I’ve recently lapsed slightly in my general pessimism, and it’s scaring me (optimists are inscrutable, and I’m not sure I can handle being one). Lately, I’ve been thinking about what it would be like to write for a living (be still my heart), to carve a freelance path for myself in the world of content marketing that I’ve heard exists out there.
But it’s hard to take the plunge because writing has never been work. I’ve always, always, always just written around work.
In fact, the title of this blog should offer the discerning reader a clue about my financial success regarding my chosen craft. I’ve never made a penny from a word. And my landlord doesn’t accept short stories as a monthly tithe for my one-bedroom apartment.
So I’ve always had to work. My first job was at McDonald’s. Was I fifteen? Sixteen? I know I was in my mid teens because I had to get my “working papers,” those pesky documents that ascertain nobody is exploiting child labor, no sir.
Since then, I’ve worked as a Stewart’s Shop attendant, a babysitter, a Subway Sandwich Artist, a bookseller at a small shop, a direct support professional for adults with disabilities, a two-week teller at a credit union, a massage therapist, a one-time casino dealer at a resort, a researcher and data specialist, an online closed captioner and transcriptionist, a two-day waitress, a mail sorter and production assistant at a teeny little locally owned mail room, and a secretary at a university (currently).
Interviewers raise their eyebrows at sight of my resume. I don’t blame them.
Sometimes when I look over the list of jobs I’ve had from the ages of 16 to 27, I worry that my work record is spotty and and sporadic enough to suggest a sociopath, one who conquers a field only to feel bored and vacant and drift onto the next… leaving a trail of blindsided, brokenhearted supervisors in my wake.
I guess the thing that keeps me from being a driftless sociopath, aside from the fact that I’m not one, is that writing has been a near-constant in my life since early childhood. If I had the nerve, I’d slap that on a resume just to see how very high Ms. Marshall-the-human-resources-assistant’s eyebrows can go.
Just, “Writing.” Resume. Boom.
Sometimes this writing took the form of journaling, an important stage in my development as a writer and a learned skill I’m employing as I write for this site (which you ought to know is a thinly veiled dear diary masquerading as a writer’s blog). At times, I’ve written nothing but mediocre poetry. Times when I started and stopped a series of short stories. Times when all my writing was academic in nature with brief interludes of fancy.
But always, always, always.
There have been times I’ve tapped out my 800 words on my smartphone letter after letter sitting in my car between clients at the spa, times I’ve had my first free moments to write in the evenings when I’m falling asleep and I’m so tired that I have to close my eyes and let my fingers do all the work as I lean my head back. I’ve written in the car as my boyfriend drove and in tents in the middle of vast expanses of National Park land, my clickety-clickety-clack waking up my sister and friends.
I’ve written in libraries and bookstores, cafes and the parking lot outside supermarkets, airplanes and buses to NYC, while walking, while sitting, while standing.
At the advanced, unpublished age of 27 I’ve come to some settling conclusions about writing. I may never make any money doing it. (Of course, I dream of making a living freelance writing – don’t we all?) But I’ve accepted that it might not work out. I may have to work work, always and forever. It can seem exhausting, sometimes, when I picture all the long years I have of writing in spaces before, during, and after all the other responsibilities characteristic of an adult life.
But it’s also vaguely exciting. A prospect and a challenge. I might never win, and until (unless) I’m published, I might not be able to make writing the front-and-center priority that I want it to be, but I do garner a certain amount of pride from wedging the practice in between the disconnected bricks of life. It rounds out the edges, fills in the meaning, makes every moment an opportunity to build something from nothing.
I’m still mostly pessimistic about the idea of making money from writing. It seems too good to be true. But when it comes to writing itself, I’m an eternal through-and-through optimist.
How do you write? Where do you write? How do you fit your practice in with the expectations of your boss, spouse, kids, friends, old college buddies who inexplicably still go to bars until 2am?