My middle child is a playwright.
If I were a responsible parent, I’d probably discourage her from pursuing a career in the arts, unless she were to go into arts management, where she could be regularly underpaid instead of intermittently so. Because face it: as much as we lionize successful artists in our culture, we don’t do much to support them on their way. And by “successful” we usually mean wealthy and/or famous, preferably both.
But as a writer who deferred my own writing for a large segment of my life, I’m encouraging my daughter to arrange her life so that she can capture the stories that rattle through her head. This may be socially and financially risky, but I know the rage that comes from disregarding the voice, the gift.
If I do nothing else than tell her every day that what she has to say is important, that her voice matters to the world, I’m doing my job.
I know I’m reacting to what I didn’t get. My parents had no experience raising a writer, or supporting one. And I’m not talking money. I’m talking belief.
Because I knew, on some level, my parents didn’t believe in me as a writer the way they believed in me as a scholar, literary critic, and educator (jobs with regular paychecks), I never showed them my work until it was published. I took their cue, and marginalized this most important element of my life. It’s taken me most of a lifetime to overcome this learned doubt, and I may have missed my chance. But I have a new chance, a chance to help my daughter with the support I wish I’d had.
She’s already enjoying some success, with two staged readings of a full-length play and a full production of a ten-minute piece. At age 23, she’s already earned her first royalty check. (See? I can’t keep money out of this equation.)
These successes are the end results of real work, work she does before and after she goes to her job – a prestigious but underpaid internship as a dramaturge at one of the country’s preeminent theaters for new American work. She’s learning and making connections in the industry during the day, and she’s going home to write at night.
She’s living well below the poverty level, but if she takes even a low-paying job, she won’t have time to write. So we’ve made a deal. I’m paying her to write: $5/hour for seventeen hours/week. In addition to writing, she sends me a list of contests and submission deadlines she plans to meet.
She’s not going to get rich off me; she will get a lot written, and she’ll be able to pay her rent.
How do you support your writing? What’s the bare minimum you need? How can you arrange your life so that you can write and survive?