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Thread: Homeless writers

  1. #1
    banned as an incurable tosspot SpookyWriter's Avatar
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    Homeless writers

    I retrieved this essay for discussion because of the previous thread "Can I make a living writing" and I had another chat with a writer today who inspired my remembrance;

    My god, I've had a few discussions over the months with writers who are destitute and living in shelters or sharing living arrangements with other people.

    Iím sickened by thisÖ

    Iíve heard such stories for many years. I closed my ears because I wasnít one of them. I wasnít sickly or poor. I paid no attention to their plight. Why should I? I am of sound financial status, beget a few times when I struggled to find suitable work, but I have a means to support myself. I donít suffer such angst for this profession that Iíd live in a homeless shelter until my work sells. I donít folly about with a dream of hitting it big as a writer. But such people do, as I now know, and I am ashamed at my cavalier attitude about this preoccupation for writing.

    Such is my pain tonight. I grieve for this poor fellow who desires so much more from his craft than I. This homeless man, with such courage and conviction, is worthy of more than I can ever hope to offer. Yet, I canít help but feel pity for him and I Ė who has lost much more than either has ever imagined.

    So, I weep tonight for us Ė poor writers who are without home and love. But I also cherish this gentle spirit which as kept my poor friend warm, happy, and content to live as I had not thought possible.

    I write, as true, to myself and others that we never forget those whose sacrifice is inspired by a noble thought.

    Good night,

  2. #2
    Where's my tea, please...? PeeDee's Avatar
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    I guess that begs the question: If you had the choice between writing and being homeless, or not writing and being otherwise comfortable, which would you choose?

  3. #3
    banned as an incurable tosspot SpookyWriter's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by PeeDee
    I guess that begs the question: If you had the choice between writing and being homeless, or not writing and being otherwise comfortable, which would you choose?

    I am fortunate in some respects that this question remains a struggle for some, but in which I remain a voyeur for the moment.


  4. #4
    Where's my tea, please...? PeeDee's Avatar
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    (I can answer my own question, I suppose)

    It's a bit of a moot point for me. If I were living on my own, I would slum it in a dingy little apartment and write a good deal more. However, being married, I would never ask my wife to do that. Not for me, not for my writing. So that means that, by default, I have to have a job which helps pay the bills.

  5. #5
    banned as an incurable tosspot SpookyWriter's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by PeeDee
    (I can answer my own question, I suppose)

    It's a bit of a moot point for me. If I were living on my own, I would slum it in a dingy little apartment and write a good deal more. However, being married, I would never ask my wife to do that. Not for me, not for my writing. So that means that, by default, I have to have a job which helps pay the bills.
    But many more writers out there in the big world are not paying attention to what is important, survival. I've heard and discussed this topic so much that I am amazed that anyone would take an art form to such a degree that they'd be willing to slum until they sell their work.

  6. #6
    Fear the Death Ray maestrowork's Avatar
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    I have been dirt poor (though not homeless). It doesn't really faze me (of course, I don't have children either). PeeDee's question is entirely hypothetical to me so I don't think I can ever answer that. However, I think a better question would be:

    Homeless/writing or comfortable/doing something you really hate for a living

    I didn't want to work. It was as simple as that. I distrusted work, disliked it. I thought it was a very bad thing that the human race had unfortunately invented for itself.
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  7. #7
    Where's my tea, please...? PeeDee's Avatar
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    I'm sitting here, in my computer room, with a gentle breeze coming in, sipping a cup of fruit juice. My wife is next to me. There are books upon books in the next room, and quite a lot of animals.

    It's very easy for me to sit here and say that I find the idea of slumming, living in a car and pouring myself into my novel that I write on bits of notebook paper to be a romantic idea. Sure. It's romantic until I'm living in a car trying to write, but I can't because I'm freezing to death, if the agonizing hunger pains don't kill me first.

