It was 34 years ago today I opened the mailbox at my parents’ house and took out a check for my first professional fiction sale. I’ve written about that day and the story involved here, so as usual I won’t repeat all the details. I can’t let the occasion pass without at least mentioning it, though, and I can’t help but think about all the changes that have occurred since then. That story was written on a manual typewriter, stuck in an envelope, taken to the post office, and mailed. The check for it, also filled out on a typewriter, came back to me in the mail. Nothing digital involved anywhere in the process. On a personal level, I was not only 34 years younger, I was 60 or 70 pounds lighter, my eyesight was better (not good, just better), and I didn’t have to say “Huh?” a dozen times whenever somebody tried to talk to me. I didn’t have a beard, but I had more hair on top of my head than I do now. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I had a full head of hair, though. I was born balding, and I stayed that way. I was already married, but we didn’t have any children. That was still almost eight years away. I was working for my dad and had no idea what the life of a full-time freelance writer was really like. All I knew was that I wanted it.
So, 34 years later, after being a writer for more than half my life, has it been worth it? From a financial standpoint, almost certainly I could have made more money doing something else, and my family definitely suffered during some of the really lean times. But although it seems like I’ve been chained to the keyboard for years, I know that’s not really the case. The freedom writing has given me allowed me to be very much involved with the lives of my kids as they grew up, and I’m a lot more proud of the way they’ve turned out than I am of anything I’ve written. Writing was a means to that end, though. It’s also enabled me to be around to help out when other family members needed me, as they’ve helped me countless times. From a creative standpoint, I’ve always been a storyteller, and I’ve been able to spin lots and lots of what I hope are good yarns. They haven’t always been the stories I might have told if things had worked out differently, but I’ve always found something worthwhile to tell in all of them. And when I think about the millions of times over the past 34 years that someone has sat down, read something I wrote, and enjoyed it, well, you just can’t beat that feeling.
Worth it? In the words of the TV commercials, it’s been priceless.
THRILLING WESTERN October 1953
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