Gina Frangello and the freedom to write what you care about

Friday, June 25, 2010

In what is likely to be the only time you read the phrase "fought the good fight for nipple inclusion" today, former TQO faculty editor Gina Frangello interviews herself at The Nervous Breakdown about her new collection of stories, Slut Lullabies.

The book is excellent, by the way, I'm working my way through it right now, but something Gina wrote in the interview about making a living as a writer struck me in particular:

I don’t have any more interest in some of the ways one can be paid “for writing”—maybe doing a pop series or ghost writing or, say, cranking out parenting articles for women’s magazines—than I do in becoming an attorney or a banker or a kindergarten teacher.  To me, those things are wholly separate from what drives me to write.  If I just wanted to make a decent living, I would probably teach high school English or go back to being a therapist, rather than trying to write things that fit within a perimeter that enables me to get steadily paid, instead of the things I want to write.  It’s not just the act of writing that I’m seeking—it’s being able to write what I care about.

At the risk of never getting a freelance gig again, I absolutely agree with her. During the periods where I did have a steady stream of assignments, they always felt like homework, even when I was working with kind and talented editors, some of whom happened to be my friends in real life. What seemed like a good idea when I asked for the assignment, something I should be doing because that's what you do when you want to make money from your writing, always felt like a hassle--and I say this having once written a piece about taste testing a half-dozen organic beers. I always wanted to be working on my own stuff instead, and the meager pay didn't really make up for the resentment I felt about that loss of free time.

I'm not one of those folks who romanticizes writing as a calling, something that I do because I must. I don't necessarily have stories and essays constantly burning inside me either. But when I do have an idea I want to be able to work on it in the precious few minutes I have to myself each day. Maybe I can say this because I have an unrelated day job that pays the bills, but absent the luxury of being able to do nothing else but write every single day, I think that the freedom to write what you want is the key to creative fulfillment. Otherwise it's just another job, and who wants that?