What is the best thing about being a writer for you?The check. Hellhounds must eat. Well, I prefer eating too, but since I hit menopause all calories are superfluous, so, what the hey, my end of the food budget can go to buying more other-people's books.
Yes, okay, ha ha and all that. But the thing about the check—or rather, checks, since you usually get paid for a book in several whacks—is that it's both simple and real. The book the check is paying you for is real, but it's a complex reality, and you have way too many complex memories about how it came to be real, and too many of them are about how you didn't quite get it right. (Plus there may be the very real howler of a typo that will be the first thing your eye falls on when you open your shiny first advance copy of your beautiful new book. You therefore open it very carefully, and you blink a lot.) You're also busy worrying about how well it's going to sell, and whether or not it's going to sell well enough that when you send in your next novel your publisher will want it too, and whether you'll have taken so long to write it (an important issue in my case) that you may have run out of money before then.
There is a kind of frantic, disbelieving joy when the first copy of your new book arrives—and yes, this goes on happening, even when you're old and gnarly with experience: that first-book moment isn't getting old with the rest of me—but delicious as it is, for me it's hemmed round with the consciousness of what from my perspective are all the broken bits and compromises the story contains.
But when you open the envelope and see that there's money in your bank account again, your worry mechanism's yattering may turn itself off for a moment. Money doesn't get reviewed; money doesn't do well or badly (which is to say I don't earn enough past eating and taxes to, you know, invest); you weren't down at the mint straggling incompetently over the lines with your paintbrush; money just is. (What it usually is is too little, but that's somewhat a different issue, or anyway it turns the worry mechanism back on again.) You just stand there thinking, yes, I'm a professional writer. I get paid to stay home and write stories. And that's an extremely nice moment. Pity it doesn't last longer. Because then you sit back down at your desk and keep on with the next story—which brings you hard back to the whole 'this is the best I can do but it's not good enough' thing again.
By the time the final check arrives, usually on publication, you are, or you should be, well into writing your next one, and the shiny still-new advance copy of your book lying on a table or leaning on a shelf somewhere, feels almost like an artefact of a former life. You're fully involved with a new set of blunders and damp squibs. Or you're hoping they're a new set. As Samuel Beckett said, Fail better.