Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Career Notes: Everybody sad!

I think at my career-talk thingy on Thursday, I am going to be asked about how I balance writing stories and earning a living. My glib answer is "badly," but my non-glib answer is not too much better--I do what I can, sleep less than I want, miss parties I'd enjoy, I don't own a car, cellphone, cat, or cable box, and have truly demented tax returns. But judging by the state of the bloggersphere today, everybody is miserable in this situation. So I'm in good company, and at least I'm not injured:

Mark reports on AL Kennedy's description of the writing life composed of exhaustion, obsession and back pain.

AJ comments on Geoff Pevere's description of the writing life as composed of networking, being ignored, and self-doubt.

Amy comments on the writing life of trying to find a totally un-writing-related job to support the writing. I like how Amy is positive and puts the pros of the situation before the cons, albeit after the eye-gouging reference.

So what am I really gonna tell the kids on Thursday? That if you want to do a thing that doesn't pay much (or sometimes anything) you will have to do another thing that pays at least something, to balance it out, at least for a while. And while yes, that can suck the life right out of you and make you just want to lie down and have a little nap at the bus stop or the grocery store, it can also be stimulating and exciting to be in two different worlds. And a workaday job, as opposed to writing, will introduce you to new people, help you learn to work as part of a team, expose you to ideas you did not think of yourself, and more than likely offer at least some cake.

This might be aggressive silver-lining searching from someone writing this blog post as her sole creative outlet this week, as she spends her days editing and her nights marking teenager stories (Bulletin: I have learned about the teens: they like the video games. Also: weird fonts.) But there's always gonna be tradeoffs, and quite often I get to write for a few hours at a time. At least, that's what I tell myself.

I think I'm going to do a post on "Jobs for Writers." I've had a lot of different ones, but not nearly all that are out there--please send comments if you've had a particularly good, or particularly bad job-writing fit that we can all learn from.

Back to work!


Amy said...

I totally put the "pros" first because I thought there would be fewer of them. But there wasn't! Which just goes to show, things are never as bad as they seem. I wasn't lying in that horrid group job interview when I used the work "positive" as one of the "three words you would use to describe yourself." Or something like that.

Personally, I'd rather have a day job that wasn't writing-related in any way, just because I feel like if I was writing all day for someone else, I might not want to come home and write for myself (sort of like the reason my dad doesn't read). Although I've never really had a writing-related job, so I've never been able to test this theory. In my experience, the best jobs are mundane ones with little to no responsibility, where I can just kind of zone out and think about stories and actually leave all my work crap at work when I leave.

Arnold said...

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Ransermo said...

One could argue that the sadness you’re referring to is part of living in a modern society and is somewhat universal, afflicting anyone whose grown up life doesn’t matched up to their dreams. What you tell your students will likely impact them regardless of what they choose to do.
Back pain is a problem of all jobs that involve sitting behind a desk or lifting heavy objects. Obsession serves a sales person or scientist just as well as an artist. To speak to a nurse or doctor clearly shows there’s no monopoly on exhaustion.
I would argue that self-doubt is common in all levels of an organization as few people have the ability to see themselves as they truly are. Most of the political activists hold “dull” jobs that pay the bills so they can attend party meetings at night and policy conferences on weekends. The conversations I have with a writer trying to get published and a marketer trying to get their own line of yoga clothing going is eerily similar.
Most professions are quick to point out how they are put upon—that their woes are different from the norm. It’s like the tale of the Japanese and Canadian diplomat. The Japanese diplomat declares that “Japan is a unique nation”. “All nations are unique,” the Canadian politely replies. “That is true,” the Japanese diplomat concedes, “but Japan is uniquely unique.”
Dreams drive us, they can drive us to distraction or create a desire to change ourselves, a person, a place, or the world. Unfortunately, dreams cannot make work disappear and ideas don’t move bricks. This is true of a business entrepreneur or a playwright.
The hard part of all this is what you need to do versus what you want to do. The world has a lot to offer to distract you or rather there thousands/millions of other people wanting you hear what they have to say, be it a short story, novel, play, video game, sales pitch, television series, political cause. There comes a point where you have to decide if whether you wish to say something, compete in the noise or simply listen and find a truth in it you can live with. Perhaps in your heart of hearts, you simply don’t want your name on a book, build a company (or whatever) and just want to live a happy life.
In writing, I see two series of questions you have to answer. One is a matter of standards; would you write for magazines? Which ones? Lit journals? Fantasy & SF? Travel magazines? Would you write a romance novel or a thriller (if not then what type)? Are you willing to lower the quality of your writing to get a couple more manuscripts out a year? Would you be a ghost writer? Am I comfortable writing for just the Canadian market? What about the USA/UK? Would you take commissions? Would you write non-fiction? What about Web TV shows?
The other is logistics. Can I write enough to pay the bills? Can I work on the projects I want and still put out enough material to get paid? How long do I need to build my name? How much should I give away for free? Is there a mindless job that can play the bill? Is there an engaging job that I can do and still write? Do I have to write alone or is there a social environment where I can work?
I would argue that these are the questions for your students to answer if they want to be a writer, but I think the juggling of multiple jobs is also important as it’s a part of pursue any sort of dream.
If writing is the iceberg AL Kennedy described, then it is in a sea filled of floating ice. Doctors and scientist struggle for funding, jobs, and making a difference as do politicians, activists, sales people, and countless others. Either you put in the extra time and effort or you settle.
Life happens in stages, moving so slowly as to allow one to forget long hours of work and dedication the good items in life required. Mozart was a music teacher while making great masterpieces. Shakespeare likely lived above a pub before pooling enough money to open the Globe. That success takes time is probably the hardest lesson to teach the young—especially those that are used to winning video games in less than 30 hours. :)

Rebecca Rosenblum said...

Man, that's a wise comment, Scott. In fact, it's more of a post, really--I so wish you had a blog again! And it's true, there's a certain "I'm so put-upon, no one's life is as hard as mine" tone to this post, and indeed to what anyone ever says about their career. It's the truth--*everything* is hard. These kids just have to pick which hardness they can best cope with and enjoy most!

Anonymous said...

I've been a roofer, a provincial park facility operator, a wilderness raft/kayak guide, a library tech, a bar tender/waitress, a vet's assistant, a mail sorter, a garbage collector... I could go on, (thanks to that break during university semesters) - all these jobs as well as a being a writer, and like you said, Rebecca, I think it informs the writing. My stories would be far less interesting if I hadn't done those weird and varied jobs - of course while I was doing them I felt very hard done by (especially cleaning outhouses - I should really be exempt from ALL toilet facility cleaning for the rest of my life).
I will say, though, that while doing all these jobs I almost NEVER told my co-workers I wrote. It's harder to hide now that there are books out there with my name on them, but I like my work and my writing life to be exclusive each of the other.
It would be fabulous to be totally funded to write books, but for me, some of the fun would be robbed - part of the joy is still that it's something almost secret I do each day that builds another life for me. Those high school kids should be given a realistic view of a writer's life, but more than that, they should be encouraged to live widely.
I will tell you, though, it's a heck of a lot easier to write at night now that I'm living in a house (as opposed to a tent or a cabin) with enough money to eat, etc, thanks to the pay cheque that comes in from my day job!