  8. #8
    Where's my tea, please...? PeeDee's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by maestrowork
    I have been dirt poor (though not homeless). It doesn't really faze me (of course, I don't have children either). PeeDee's question is entirely hypothetical to me so I don't think I can ever answer that. However, I think a better question would be:

    Homeless/writing or comfortable/doing something you really hate for a living
    I'm currently Writing/Comfortable/Doing something I really hate for a living.

    Where the hell does that put me?

  9. #9
    Fear the Death Ray maestrowork's Avatar
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    I am currently writing/comfortable (though not from writing)/doing something I really enjoy. That's why I don't see how I can answer your question.

    I didn't want to work. It was as simple as that. I distrusted work, disliked it. I thought it was a very bad thing that the human race had unfortunately invented for itself.
    -- Agatha Christie





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  10. #10
    Living in a Dream World AnnMB's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by PeeDee
    I'm currently Writing/Comfortable/Doing something I really hate for a living.

    Where the hell does that put me?
    It puts you in the same spot most authors are in until they get their second or third bestseller!

  11. #11
    Two years old now. Lyra Jean's Avatar
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    If I ever come to the point of being homeless. I'll go live with my mom. She already said I could if I'm working on writing and trying to be successful with it. I won't even have to get an outside job.
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  12. #12
    Where's my tea, please...? PeeDee's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rosemerry
    If I ever come to the point of being homeless. I'll go live with my mom. She already said I could if I'm working on writing and trying to be successful with it. I won't even have to get an outside job.
    Could I go live with your mom while I work on my writing? Honest, I'm making good progress, and she can talk to my wife, who is much nicer, and she can even pet my kitties.

  13. #13
    Living the Dream firehorse's Avatar
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    I always said I wanted to find a classified ad that read, "Novelist wanted." Currently, I'm in the closest I will ever find to that exact job. I'm extremely lucky. I enjoy the work. It's a steady salary. Benefits (I'd forgotten what those were!). But I miss doing *my* writing. I miss the freedom of freelancing (hand-to-mouth though it was).

    It's easy for me - with a roof over my head - to say I'd always choose writing. I like camping and being outdoors by choice, not by default. I do know, though, that home is wherever my journal is, and without writing, I would have no desire to live. Period.

    On a somewhat tangential note (and at the risk of hijacking the thread), Wired recently ran an article about homeless bloggers:
    http://www.wired.com/news/technology/1,71153-0.html
    (apologies if this has already been discussed here)
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  14. #14
    On the rocks cwfgal's Avatar
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    I"m currently living quite comfortably, writing, and doing another job I love, as well. I don't see this as an either/or issue. I love writing but that doesn't mean I have to do it to the exclusion of anything else, or that I'm willing to sacrifice certain things to be able to do it. Especially if I don't have to.

    Beth

  15. #15
    banned as an incurable tosspot SpookyWriter's Avatar
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    Come on folks, this isn't the high road we're talking about. It's them (us) who write with little or no chance to publish but have the dream and so they hurt themselves by not recognizing what's important. Many writers dream of hitting it big, like buying a lottery ticket, and getting the wealth that comes with this profession. But aren't they sadly mistaken?

    How many writers (artisans) you know who live below the poverty line, but have this dream to make it big?

  16. #16
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    Easy for me - I choose NOT writing.

    Easy for me - I choose not writing.

    I don't write because I love writing, I write because I believe I have something important to say, something that helps others, and I love helping others. I would just find another way to achieve that goal. I write lots of fitness articles but I also run courses and lecture at groups and companies. I'd just focus on other ways to get the message out.

    I know I wouldn't stand long looking at the closed door... I'd be climbing in windows or finding new doors to run through before the sound of the bang had even reached my ears.

    Being poor serves no one. Money is how our society keeps track of the favors we have granted others. Those with most money have granted the most pleasure and solved the most problems. Money is stored and tradable energy and energy is life.

    Well paid novelists are those who have given the most people a lot of pleasure, that pleasure is measured as money that the author can trade for his/her own pleasures.

