I’ve had a lot of jobs. Many at one time. None of them real glamorous. After a recent post about the odd jobs of artists at Nancy French’s blog, I posted a list of my odd jobs in the comments section:
Grocery Store Bagger/Cashier/Customer Service Manager
Dorm Security Guard
Phone Book Assembler
Phone Book Ad Salesman
College Newspaper Editor
College Literary Magazine Editor
catholic School Secretary
Newspaper Flyer Stuffer
Convention Parking attendant
The closest I’ve come to a real career-type job is a two year stint as a newspaper reporter. Everything else has been done part-time or for really short periods of times…like days, or even hours in some case. I’ll take just about any job once but I never have a problem quitting it the minute it stops being fun or I can’t stand it any longer. This is in direct contrast to my dad who spent 30 years doing crap jobs in the shop at General Motors so he could support his family. I love my dad and thank him for doing that so I had the luxury of never having to.
My latest job has been a part-time temp job in the marketing department of a large, multi-national plastic bottle maker. At one point though, it looked as if I might be offered my position on a permanent, full-time basis with a generous salary and benefits. Coming off of a very hard summer financially I was seriously thinking about taking the job and chucking my school plans. I figured since the job didn’t use any of my creative skills it wouldn’t sap my urge or ability to write fiction like working as a reporter had (shout out to Laura Lippman and Michael Connelly, and several other folks who worked full-time as reporters while also working as novelists–I have no idea how you did it). But after thinking about it almost obsessively for a week or so I decided I’d probably pass on the job if it was offered to me because I felt like I’d be selling my soul as a writer.
This is something that’s always been a thorny issue with me. I look at writers like Steve Hamilton and SJ Rozan who had (or still have in Steve’s case) day jobs that weren’t writing related for many years after they were successful as novelists and somehow, despite my best attempts to think otherwise, that always bother me. Both are phenomenal writers and I don’t think they would be any better if they were either writing full-time or holding down “writing jobs” but it still rubbed me the wrong way. I think the main reasoning behind this for me is that for some reason, jobs like this reek of backup plan.
Part of me has always rebelled the idea of having a backup plan if writing didn’t work out. I secretly believe that if I have a backup plan with a cushy salary and benefits that I wouldn’t have the fire I needed to keep writing. I never wanted to be the guy who woke up one day and was 50 years old stuck in a crap job and hadn’t written anything since college. So I figured if I never had a backup plan I’d never fail. Right. Now I know this is stupid but I’m not particularly inclined to change my mind. While it still holds true for me that I will never have a backup plan (though I guess teaching writing is precariously close, but that’s something that I love to do and would do even if I had all of the money in the world) but I still wonder why I can’t look at writers the same way if they hold down nice respectable jobs in the corporate world.
I recall being slightly disappointed when I found out Harry Hunsicker was a real estate appraiser. Harry is a great writer and his first novel Still River benefits from his experience in real estate, but part of me wanted to read in his bio that he had held down a hundred different jobs and currently worked as a bouncer in Texas while writing his books during breaks between fights. At the other end of the spectrum guys like Dennis Lehane seem somehow more legitimate to me because he worked a bunch of jobs and at one point was even working as a limo driver so he could write. And Joe Konrath worked as a food server for 12 years while writing. Why does that somehow make him better qualified to be a writer in my mind than a guy like Harry who just happens to have a more steady job with an office and a 401K?
I don’t know. This post is about questions, not answers.