I read a lot of true crime and watch some of those true crime shows such as “Disappeared” on the network ID.
The other night, I watched a show about a woman who disappeared from New Orleans in December 2001, but her family didn’t realize she was missing until after her body was discovered after Hurricane Katrina in the fall of 2005.
How could this be, you might ask.
According to the program, her family, which included her sister and father, thought she had made good on a dream, having “gone to Europe to write her memoir” all that time.
The show, while terribly sad — also illustrates something that sometimes annoys us writers – the misconceptions of how difficult it is to actually get to the point of making a living from writing and the misunderstanding of what the writing life is really like for 99 percent of us that aren’t best-selling authors.
The fact that a poor woman could go missing for almost four years with her family believing that she had just picked up and moved to Europe to write her memoir with no experience and very little money is symptomatic of what some people envision is the writer’s life. Where did they think she was living? How was she supporting herself, given she hadn’t actually sold that memoir and had no prior writing experience?
A writer’s surroundings may provide us with our muse, but it will not provide us with the means to be there or the experience or talent if we didn’t have it before.
For most professional scribes, writing is something we have been doing most of our lives. When I reconnected on Facebook with an old school chum from my neighborhood, she reminded me that I often wrote stories when we were very young and I would read them to the neighborhood kids.
She remembered one particular novel I penned I titled “Driftwood,” about how our lives are really just like pieces of driftwood moving along the waters of time (I know, probably the reason I evolved into non-fiction…)
I sometimes wrote from home, but only when the weather was bad. If it was a nice day, I liked to go up to the woods behind the high school and write by the creek, but my favorite place was atop the neighbor’s woodpile. Their backyard was quiet, closer to home than the high school and really gave me that woodsy feel.
So when I became a professional writer, my dream was always to move to a cabin in the woods and write like Mark Twain, only with more modern amenities, such as running water and Internet.
Of course, it took us years to achieve our dream. Years of working for publications large and small and building a writing business that would allow me to work from a little cabin in the “Middle of Nowhere” and years of saving to that goal.
And once we got here and brought our “real lives” into the woods, it isn’t anything like many of you might imagine a writer’s life to be. Although my dream studio is beautiful and our surroundings a natural paradise, I do not get to sit and contemplate the air, woods, birds or nature much more than most people who are commuting to a job.
My husband’s job gets us both out of bed very early and then it’s a race to feed and walk dogs, cook, clean, pay bills and do all of that other “real life” stuff everyone else does. On top of it, I have deadlines to meet for the paying writing work that keeps our lives humming. The contemplation and creative writing I want to do usually happens in the wee hours of the morning or late at night, before real life starts or after it’s taken care of, just like it did when I lived in the city.
Maybe the romantic notion that their loved one had attained her dream was better than accepting what must have been a seed in that family’s minds, that something was not right (although they were receiving emails supposedly from her, no one, including her children or ex-husband, had actually spoken with her. The boyfriend was eventually convicted of her murder after her body surfaced stuffed in a trunk after the Hurricane Katrina floods).
But the absence of that romantic notion about what we writers do may have brought them to the truth a lot sooner and taken a dangerous predator off of the streets quicker.
Some of my professional writer friends actually do go to the woods to write, or hole up temporarily in a hotel room in an exotic city or sometimes their own, just to escape their real lives and finish an important project. But very few of us have the means to do it permanently or even for four years.
Do you have a vision of what writers or artists are and do? Would you believe it if a family member disappeared for years, thinking they were off someplace writing, painting or sculpting?