Graffiti is visual pollution, right? Not always. The other day, I was walking along the Erie Canal when I spotted the white-painted words on the underside of a bridge spanning the water that read, “They Say It’s Lonely at the Top”. My first thought was “I’d like the chance to find that out for myself!” But, as I considered it further I realized that, with my seven-year career as a freelance writer, being on top isn’t really an issue for me anymore. Yes, there are times where I mutter and sputter to myself that I will never be a “real” writer, at least not until I publish a book. This most often occurs after a party in which countless people approach me and ask me if I’m “still writing”. The next question is always “What are you writing?” or “Who are you writing for?” and their faces inevitably fall when I name my local newspaper or the regional magazines my articles frequently appear in. It almost seems like if you aren’t writing for Time or Newsweek or on the New York Times Best Seller list, you don’t count as a writer.
In my heart I know that this simply isn’t true. The pieces I write are about people, places, and events that I’m interested in and each one receives the same attention to detail and accuracy and the careful editing as those of the writers who are considered by others to be at the pinnacle of success. The reality is, when all is said and done, would I rather have written hundreds of well-researched, passionate, and thought-provoking pieces for smaller magazines with large readerships or one mediocre novel that barely sells? Where else but in smaller publications with open-minded editors could I immerse myself in topics as diverse as Mormons, a Dairy Cow Birthing Center, local politics, spiedies, or glamping, all in one year?
This isn’t to say that I won’t ever write a book. My point is that it’s important to keep in mind that the writing life is all about the process; the detective-like research, the in-depth interviews, and the endless polishing until you have a piece of writing you can be truly proud of. Why be lonely at the top when you can enjoy humanity in general, and your work in particular, right there in the middle? I don’t know about you but that works just fine for me!