A Writer Who Works

Will write for food.

Will write for food.

The writing life is seen as a romantic one, at least by some—usually people who don’t write, or merely dabble at the craft.

Since 2003, I’ve been a writer who works a job. By that I mean that I’m not fully supporting my lifestyle from writing. I have an outside job (or jobs); those purer than the driven snow might look askance at that.

Actually, while there are the fortunate ones populating best-seller lists (or with trust funds) living in brownstones in Brooklyn, or maybe there are still expat writers on the French Riviera, most of us rely on outside gigs to keep our crafts from flatlining. I wish I could say that my quarterly royalty checks keep me in splendor, but they don’t. It’s the new face of publishing—kinder; gentler.

Kurt Vile is a musician I’m fond of. No overnight success, Vile’s music is firmly rooted in the best of rock and roll’s rich tradition. Rather than merely aping what others have done, he’s channeled the best of American rock for the past 40 years through his own unique vision and sensibilities.

While climbing up the rock and roll ladder, Vile worked in a factory as a forklift driver. His blue-collar existence consisted of work, coming home, showering, eating, and then working on and recording in his basement into a four-track, often into the wee hours. Then, it was 2-3 hours of sleep and back at it again.

From an interview I found online, Vile talked about the difficulties of working and making music.

“It was a really fast-paced job, unloading trucks. Though music was my passion, I had a long way to go then (back in the early 2000s) and a lot to learn. I got depressed so many times by my blue-collar life, and self-conscious about the fact that I didn’t go to college and I was always working these super low-end jobs, being the complete opposite of what I wanted to be. But I just fell into it, and I was also sorta shy. It was definitely a pretty rough time.”

Vile’s finally made it. He’s on a great, supportive label, Matador. His albums now garner favorable reviews in places like Pitchfork, and even Rolling Stone. He’s supporting himself and a family from his music. I’m happy for him. Driving a fork lift is something that you sometimes have to do, but it’s not the best way to cultivate art, like music, or even writing.


2 thoughts on “A Writer Who Works

  1. While I’m not a Kurt Vile fan myself, he has certainly built himself a reliable and loyal fanbase. That takes time, it takes learning the music and learning the business. Way too many musicians never realize that they are in a business, and are ground up because of that.

    A very similar story is that of John McLaughlin, driving a truck while mastering the guitar. I’ve long thought the way that Fugazi did it, treating it like an entrepreneurial endeavor, buying a house to live in, building a studio in it, printing and distributing all their own CDs, was the way to do it. Ani DiFranco did similarly, and makes a pretty decent living at it because she controls her costs and her revenues. My own favorite, Richard Thompson, moved steadily that way over his decades in the business, and he still gets up and goes into his “composing room” in his modest LA house every day and just sits there working on songs.

    In other words, there’s just no substitute for doing the work.

    And for a great story to encourage you, look up how the Black Crowes won back their contract from their original label… Def Jam. Savvy from their manager and hard, hard work on the road paid off big time for them.

    It’s an awful cliche, but nothing replaces that 10,000 hours. No way around it but putting in the time, whatever pays the bills.

    • Nice to have you back with us on the ground, LP. I trust your time “flying the friendly skies” wasn’t too taxing on your constitution, given the cattle call that is commercial air these days.

      Great comment, and yes, music (and writing for that matter) is a business and it must be treated as such.

      Sometimes I get a bit pissy when I see someone that hasn’t put in the requisite 10K jumping the line, but there’s nothing to do about that now, is there?

      Your mention of Thompson has me craving the sound of his guitar playing.

      Thanks for mentioning Fugazi; not enough musicians know that story. Ani DiFranco is another great example, as well as a talented musician to boot.

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