I stood a little taller, puffed out my chest a bit, and started calculating the odds that she was a sapiosexual.
“Yes, I am a writer,” I said, smiling at her.
“That’s so cool,” she said, visibly excited. “And dangerous!”
Dangerous? I never thought of writing as dangerous. I did get a nasty paper cut once but soldiered through it.
“What do you ride?” she asked.
“I write books, blogs…”
“Do you ride motorcycles?” she asked.
“Do you ride horses? Do you race them?”
“No, I’m a W-R-I-T-E-R,” I explained. “Not a rider.”
But she was already scanning the room for someone with a speedier vocation.
The rider/writer thing actually happens more often than you may think here in the Philippines, so I’ve started scribbling in the air as I tell them what I do, instead of revving the throttle on my imaginary motorcycle.
It’s also a perfect metaphor for my career.
It’s been a journey cleanly stripped of any “success,” accolades, or financial gain, like a fish down to the bones. In fact, my chosen life as a rider…err a writer…has been filled with solitude, sacrifice, and a lot of fudging hard work.
Most days, I ask myself, “Why the hell did I give up a job making tens of thousands of dollars a month for this?!” Why on earth am I fighting it out on the scrapheap of society while every Instagram marketing punk is raking in the dough?
I’ve even called writing my “beautiful failure” before.
But when I get over my daily freak-out, I realize that I wouldn’t change a thing. Being a writer has granted me plenty of amazing new friends and opportunities, a creative outlet that’s given life new meaning above just paying bills, and, perhaps the most valuable thing of all, freedom.
The friendships, laughter, and deep conversations – with people near and far - have been invaluable, and worth more than gold to me.
So, when it all starts to feel like I’m the piano player on the Titanic, I remind myself that I have a rare opportunity to make a difference in the world through my writing and outreach. Through my words, I can impact a positive change.
I must confess that when I started this crazy ride (not write) in 2011, I had less than altruistic goals. In fact, I had visions of grandeur floating through my head. I was moving to Costa Rica, eschewing my worldly goods, fast toys, and high-paying career in California. On the beaches of Tamarindo there, I would write my first book, which would be a smash hit because…well, because I wrote it, of course.
I’m not kidding – I really thought that’s how it works!
Let me tell you in my own words, from this passage I wrote in my second book, South of Normal in 2012 as I contemplated success and fame:
“I’d daydreamed about that for hours while I should have been writing.
Most likely it won’t happen—there are over 2,000,000 books published every year, and even the established authors with big publishers have a tough time making a living at it.
BUT...let’s just fantasize for a second and say that lightning strikes and my book hit it big. Here’s how I see the whole thing going down:
Have you ever heard people say that when they get rich or famous, they won’t change? Or. lottery winners who keep their jobs and remain the average Joe?
Not me. I’m going to turn into a completely self-absorbed asshole!
The moment I sign with a publisher, I’m going to morph into a totally different person, leaving behind everyone who’s been good to me.
Let’s just say that my first book hits it big and does end up on the New York Time’s Bestseller list. The critics will probably call me “Raw and refreshing, with prose as smooth as a $50 cigar. The best underground American writer since Bukowski.”
The royalty checks will start coming in faster than I can take them to the bank. I’m going to start wearing leather pants, put product in my severely-thinning hair, and don gaudy fur coats while walking down the street. Actually, I won’t walk anywhere, but hire someone to drive me around in my Bentley.
It’s important to me that when I get famous, I forget all of my old friends. Every chance I get I’ll “Big Time” the compadres who supported me through thick and thin. I’ll hire two super model assistants to screen my calls, until even my mom can’t get through.
I’ll buy a mansion in the hills and decorate it all in white leather. I’ll have a huge “N” tiled onto the floor of my massive swimming pool. I’ll buy a rare white-striped tiger cub that I’ll walk around on a diamond-studded leash and develop a huge coke habit.
My old friends and family will shake their heads and try to talk to me about their concern for my behavior, but that will just incite one of my tantrums where I curse them out and throw escargot and fire the super models and have them all forcibly removed from my estate.
