Three Day Jobs of the Condor

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
Newspaper Reporter
Writing Tutor
Writing Teacher
Phone Installer
McDonald’s Cook
Editorial Assistant
catholic School Secretary
Legal Secretary
Automotive Secretary
Newspaper Flyer Stuffer
Campaign Canvasser
Environmental Canvasser
Marketing Assistant
Entertainment Journalist
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.

15 thoughts on “Three Day Jobs of the Condor

  1. what would really be cool is if you could find a career that would let you supporty our love for chick flicks, girl music, knitting, making clover necklaces, hugging puppies, and writing all in one.ok even I’M tired of that joke. I say there’s nothing wrong with a day job. But only you know yourself well enough to know if that would be a deterrent to your motivation. yes, I can use big words.

  2. Granted, there are times when the day job is phenomenally boring. Like today. But having spent most of the last 2 years out of regular work and generally sitting on my ass doing very little (interspersed with frequent NY trips) I far prefer my current situation. When I had my last job, I was far more disciplined about writing than when I was a “full time freelancer/blogger” or whatever. And even though it’s been a more difficult adjustment since the move, I think this will still eventually be the case.Plus writing full time is not for the feint of heart, and I really like having someone else other than me cover my health insurance.

  3. I admire you for throwing it all on the line and seeing what happens! It’s very exiciting… (At least watching it from Philadelphia is very exciting.):) Being a wife and mom while writing is the lamest side-occupation. I mean, I am a housewife, a mom, and just those words makes people slip into a coma. (Like your singer friend Christina Aguilera…)But it does allow you to save your creative impulses for late at night when it’s just you and the computer…

  4. In a way it was easier to write when I was working full time. I only had so many hours before I’d have to fall asleep so I could function the next day at work. Now that I’m full-time write-ist boy, there’s much more opportunity for sodding about not writing. And I could certainly do with the regular salary!I kinda miss the old days, but don’t tell She Who Must, as she hits me every time I mention going back to work.

  5. Oh, my God! Well, obviously you don’t know. Life rarely presents such choices.I had no choice. I had to work to support myself and part of my family. I wrote in my spare hours: pre-dawn, evenings, and weekends.Actually what happens is that the creative urge keeps bubbling away in a frustrating and exciting fashion while you earn your living, and by the time you are free, you are in an almighty frenzy to get to your computer.Nowadays I can write all day, but the creative urge refuses to produce any more than it did previously, possibly less. I really only get in about 2 – 3 hours of productive writing a day.However, you must try this your way. The only way to learn.

  6. My backup plan is to go back to full-time freelancing in case I can’t make fiction work. But I suspect I’d still be working in an office if I resembled anything close to a “team player.”As the mother of a 2-year-old, I frequently wish for a private island where I can write in peace, but the truth is, I know my creativity would dry up. I need people around – family and friends – in order to connect to the visceral emotions that basically make good characters. Otherwise I’d be stuck wondering what “real” people do in certain situations, and probably coming nowhere close to real life.And, yes, I am a lot more disciplined about writing time when I know I might not be able to count on the boy napping this afternoon…

  7. Bryon, if you are ever going to try to make it as a writer, now is the time. I didn’t take writing seriously when I was younger, and as a result I dicked around and didn’t get anything accomplished.Now I have a wife and 3 kids to support, so there’s no question – I need a job. Writing is secondary.

  8. I was reading Nancy’s blog and was struck by your name.My husband’s name is Bryon as well. Everyone mistakes it for Byron. You are the first person other than my husband who I have seen spell it that way.My mother in law thought it would be neat to have a son’s name end in -on like her name, Sharon.OK…..

  9. So lemme get this straight. Because I–between Sept and June–go to work from 7:30-3:30, stay up and grade papers and still find time to get writing in, that makes me less a legit writer than say… some guy who waits tables two or three times a week and spends the rest of his time scribbling in a notebook? Or am I missing the point. Or should I just continue to try and be funny?

  10. Silly Dave, it’s your lack of talent that makes you less legit as a writer. It has nothing to do with your work schedule.Elizabeth–Welcome to our little circus here. I used to hate the way my name was spelled but as I got older I took it as a badge of identity. I think it’ll look cool on a book jacket. What still bugs me is when people spell it wrong. I have immediate RELATIVES who still can’t spell it right.

  11. Hate to burst your bubble, Bryon, but the people with day jobs are the better writers. They have to interact with the same people who ultimately will read their work. In short, they have to live in the real world, pay the bills, juggle a schedule.Why is JA Konrath more qualified than Harry Hunsicker? Why’s it so bad that Steve Hamilton holds a day job or SJ Rozan stayed with her architecture firm for so long?I’ll put it to you this way. Were I an executive producer of a television show, I would not hire anyone on the writing staff who went to work in television or movies write out of college. Why? They never had a real day job. (Sorry, Lee. I know you worked hard.) They never had to sweat office politics or the 401k or will they make enough tips to cover the rent.Then you have some writers who go full time and get considerably less done. Why? Suddenly you have all this time to write, and of course, the human tendency is to squander it. I get the least amount of writing done on days I don’t work.And what, exactly, qualifies one to be a writer? Personally, I’d rather read the work of someone who’s held a day job than someone who has only been a writer all his life.

  12. Of course, the jokes about Dave’s lack of talent will be funnier when his book is released.Assuming he doesn’t win the SMP contest first.Your cubby reporter Jim will be at the show when it’s announced.

  13. Good points, Jim! That makes me feel better about my own long list of occupations.(sorry to take over your backlog, Bryon. I’ve lost control of mine too.)

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