by Kathi Diamant
Love, in this case, being the act of putting pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, with the desired result of a publishable piece of writing.
Few writers are able to get by on their writing alone. Even in our own San Diego Writing Women group, most of us do other things to keep the bills paid and the lights on. Georgeanne works for the San Diego Zoo, Jen for Planned Parenthood. Sharon is a veterinarian. Judy, Kathy and Laurel are academics. Caitlin, Karen and I teach college extension courses.
I’m not going so far as Karl Marx, who, according to the National Writers Union, once said, “Better a galley slave in Turkey than a freelance writer in America.” But, the fact is, as we have all been saying in our blog posts, it’s not easy to make a living as a writer.
For example, I finally got my first San Diego Magazine gig, a 400-word piece for the upcoming November 2010 issue. The magazine pays a relatively respectable 50 cents per word. That’s $200. For several days work. See my point?
The subject of my SD Magazine article is telling: my title was “My Life as an Extra.” True, it was only one day, my brief career working as background on “Terriers,” a new television series set in Ocean Beach, but it is illustrative of the things I do to keep the title writer behind my name.
Because I am not a fast writer, or a particularly efficient one, it takes me a long time to produce the work closest to my heart. I am currently working--or rather, because of various other time-consuming, income-producing projects, NOT working--on a memoir entitled “108 Coincidences.” I am also regrettably not working on a screenplay treatment about the last months of literary genius Franz Kafka’s life, a story of redemptive love in the face of death.
I am working, though not nearly as much as I should be, on writing two grants for the Kafka Project, my non-profit research effort to find the missing papers of Franz Kafka in Eastern Europe. If the grants are successful (and there is certainly no guarantee of that) then I’ll have funds available to work in the future. But there’s no pay for the time it takes now to write the grants.
So, in the meanwhile, what’s a writer to do? Especially one with a taste for Single Malt Whiskey? In my case, various and sundry things.
I teach a beginning Tai Chi class at the YMCA Hazard Center. Of course, that job won’t fund my affinity for Highland Park Scotch. I teach courses on writing and Kafka for the Osher Life Long Learning Institute at San Diego State University. I lead monthly book discussions for both Osher and the Kensington Library. I give talks about my book, Kafka's Last Love. (My next one is November 17 at 6:30 pm at the Encitinas Library.) I’m a moderator—the most recent was a discussion on Religion in America, sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League and Jewish Studies Department at SDSU. I am an actor, and occasionally get cast in a play. As a member of Equity, I do get paid for rehearsals and performances, but everyone knows that acting is not the way to make money. I did work one day as an extra, and at $140 per day (AFTRA scale) I do hope to do it again. My most reliable income comes from public broadcasting, where I work as an on-air fundraising anchor, coordinating producer and occasional audience wrangler for national PBS shows taped in San Diego.
As I write this, it is dawning on me: All the jobs I mentioned above are also things I do for love. None of them nets me that much money. But combined they add up to a good life of interesting, exciting and fulfilling work. And they do support my writing habit.
Kathi Diamant is a writer, actor, teacher and broadcaster, and an adjunct professor at San Diego State University, where she directs the Kafka Project, the search for a missing literary treasure. For info at http://kathidiamant.com and www.kafkaproject.com