    (Note: I spent my fair share of time slumming in horrible housing and having to decide if I wanted beer or food (beer, as after a couple you feel full anyway). But I didnít AIM for that. If you aim for nothing you will hit it. Look at where you want to go. MTB-ing you look at the line you want to take, not the rock you want to avoid Ė stare at the rock and you will crash. Focus on poverty and you will get it.)

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  17. #17
    glad to be here Lilybiz's Avatar
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    I don't think it's necessary to suffer to be an artist. It's entirely possible to have a "regular" job and also to write. I used the computer at my day-job to write scripts and stories. I wrote on my lunch hour and breaks, and after work.

    You can choose poverty, but that's your choice. You don't have to choose poverty. You can be a poor writer or you can be a solvent writer, but it's always your choice.

    These things aren't always conscious and it can take a long time to learn to change your mind.

  18. #18
    Living the Dream firehorse's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SpookyWriter
    How many writers (artisans) you know who live below the poverty line, but have this dream to make it big?
    Honestly? Not many - but most do live a feast-or-famine life. One friend co-created a TV series, lived well (sorta - it was a Canadian series); then, a few years later, she lived happily on $6000... then, a few years later, she got a $25K-per-episode story editing job (which is far lower than US salaries, but still sweeter than I've ever made). In between, she wrote whatever paid the rent.

    Come to think of it, that describes me, too, but I was slightly less bipolar in my poverty and wealth.

    Of all the artists I know, only a handful have received minimal to no encouragement and still continue to pursue their chosen path. Then again, there are a world full of artists I've never met.

    To your first point - writing, to each of us, is so personal, so different. Dreams, realistic or not, keep many of us alive. Puncturing the bubble might be more dangerous than living in the dream.
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  19. #19
    Fig of authority
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    Quote Originally Posted by expatbrat
    Money is how our society keeps track of the favors we have granted others. Those with most money have granted the most pleasure and solved the most problems.
    I wish that were true. It leaves out people who grant pleasure and solve problems for little or no pay. It leaves out overpaid people who cause pain and create problems.

  20. #20
    On a wing and a prayer aruna's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by reph
    I wish that were true. It leaves out people who grant pleasure and solve problems for little or no pay. It leaves out overpaid people who cause pain and create problems.
    That is so very true. I know countless people who have very little yet give so much, and I think we all know the other extreme.

    As for the choice given: it all depends.

    If I were alone, without family, I'd be happy to live simply (below the established poverty level), with a few exceptions.
    One of these is cold. I cannot bear to be cold, and my unhappiest time was living in a farmhouse in Germany without central heating. In fact, I was so freezing I started writing, wearing a winter coat, hat, gloves, and that's how my writing career began! But I was not at all happy.

    I am also not happy with dirt, stench or vermin. I couldn't live in a rat-infested slum to write.

    I would be very happy , though, living in a simple hut in (for instance) India with no plumbing, as long as it were clean and fresh water were available and I had a few pennies for bananas and such, and writing.
    Last edited by aruna; 07-05-2006 at 11:34 AM.
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  21. #21
    Yes, I'm back. Bmwhtly's Avatar
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    Forgive me if someone has mentioned this and I missed it.

    There was recently an article on the bbc news website that I've dug up for you all to take a look at about how being homeless got a writer a book deal

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/5029984.stm

    Personally, I think thats a long way to go just to get a book deal
    "Anyone who can't stomach a bit of hypothetical grotesquery needs to toughen up, because the way the world's going, we'll all spend our final days scrabbling through a pile of steaming rubble, desperately scavenging for bits of charred baby to eat with our bare hands. And under those circumstances, a dark sense of humour will be a massive advantage."

  22. #22
    I have trouble believing that anyone will make themselves/allow themselves to become homeless in order to write. I know there are homeless people who write, and I know someone who wrote a play while homeless, but they were separate issues - he was homeless, and he wrote. He also wrote before he was homeless, and after.

