivation seems to be the only thing that works easily on me. Fear shuts me down, too.

        I have difficulty with access to self — I tend to block that, for different reasons — and with belief in my work in humanities fields. The combination is bad. Everything I have going on in arts and social sciences is easy, and it is because I don’t seem to struggle with myself in those spaces. If I’m dealing with humanities then I have a huge superego terrorizing a weak ego and it is horrible.


  3. I can relate to this, having a bit of routine and structure to my days is very important for my psychological health. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize this until my late 30s. I could have spared myself quite a bit of suffering and unhappiness if I had realized this about myself sooner. I also wonder if I wouldn’t have wound up happier if I had pursued some sort of corporate job in my 20s instead of going to grad school.

    Liked by 1 person

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