I got an email yesterday from the lovely blogger Kristin. She resides here, and you should check out what she has to say. Her question regarded how I juggle a full-time job (which often sends me into overtime) with writing fiction. Which made me think and ponder and consider, because it used to happen that I worked and didn’t write. And there was much gnashing of teeth.
The way I look at it, when you’re not paying your bills by writing but have that insatiable chicken pox itch to commit words to paper (or screen), you step out onto a double edged sword.
On one side is a precipitous fall into financial ruin and despair, where your only good phone calls happen when it’s not a creditor who wants your soul in a jar, and where the old adage, “You can’t bleed a stone” becomes something you rattle off without thinking the second someone says the word money. Which can make things a little awkward. The other side of this sword may seem like less of a spiral into despair and ruination, and may even seem cushy and full of candy canes at first. But then you realize your soul is being sucked into a jar anyway because at the end of the day, you are so exhausted that you curl up with Ben and Jerry and double fist Red Velvet Cake and Cinnamon Buns whilst gorging on reality TV as your laptop gathers dust.
(The pic on the left is actually Clusterfluff ice cream, but pretend it’s Cinnamon Buns. PRETEND, I SAY!)
So what does one do when faced with this conundrum? You could go buy some more ice cream and glue your ass into a cubicle forever until your dreams turn to quarts of flaky dust, or you could quit your job and become the new poster child for starving artist-dom, but I think there can be a better way.
Jobs are hard. They’re especially hard when you hate them. Such was the case for me a couple years ago. I thought teaching was what I should do, because everyone told me I should do it with my history degree. So I tried teaching special ed through a very selective alternative licensure program and didn’t write for a year. I loved my kids, but working 80 hours a week just didn’t do it for me. It’s also really hard to be a good teacher when your biological clock won’t let you sleep before 3 and when getting up early/your job/life causes massive amounts of anxiety that turn 3 into 6 and you have to just go to work and say screw sleep for another day.
Yeah, that didn’t work for me.
Then some crazy lady decided to T-bone my car, bust open the ligaments in my neck, and slam me into bed for six weeks. After some interesting physical therapy and some huge doctor bills and a lawyer (and a few instances of my left arm going numb and tingling), I decided going back to teach for another year plus grad school would be ill-advised. So I quit.
use my $125,000 history degree to better serve people cocktails and beer. This has been a very, very good decision for me. I make enough money to pay my bills and go to my conference in January. And I write every day. Yep. Every day. My soul flits about my apartment and sometimes perches on my shoulder.
The point of all this is to say this: if you need a day job to pay the bills, find one that fulfills you and that you enjoy, or one that you can simply perform and then leave at work. That was what I needed. I needed a job that left me alone when I went home and didn’t come sneaking up behind me while I tried to sleep, whispering in my ear that nothing I could do would really make a difference to my kids.
So if you must work (which you probably must), it is possible to walk that sword. To pay your bills without losing your soul, and to write without collectors coming to steal it. It might take some time (took me four years) to find a way to do this, but it is possible. I don’t plan to work in the service industry forever, but for now it suits me, and sometimes it even gives me ideas. I see familiar faces every day at work, and that is something that rejuvenates me — our regulars are very kind and friendly, and they don’t really try to steal my soul. Well, Kevin might, but he’d probably give it back after playing with it for a while. He’s also the sort of valiant person who offered to fart on my tables if they gave me lip. So all in all, my work environment is pretty pleasant. And when I come home, I write.