    Living in reduced circumstances, yes. You don't need material trappings to write - I've never heard of anyone whose bestseller was inspired by ownership of a wide-screen digital TV home cinema system - but most of us have to work the day job to provide the security of a roof and heat and light and food to enable us to follow the writing path when we can.

    There are many reasons to become homeless, but 'for one's art' isn't one of them. There's nothing noble about sleeping on the streets.
    and now hang with the staff at the cafť for creative people:

  23. #23
    figuring it all out
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    (forgive me if this rambles... I am only on my first cup of coffee maybe I'll come back and edit this later in the day if it makes no sense)

    I have been there. Not as an aspiring writer, but as an aspiring actor who was also writing on the side. I spent more nights I care to remember in a flophouse or a shelter, sharing a room with someone so strung out they were unable to swallow their own saliva. I justified it all as "for my art" and other, forgive me, ******** excuses. Being in that situation is nothing more than being victem to your own tunnel vision and poor choices. Sure there have been a few success stories like the one posted, or like Whoopi Goldberg (who was also a homeless person at one point in her life if I remember correctly), but they are extremely rare.

    I think it's easy to say "sure, I would live below the poverty level if I didn't have any responsibilities" when you are comfortable. It's something totally different to be in that position, whether it's voluntary or not. More importantly, however, there is a fine line between too little and enough as far as it pertains to focusing on writing or other artistic endeavors. Don't forget you'll need paper, pencs/pencils, at least a typewriter (less expensive than a computer), ribbons for that typewriter, correction tape or white out... these all end up being luxury items and are forced to fall to a lower priority than, say, food. I found that when I was destitute, it was actually much more difficult to spend time either writing or acting than it was when I was living paycheck to paycheck, just above the poverty level. There are too many concerns that revolve around simple survival that make focusing on anything else a luxury you really do not have.

    Personally, I ended up abandoning the acting and writing both in order to scrape and crawl my way out of debt and into a comfortable situation. I no longer act, but I now write much more, and with a much clearer focus than I was able to do when I was poor. There is a balance you need to maintain in order to really be able to focus correctly on your work. If you have concerns or problems with your living situation, it really shows in your writing. The stuff I wrote 10 years ago is very dark, bleak, anti-hero with little hope kind of stuff. It was angry and jaded, because that's what I had made myself with my choices.

    Anyway, I know I rambled a bit and I apologize for that. I find myself getting a bit angry at this topic, so I'll shut up now

  24. #24
    Fear the Death Ray maestrowork's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by aertep
    I don't think it's necessary to suffer to be an artist. It's entirely possible to have a "regular" job and also to write. I used the computer at my day-job to write scripts and stories. I wrote on my lunch hour and breaks, and after work.
    I wrote most of my first book while having a very demanding job. I wrote during lunch breaks, down times, and also after I got home from work and on vacation. It wasn't easy but if you really wanted it, you made time for it. But it doesn't mean you have to live on the street to suffer your art...

    I just don't understand the kind of people Spookywriter was talking about. I think those people (I have never met one, however) have lost their sense of reality. It's perfectly fine to have a passion and I know artists/actors/writers who would die if they couldn't do their art, but it doesn't mean you can't hold a regular job at the same time. Plenty of jobs offer enough flexibility. I know a fantastic pottery artist who works as an administrative assistant. She's very good at her job, but also finds a time not only for her art (she makes wonderful stuff) but also teaching.

    I didn't want to work. It was as simple as that. I distrusted work, disliked it. I thought it was a very bad thing that the human race had unfortunately invented for itself.
    -- Agatha Christie





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  25. #25
    Swordsman zornhau's Avatar
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    I too am a little perplexed by the heroic down-and-out writers.

    Fiction is interactive. It's worth is measured to the extent which people read it. If people are reading your fiction, they must be buying it. Therefore...
    (Newly Agented but unpublished author. The usual caveats apply.)

    German Longsword in a nutshell: "I'd shake your hand... but I'm not sure where it landed."

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