Diddums, I thought. I usually enjoy this series but this one just plain irritated me. If being a novelist is really so dreadful, then couldn’t you have built a modest career in the things you used to do (TEFL? Marketing? Advertising copy?) before you made a living at it – unless you are Zadie Smith/some similar talent so youthfully prodigious that you do not know the meaning of the phrase “day-job”? You generously admit to patronising, mildly, the folks stuck in “ordinary” jobs; but what is that in your mind? Cleaner? Teacher? Waitress? Banker? All of the above? What “life” is it that they are all enjoying and you are not? Work clothes over smelly pyjamas? Are all “work clothes” interchangeable to you?
And what do you make of us? I mean unsuccessful writers, who are at it just as much as you but couldn’t earn a living to save our lives (hence are dependent on someone/something else); who live as desperate for reassurance, but without even dinner invites as consolation? What are we to you – sad, deluded people who think that just because we share your “addiction” we must also share your talent? Do you think we, too, consider you glamorous? Do you think that’s why we strive to emulate you; not because we are also “addicts”, but dazzled by some elusive promise of fame?
Let me drop the sarcasm and talk plainly. Life as an unsuccessful novelist consists of pretty much the same stream of negatives you enumerate, with some important additions, the main one being you cannot talk about what you do, not to friends, nor family nor strangers. At best, no-one will credit it; at worst, your nearest and dearest find it deeply embarrassing. If (published) novelists must be slightly mad to carry on torturing themselves as you describe, then what does that make chronically unpublished ones? I’ll tell you what it makes us: batty, loony, barmy, and not in a good way.
We are not only unemployable, we are also unbefriendable. We have lost friends too along the way, often people who tried to liberate us from our hopeless, hapless addiction. I lost a serious boyfriend, with it my last chance of conventional family life (I believed at the time) by wilfully giving up my decent day-job in my early forties “to write.” With no respectable occupation (the un- or underemployed understand this very well) you are un-presentable and socially isolated, quite irrespective of your reduced income. Nobody wants to know you; moreover, you can’t imagine why anyone would. As a novelist of at least some standing, this clearly does not apply to you.
And yet; like you I chose this life, and basically, I love it. I love the freedom to sail away from daily pettiness. I love being anonymous, a nobody, a fly on the wall; all-seeing, but unseen. If I can’t get there regularly, I get irritable and depressed. I no longer care if no-one ever publishes my work; at least not enough to make carrying on with it in any way conditional. I find it pointless to consider, had I known, thirty years ago, that this “career” would go nowhere, whether I might have opted for another. I still think, with the exception of my child, my unpublished fiction for all its unworthyness is the best thing I’ve ever done.