Then, my next book will come out, but the critics will turn on me. They’ll call it “self-indulged drivel, a soggy excuse for literature,” and publicly question whether I plagiarized the first one.
By then, my spending habits of $20,000 a day will be impossible to maintain. I’ll have to return the Bentley and donate the white tiger to the Los Angeles zoo. The pressure of my poor-me existence will be so overwhelming that I’ll snort twice as much coke and start brushing my teeth with Jack Daniels. My finances will go into a tailspin and even the mansion will be up for sale. But, all of the potential buyers will be named Justin or Kanye or Ahmed, so no one will want an “N” pool.
Soon, the bank will foreclose. All of those fair-weather friends will disappear when I can’t afford limousines and VIP bottle service anymore. I won’t be able to sleep, little Norm won’t work right, and, worst of all, I’ll suffer from a horrible case of writer’s block.
I’ll lose it all and be resigned to the life of an average drunken bum, sleeping under my fur coat in the dumpster behind a vacant Borders. I’ll live off discarded McDonald’s French fries and rant and rave to anyone I pass how I used to be a somebody.
Eventually, my true friends will hunt me down and drag me out of there and set up an intervention at the local Olive Garden. I’ll have a complete emotional breakdown, realizing the error of my ways, and vow to never be an a-hole again.
My mom will take me home and tuck me into the twin bed in her guest room, where I’ll sleep for three days straight. Over the months, I’ll clean out my body and rebuild my constitution, until I’m gulping down raw eggs and doing one-handed pull-ups in her basement...and writing again.
The ensuing book, “White Tiger Dumpster Fries: My Life from A-hole to Amen,” (Random House, June 2016) will be such a testament to the resiliency of the human spirit that it will shoot me right back to the top.
“Bravo, a fete de accompli! Our generations Siddhartha!” the critics will applaud.
But this time, I’ll donate all of my royalty checks to children’s charities. I’ll be invited to the Ellen show, taking public transport to the studio, and we’ll laugh and hug like old friends, even doing a little victory dance together before the commercial break.
But I haven’t put a lot of thought into it or anything...”
No, White Tiger Dumpster Fries never came out, and I never did more than sell a few hundred copies (at best) of a few self-published books over the years.
But I’ve still managed to eke out a living writing blogs, websites, reviews, and all sorts of marketing content for companies and entrepreneurs. I estimate that I’ve written almost 5,000 blogs or other forms of content since 2011 – each one nearly 1,000 words!
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working as a ghost writer on other peoples’ books, too. In total, I have my fingerprints all over more than a dozen books available on Amazon.com and Apple Books right now, and each and every one of them is special to me, whether or not my name is on it.
I’ve advised on a series sheet for a TV pilot, co-wrote a book about legendary martial artist Judd Reid, was chief blogger for Marijuana Weekly, did the marketing for a pro soccer team, got to write about Fantasy Football for a couple of years, got paid to write travel reviews for a great site called AllWorld.com, and even got to blog about bondage and S&M for a product website for a while.
The subject matter, too, ranges from fascinating to mundane to just plain random, but I’m always up for the challenge.
However, most of my work deals with topics that aren’t quite as sexy, like dentistry, taxes, credit scoring, and I even had to write all of the content for a huge website about ice fishing.
I appreciate all of the work, but I assure you that life as a writer is a lot more ice fishing than it is bondage!
I have no idea where this all will lead me, but I’ll keep forging ahead, because one thing I’ve learned is that you only lose if you quit.
And I’m more all-in than ever.
As the calendar now starts flipping towards the 10-year anniversary of when I left the United States and decided to start anew as an author, I find myself prone to reflection – and nostalgia. I’m looking forward to putting together my next travel memoir in time for a 2021 release, with all of the crazy, remarkable, and insightful experiences from life abroad.
It will be called simply, “Less.”
Until then, when someone asks me what I do for a living, I can just point to my wrist and say, “Norm Writes.”