Jobs and Writing (and Other Things)

Last Friday, my band had its comeback show, and, as these events wont to do, it brought up some material to reflect upon. Twelve years ago, I had started Midgard at the tender age of 19, hoping for a bona fide music career. At 31, I have found myself in a very different place – MBA, reasonably successful career, family. As much as I still love playing and writing music, it had become a side part of my life now, instead of its main focus.

From there, it was easy to make a connection with today’s topic: jobs, writing aspirations, and how the two can coexist.

Now, wait a second, you say. What does writing have to do with musical aspirations of a teenager and the reality of a thirty-something man realizing their folly? To me, the answer is expectations.

Let’s be honest here. Degrees in Business Administration and Finance don’t exactly prepare one for a writing career. And jobs in the investment industry are about as far from the glamorous life of a bohemian author as it gets. And then, there are all other things to keep in mind: bills, rent or mortgage payments, kids’ school and entertainment, you name it. In this day and age, it is almost a necessity for any aspiring author to have if not a true backup plan, then at least some reliable means to get by.

Of course, it is more appropriately “bohemian” to write down one’s observations on human nature while soaking in cheap alcohol in a smoke-filled café (or at least it was the case before such establishments became non-smoking here in Colorado). The literary world is full of stereotypes of brilliant, eccentric, and no doubt troubled authors that fit this bill perfectly. The problem is, what happens a decade or two later, when their lungs and livers begin to give out, the only career options available are questionable at best, and the field remains as crowded as ever with other writers who have the same idea.

Many well-known authors will say that luck plays a big part in who gets a big break and who does not, and it is hard to argue against that. There are big name writers out there with only middling writing skills, and there are many unpublished authors whose abilities and talents far surpass their more esteemed colleagues. Even the very successful authors had to persevere before a publisher took a chance on their works. And while skill and perseverance are largely dependent on the writer’s own efforts, luck is the element of chaos that makes or breaks careers.

This is why Plan B becomes of utmost importance. Unless a writer has reliable sources of financial support (such as scholarships, grants, supportive significant other, family, independent wealth – you name it), a solid career is a must.

There must be several stipulations to that, of course. One of the reasons I have brought up music earlier in this post is that the current level of my involvement with the band can be maintained without sacrificing my professional career, family, and writing endeavors. As music can be a very time- and money-intensive business, it is sensible to select a realistic level of involvement. The same goes to every other endeavor, including both writing and a career outside of it.

As such, discipline in writing is absolutely necessary. If the amount of time a writer has available is limited by other commitments, that time must be put to best use possible. Thus, an author must work around his or her full-time non-writing career while having sufficient time to write, and developing efficiency in writing.

The other stipulation to external career is that it must allow for sufficient time to pursue literary endeavors. While writing involves much hard work, a disciplined author will have an advantage, because he or she will be able to utilize time more efficiently. A less efficient author may be hampered by a career that requires high commitments of time and concentration, especially if he or she is unable to “switch gears” or get organized quickly enough in time available.

Finally, it is important that the more conventional career provides for the writer’s needs while he or she seeks that elusive big break. In my case, my career had allowed me to not only support my family, but also to release music, and to have most of the conveniences of modern life as needed. There are many blogs out there that provide more detailed financial advice to aspiring authors, but it suffices to say that smart money and resource management, combined with a solid non-writing career, can make a difference in quality of life and in one’s ability to eventually transition to writing full-time, if it ever becomes a realistic option.

Almost any writer dreams big. It would be patently false to claim that all I want is to see my name in print; while it would be a very desirable outcome, I would love to see the level of success enjoyed by some of the more prominent writers (J.K. Rowling and Stephen King, I am looking at you!). Someday, I would love to have an option where my income from writing is large enough to consider it as a full-time career, and the financial prospects from that career are at the very least comparable to my current means to make a living. But until the big break happens and it becomes an option (which I may or may not take at that stage – the inherent lack of stability in freelance work is an argument to keep the conventional career even after it is possible to abandon it), I see many more years in the office. And it is not a bad thing.

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