distractions / writing

They Pay You to Do This?

Scene: Italian cafe, near-empty on a Sunday afternoon. I sit alone at a table near the window.

Elderly busboy with unidentifiable (though most certainly not Italian) accent approaches when I ask for the check. The waiter will be just a moment, he tells me.

Then, motioning down at the stack of manuscript pages I am reading, he says: What is that, work? You do work today?

Me: Yes. I work every day.

Busboy: What is this you do for work?

Me: I work in an office all week and then I write on weekends.

Busboy: You are a writer?

Me: Yes, I am a writer.

Busboy backs away, giving me two thumbs up.

Then, thinking better of it, he returns to the table, to ask a question.

Busboy: What do you write, stories or novels?

Me: Both. But right now a novel.

Busboy: And let me ask, they pay you to do this? People pay you money?

A pause while I realize how to answer.

Me (with honest surprise): Yes, they actually do. Can you believe that?

The busboy gives one last thumbs-up, then walks away quickly before I can ask him if he writes too. And to tell him it’s not about the money, really, it never was, it never will be. To tell him I’d be here with these pages, scribbling these scribbles either way. For not a penny. For no readers. For a boxful of rejections. For no reason, and for every reason. It’s what I want to do every day.

12 thoughts on “They Pay You to Do This?

  1. That last paragraph is perfect…just perfect. Makes me want to blow of the rest of my afternoon here at the office and just write.

  2. i, too, loved your posting and especially the last paragraph. i wish i had the courage of my convictions, as you seem to have. if doing what you love makes you successful — monetary considerations be damned — i am thoroughly jealous of your success.

    i stumbled upon your blog from…well, i can’t remember, but glad that i did.

  3. This really made me smile, and not in that hokey way– in that tiny bittersweet way. You know, the one that your writing is so versed at doing to me anyway.

  4. We all want to do it all day every day, for not a penny and a boxful of rejections but if someone isn’t getting paid by someone for some piece of it, that sort of idealism is simply impossible. The bills have to be paid.

  5. What a lovely interchange, Nova. I’m with you — this is the job I love the most. Sure, I have other jobs — and that’s really fine — but getting to sit down and write stories is the best of all possible jobs. Getting paid for it? Well, that’s pretty awesome too, even if the pay is tiny. Better still, though, is knowing that other people might be reading what you write someday and when they do, they might be moved, or amused, or inspired, or entertained. I love that part of it too.

  6. I love this, absolutely love this. I love the image of the busboy backing up a bit, and giving you the thumbs up. Lovely.

    How wonderful it must feel for you to answer those questions. I am envious but very happy for you.

  7. “that sort of idealism is simply impossible. The bills have to be paid.”


    um. nova works a full-time job, sleeps 5 hours a night, gets up before the sun and writes for hours before she spends 9 hours at work.

    seriously… stop being such a know-it-all.

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