I was reading through the Romance Writer’s Report, a monthly magazine from Romance Writers of America. One of the articles this month was on hiring an assistant to help you write. This reminded me of a scene from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.
One of Francie’s teachers encourages her writing, but tells her not to write about being poor. The teacher feels it’s ugly, and common, and not something worth writing about. “I was poor too,” she says. “Sometimes when my father was laid off, we had to let the maids go. We dressed ourselves and made our own meals.”
Poor? How’d you afford airfare?
Um. Wow. Yeah. You were so poor.
I thought we were poor, too, growing up. We weren’t. We always had food. I always had a ride into town when I needed one. We owned our house and all the land surrounding it. We burned wood for heat, but we had heat. We had a window air conditioner upstairs, but we could hang out in the walk-out basement when it got too hot. I had new clothes each school year, a trumpet, pom-poms, and cheer shoes (not loaned from school). Looking back, I was rich.
I’m not poor now, but there’s no way in hell I’m hiring a writing assistant, especially when I can’t afford to pay myself as a full-time writer. Who are these mysterious people who can afford writing assistants? Are they independently wealthy? (If you also read RWR, you may have noticed I didn’t read the article. In my defense, I was too pissed off by the title.)
Instead, I find it fun to imagine what I would arrange for my assistant to do, if I had one. Send them on coffee runs, like The Devil Wears Prada? Have them run the drycleaning up the street? You may be wondering why I’m using singular they: I would hire a nonbinary assistant of color, of course. I would force myself to use correct pronouns until it was second nature. I would also use them as a sounding board for my ignorance, improving my ability as an advocate. That’s what assistants are for, right? Or maybe it’s just the coffee.
It can’t be for the writing. That’s my job.