Currently I'm spending a few weeks at Mammoth Mountain in California's Sierra Nevada mountain range. I lived here for the previous six seasons, working as a ski and snowboard instructor. Now for the first time in all that time I'm just a tourist, but I've spent the past week catching up with old colleagues and hitting the slopes with some of them. It got me to thinking a little bit about the differences between actually having a job and writing novels for a living.
As I was riding today with a pack of off-duty instructors, and running into others all over the mountain, I realized what I missed the most about the years I spent here. It was the camaraderie. Working as an instructor, you are part of something larger than yourself. You are part of a community. You work together. You socialize together. You ski and ride together. You see each other at the market. The professional life of a writer is in many ways the antithesis of all of that. While people in most types of jobs have colleagues that they see from day to day, for a writer it is a wholly solitary occupation. You get up in the morning and you write. Just you and the computer. Perhaps if you need some other human interaction you go to a coffeehouse to work, but you still hardly speak to anyone at all. Life as a writer can be a lonely existence. I sometimes go long periods of time without seeing any friends at all, especially if I'm trying to meet some self-imposed deadline.
On the flip side of this equation, when I do see people I know, they often have a hard time understanding that what I am doing is actually work. They think that because I don't go clock in somewhere, at some specific time, I'm not really working. "Let's go surfing!" they might say. Or "Let's go skiing! Come on, what are you doing? Nothing!" The temptation can be great. Other times I might be at the coffeehouse and actually run into someone I know. This can create an internal conflict. I love the chance for social interaction, but I am trying to accomplish something after all. I can't really say no to a chat, but if it goes on too long I'll pay for it later in guilt when I don't get anything done.
I suppose what all of this boils down to is that the life of a writer is considerably different than most other professions. A writer's life is solitary, but a writer who can support himself with his craft has the ultimate freedom. He can write in the morning or in the middle of the night. He can go skiing when his friends come calling, if he wants to. He can live and work wherever he wants (or wherever he can afford to anyway).
As for myself it is only the ebook revolution that has enabled me to make these choices. I could have spent another season teaching on the mountain, but for the first time in all of these years I can finally afford not to. For me that choice was easy. While I may miss the camaraderie, I'll take the freedom to write every time. I am a writer, after all, though for tomorrow I promised a friend I'd spend one more day on the slopes. I'm feeling guilty already...