It is full of tribulation. First he must endure poverty and the world’s indifference; then, having achieved a measure of success, he must submit with good will to its hazards. He depends upon a fickle public. He is at the mercy of journalists who want to interview him and photographers who want to take his picture, of editors who harry him for copy and tax gatherers who harry him for income tax, of persons of quality who ask him to lunch and secretaries of institutes who ask him to lecture, of women who want to marry him and women who want to divorce him, of youths who want his autograph, actors who want parts and strangers who want a loan, of gushing ladies who want advice on their matrimonial affairs and earnest young men who want advice on their compositions, of agents, publishers, managers, bores, admirers, critics, and his own conscience. But he has one compensation. Whenever he has anything on his mind, whether it be a harassing reflection, grief at the death of a friend, unrequited love, wounded pride, anger at the treachery of someone to whom he has shown kindness, in short any emotion or any perplexing thought, he has only to put it down in black and white, using it as the theme of a story or the decoration of an essay, to forget all about it. He is the only free man.—Cakes and Ale (1930)
Leaving aside that Maugham is under the delusion that everyone is male except wives and those in need of marital advice, how does all of that apply to us pro writers now? Or, rather, to this pro writer in particular.
Fickle public? Check. Why can’t all of them love all of us all the time? Or even know who we are!
Mercy of journalists who want interviews? Of bloggers yes. Of journalists not so much. But frankly I kind of like it that way.
Of photographers who want to take the writer’s picture? Hah! If only Maugham had lived to the current day when almost everyone in the first world has a bloody camera and feels compelled to plague everyone else with it and will not accept the idea that some people do not want their photo taken. Is there anyone left who’s never been photographed? Are there any souls left unstolen?
Editors who harry the writer for copy? Oh, yes. Just the same! Bastard editors!
Tax gatherers who harry a writer for income tax? How odd. I didn’t realise that in 1930 only writers had to pay tax.
Persons of quality who ask the writer to lunch? Are my editors and agents “people of quality”? Are librarians? I’m gunna say yes.
Secretaries of institutes who ask the writer to lecture? I imagine that still applies. Not to me though. No secretary of any institute has ever asked me to lecture. Rotters!
Women who want to marry the writer? Now, I’m bummed. No woman or man has ever asked me to marry ’em just cause I’m a writer.
Women who want to divorce the writer? But, here’s the upside: no one’s ever asked me for a divorce on account of I write words that turn into books on shelves. Poor Mr Maugham!
Of youths who want the writer’s autograph? This has happened occasionally. And, oh, how I loves it! More, please!
Actors who want parts? Parts of what? Most definitely does not apply.
Strangers who want a loan? Do letters from Nigeria count?
Of gushing ladies who want advice on their matrimonial affairs? Actually, because I wrote this piece I have had a handful of people asking for advice on their love life. None of them gushed though and they were boys as well as girls.
Earnest young men who want advice on their compositions? Check. Though not all earnest, not all young and not all men.
At the mercy of agents? Check. I guess. But my agents, Jill Grinberg and Whitney Lee, are so lovely and so very good at what they do it’s hard to think of it that way.
Of publishers? Check.
Of managers? Writers had managers back in 1930? I didn’t even think they had them now. How strange.
Of bores? Check. But just a tiny percentage of the number I had to deal with when I was an academic.
Of admirers? Check. There’s one or two. Bless their every breath.
Of critics? Check. One or two of them and all.
Of their own conscience? Huh? What is this “conscience” Maugham speaks of? And why would I be at it’s mercy? I am confused!
As for Maugham’s one compensation:
Whenever he has anything on his mind, whether it be a harassing reflection, grief at the death of a friend, unrequited love, wounded pride, anger at the treachery of someone to whom he has shown kindness, in short any emotion or any perplexing thought, he has only to put it down in black and white, using it as the theme of a story or the decoration of an essay, to forget all about it. He is the only free man.
Maybe I’m more neurotic than Maugham—figures, it’s more than seventy years later, neuroticness has definitely grown—but just writing about a trauma or experience does not expunge it for me. Or maybe that’s just because I haven’t really done it. I haven’t written about the people I love who have died. I haven’t typed for hours to make it go away. I am not free.
Though I’ll wager that my writer’s life is heaps happier than Maugham’s!
I do agree with him, though, that the writing part is by far the most wonderful thing about being a writer.
That, and the champagne.