Friday, June 13, 2008

Outstanding in My Field

Vicky Polito is a screenwriter currently working on a novel entitled “Our Safety Is Our Speed”. This photo is Vicky to the core: always looking elsewhere with a mix of suspicion and fascination.

Writers are the independent type, in several ways. The most common: independence of mind. The least likely: independence of bank account.

Until a decade ago, I’d nearly always had another full-time job. Writing was something I did mostly nights and weekends. Aside from practice, which has value, I didn’t get much done. I also seldom made money writing. The fact is that if my husband hadn’t said when we were going to buy our house “look, if you really want to write full time I’m with you and you should quit your job now so that we don’t go out and get a mortgage based on two salaries”, I’d still be floundering. He saw the writing on the wall of what writing on the page might pay and faced reality with great generosity. Since then, I’ve made some money from screenwriting, but that’s still a curvy road and I’d rather write my novel, which for now pays nothing.

When I quit my last day job I was working in IT as a programmer/analyst, far from my degree in Journalism. After I quit, someone complimented me, saying, gee, that was brave to give up a good salary just to try writing. But, I had a safety net. One that didn’t just earn the money, but backed me up all the way, encouraged me and tried to understand my work. So, my question is, just how independent am I?

The answer is in other parts of working as a writer. Trust me, when the first time you’ve spoken to a human since breakfast is when you answer the phone at four in the afternoon, you get it. Writing is a job done mostly alone, but it’s not lonely most of the time. The bigger problem is that you start to lose your grasp on the mainstream world because you take yourself out of it to write. I’ve got to plug back in periodically to ground myself.

And then there’s my frequent liberation from basic hygiene—the days when I realize it’s quitting time and I still haven’t showered. Or my freedom to take a punch from someone who smiles condescendingly and says, “Well, you don’t work” in response to anything I’ve said about having time to cook or clean or making sure to get enough sleep or having just finished reading a good book. You name it, and apparently the reason I have 48 hours in a day to everyone else’s 24 is because I “don’t work.” It’s always a treat to hear people sum you up that way.

My most treasured but also sometimes most painful independent streak? It’s that oddness of personality that I believe most people feel, but that writers feel acutely. It’s that gnawing, frustrating sense that you are always, always somehow apart from everyone else. Writers operate at a different elevation from sea level. We take in everything out there with a perspective that differs from that of the crowd. It’s like being a lightening rod in a field of wild flowers. But, oh, the view!

So, I fight the not so pretty aspects of my independence and cherish the good. I tell myself, sometimes with a sigh, that it doesn’t matter if no one gets me, so long as someday someone gets something I write. That’s why we stand out in that big field of flowers, taking in every breeze, ray of sun, and bolt of electricity, and then write it all into something we hope others can be struck by, reveling in that few moments of connection between our worlds.

Vicky Polito


  1. Well said, Vicky! I also read your title as "Out, Standing in My Field." That's where I imagine you, looking for inspiration. Me? "Out, Standing by My Window Boxes," trying to figure out if potato vine grows in direct sunlight.

    BTW--Haven't cleaned this place in two weeks. Love--Maggie

  2. Loved your blog. I think that "grounding" problem is typical for most writers. I know the last couple of weeks before Marian and I finish a book, I'm walking around in a fog.

    Rhonda aka The Southern Half of
    Evelyn David

  3. I just wanted to more publicly thank the women in stiletto heels for letting me guest blog. Also, the use of the photos/the intro set is FAB! And done in such a short time! You guys, particularly the ones who have to do the bulk of the posting work, are really good. Thanks for such a great presentation of little ole me!

  4. Amazing intro!

    Vicky, my husband is also very supportive of my, so far nonlucrative, writing career, and I've been grateful for my safety net.

    The description of your writer's day in many ways mirrors my own. If I didn't read a few blogs and check in to CNN online a couple of times a day, I'd be wayyyy out of touch on weekdays.

    My only company is my dog, who sleeps on a chair beside me. My day's excitement occurs when he jumps down to warn vicious squirrels and birds to get away from his territory.

    I too have people questioning whether I truly "work at home." They think that if I'm not typing all day then I must not be working. But for me writing is so much more than typing. I have to do research, go outside to clear my head, and occasionally look out the window at the world for inspiration. And sometimes I just need a break.

    Thanks for sharing your writer's experiences. It's a relief to know I'm not working in a total vacuum.

  5. I think if the results of the work didn't feel so like magic to us--regardless of the payout or of any recognition--we wouldn't bear up. But, when you're right in the flow, loving it and seeing that the words are becoming something, you can be okay with the few downsides.

    In the end, isn't it like any true-calling job anyone does?

    It's love, really. Just like our spouses and kids and dearest friends love us, whatever our characteristics and flaws.

  6. Vicky, or, Aunt Vicky, rather, I was so struck by your blog post that, I must confess, I teared up a little. I, like you, have recently taken the plunge, so to speak and have drummed up the courage to write. Though, I came to this place in a much different way than you, and without as much of a cushion, here we both are---independent-dependent women on a mission, a mission where being ourselves fully, is finally enough. Love, your niece, Michelle.