There was a big Twitter kerfuffle recently over someone who posted what I think was meant to be an encouragement to take risks and dream big regarding writing aspirations. It came out sounding more like, “just quit your job, you coward.” He got pretty thoroughly dragged as a result, to the point that someone wound up contacting his mother over it. Good grief, internet. I do think it was a pretty ridiculous and unconsidered thing to say, but I’m not interested in piling onto the guy further. So I’m leaving his name out of this post.
Still, the whole thing struck a nerve with me. Plenty of responses were from parents explaining how financial risks become more complicated when there are kids involved (this is true). Other pretty reasonable rebuttals involved wanting to be able to, you know, eat. Considering I’ve devoted at least 10-15 hours per week for the past year to writing – actual writing, submitting, editing, etc. – with less than $300 to show for it, the whole food thing is a decent reason to do something for cash besides writing. That comes out to less than a $2 per hour “wage,” if you’re curious.
Still, I do think it’s important to have a reason to go to work that isn’t purely survival-driven (for writers and for everyone else). Sure, wanting a stable income is a huge factor in my decision not to turn in my notice and ride off into the sunset in Pursuit of My Dreams. That’s not to say I haven’t thought about it. Believe me, I have. More than once. Especially on days like today, which involved a literal dumpster fire. But I keep showing up, and that’s not the worst thing in the world.
So here’s my other silver lining of a non-writing day job
for writers. It’s fuel. I’m lucky in that I can find a lot of intellectual, creative, and social interest in my work most days, and working with the public keeps my personal social bubble from getting too opaque. That’s good for both my writing and my humanity. Even if your job is terrible, though, it’s a set of experiences and probably at least a few human interactions that you can learn from. No matter how bad it gets, it’s basically a nonstop writing prompt generator /hands-on research opportunity, right? If you’ve got to have a job and it’s bumming you out, remember that no one else alive has your lived experience, which includes work, so use it (I think all of this is true for full time caregivers as well, incidentally).
I also like to remember Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Wallace Stevens. The dude turned down a teaching post at Harvard because it meant he would have to leave his position as an insurance exec, a career he spent most of his life in. With no disrespect intended toward the insurance community, is there a less poetic industry in existence? But that didn’t stop Wallace from articulating the mortality-affirming concupiscence of dessert.
So work your job if you have to work it, and enjoy it when you can and use it even if you can’t. There are worse things in life than to be employed (and/or to spend your time caring for people you love), and there’s freedom and a whole lot less stress in not having to make a living writing fiction.
And don’t forget who the only emperor is and embroider your fantails while you can. Gonna force that click thru, folks.