A writer friend and I were talking the other day about where we are in our careers -- we're both rapidly approaching the decade mark, which evidently these days makes us Incredibly Ancient Authors -- and he asked me how much I think I've lost, turning pro. I thought he meant that in a financial sense, and started to laugh. I've learned from my mistakes, but brother, they weren't cheap. When I started giving him figures, he clarified: what have I lost besides money.
I thought about it. There were my illusions, which Publishing ate, raw and still quivering, with some fava beans and a nice Chianti. Pride doesn't goeth before a fall in this biz; the people you put on pedestals do. So do misconceptions, assumptions, naivete and a large chunk of youthful fantasies. The industry made a very quick ragout out of my ignorance and innocence, and served it with a side order of extra crispy fried trust. Sure, some of these things needed to be the early bird special, but some should never have been put on the menu. I told him all this.
You can't move into a village of cannibals and expect to be a vegetarian, my friend calmly pointed out. Eat or be eaten.
I didn't like hearing that. Eat or be eaten, those are our only options? Where were the Here Be Cannibals signs? And who says you have to move in and pull a chair up to their table? Leave. Escape. Build your own village. Make it the Village of Extremely Pissed-Off Vegetarians. And, whenever possible, go back and kick some cannibal ass.
After assuring me that his diet was mainly vegan, my friend wisely moved on to ask what I'd found since turning pro. Access to the planet via print and the internet is a big one. I could never have met so many people if I'd remained unpublished. Being paid to do what you love is a privilege. Friendships, the rare kind, with a few select people who understand you as you understand them, as no one else ever has or will (even the mainly-vegan variety.) The immense satisfaction of seeing a lifelong dream turned into reality. Brief, silent, towering moments of victory after a battle with a book, before you head off into the next one. Beauty. Other, nebulous stuff that doesn't lend itself easily to words.
Feasts of flowers, not flesh.
What we lose and find as professional writers isn't the hardest part of working in this industry, though. I think that comes later, after you've been around for a while, and you watch other writers turn pro and make their choices. You can tell a writer whatever you've learned, and no matter what you say, most of them are going to believe it will be different for them, because they still have their illusions. Most will stroll right by whatever Here Be Cannibals signs you've put up, and insist whatever is bubbling in the industry cooking pot is simply mystery chicken for the next village con. You can make all the signs you want, but in the end all you can really do is hope that they don't end up sitting shock-eyed on a blue plate, or working diligently at becoming the village's next executive chef.
(dedicated to C., who should eat more vegetables)