Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Starving Writer

Yahoo’s Financially Fit Website recently ran a number of articles about people living on very little income. One particular story grabbed my attention.

” … we tracked down Joseph Fonseca, a writer currently living in Seattle who supports himself on $20,000 a year. Fonseca, 28, authored a first-person piece in the Washington Post over the weekend describing his “10 cities, 10 years” project, in which he moves every year and starts over in a new town. An aspiring novelist, he plans to eventually write a book about his quest.”

Joseph Fonseca - seriously committed to getting published

Most of the article deals with how he budgets and lives on such little money. You can catch that part here. But what struck me is how far we are willing to go to realize our dreams of becoming authors. I rarely go to bed before midnight and am up by 6.30 in the morning. I realize that I am extremely blessed to have a loving family and a job that inspires me, so please don’t take this the wrong way. but the drive to write and get my books out to the world is immense. Outside of work and family, I have little tolerance for anything that take my time away from writing.

I was recently told by a well-known agent that, while he liked my work and me personally, he would not work with me because I am not willing to make my ambition of being a widely-read author my only goal. I protested that I have a family and a meaning job, to which he agreed that these were all very important, but that is not what he requires of his authors. He, I realize now, would prefer me to be the starving author like Mr. Fonseca.

I hold on to my dream and will realize it while balancing my responsibilities to family and work. I will burn the clock and continue to set and pursue the goals I seek to make it work. I keep telling myself that it is good to be multifaceted. But I would love to have a beer with a guy like Joseph Fonseca, especially when he writes sentences like this:

“To retire requires having a career to retire from. My ambition is to be a writer, and I’d love to be writing into my old age, to be like Vonnegut and write until the day I die. “


Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

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One thought on “Starving Writer

  1. Until e-books and Print on Demand (POD), we had no idea how many starving writers might be out there that never make it. In 2010, more than 3 million independent, self-published titles were released. A recent study found that about 200 million Americans dream of writing a best seller.

    Now we have a better idea how many starving authors there may be and many of them will starve until they die and never find a fan base to read their work. The image of the starving artist, author, and actress struggling until death find them emerges.

    I’ve read that Hollywood sees an average of 40,000 aspiring actors flood into town annually but less than a handful (less than 10) will end up acting in real movies and TV and many of them will never have a leading role. In fact, more than 99.99% will never have a leading or supporting role.

    I know of one want-to-be actor that refused to go to college because he was so convinced he was going to make it big, who bother. He is now 35 with only a high school education and to earn enough so he will not starve, he works as a waiter or bartender and has become a drunk who dabbles in drugs due to the depression of not realizing his dream while still young and nieve.

    I suspect the success rate is very small in the publishing and acting industry and becoming a starving artist believing that one-day fame will arrive just because one sacrificed and starved is not wise or noble.

    I believe it is wiser to have what I call a back-up-plan, which means a job that may lead to a retirement of some kind while getting up early to write, which I did for years while teaching for thirty years. I would often get up at three in the morning and write for a few hours before going in to the classroom. Now, I have that retirement and do not have to go to work so I’m writing and living my dream even though I am not a best-selling author and may never be one.

    It seems to me that real sacrifice isn’t running away from responsibility and jobs that pay enough to survive but the individual that has a family, a job and still manages to find time to write and never gives up.

    That individual may find success in his or her dream but if that dream does not materialize at least the aspiring novelist will have an income so in old age starvation and homelessness doesn’t become a reality.

    In fact, a married couple that lives in a house across the street from where I live, the wife dreams of becoming a famous actress. She has never worked but has chased that dream into her fifties (more than thirty years) while her husband goes to work each day to his boring, tedious job and supports her dream and his wife that he loves very much who still hasn’t found success in acting. She also has never had a steady job. The husband is the one that supports her non-starving actor dream and she lives a good live in the upper middle class. He was her back-up plan and he was willing to support her dream so she could work on it full time, but it still didn’t come true and the odds are it never will.

    In reality, the starving artist image is one of a gambler willing to toss the dice and see if he or she wins. And gamblers should know that in “craps” the odds do not favor the gambler or there would not be so many hotels in Las Vegas and Reno that rake in billions of dollars from losing gamblers.

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