A Real Job
New girl here! I thought I’d start off by sharing my writing journey, but instead of talking about queries, junked manuscripts, or positive rejections, I’m going to talk about my battle for career legitimacy.
Like many things, this issue was fired up by Facebook, which has had issues with my occupation since I joined. Up until recently, every time I typed in “writer” as my job, it has been retagged as an interest. Now, I swear I’m not trying to start a Timeline vs. Old FB debate, but one of the new improvements is that I am now, according to my profile page, a “Writer at Writer.” Whatever that means. When I tried to be just a plain ol’ writer, the system had a melt down. Apparently I must be Something at Someplace.
I wondered if anyone else was having this problem, and I found that even John Green has had to jimmy with his FB profession, coming up as “Writer at Myself.” A beautiful phrase, isn’t it? But alas, it loses something by being less about poetic language and more about the assertion that we all must have a what-and-where job title.
Ah, Mr. Zuckerberg, you’ve just lit a spark too close to a notorious pyro.
Writing is not just an interest. It is a passion-profession, albeit somewhat poverty-inducing. See? Even in my attempt to blog about writing as a valid occupation, I couldn’t make it through without succumbing to the money issue. But more on that later.
I recently saw the documentary, Being Elmo, and while I won’t comment on the film in light of recent news on Kevin Clash, I was enthralled by a four-second clip of Jim Henson, saying:
“Hello there. My name is Jim Henson, and I’m a Puppeteer.”
I was struck by the confidence and ease with which Henson spoke about his career. It was as fluid as if he were saying, “I’m an accountant” or “I’m a teacher.” Inspired, I tried this at the dentist’s office:
“What do you do for a living?” the dental hygienist asked.
“I’mawridder,” I tried over her hand in my mouth.
“What was that?” She removed her fingers.
“I’m a writer.”
“Oh, that’s nice. So what do you do for a living?”
I wish she had asked, “How do you pay your bills?” That question I can answer differently. But what do I do for a living?
I live to write. I write to live. *Cue PTSD flashback from undergrad*
“You study Creative Writing? Wow. How cool. I always want to take those classes, but I have too many real ones.”
And not to forget the crueler variety:
“So are you going to be a teacher or a journalist after you get sick of waiting tables?”
Hmm, have you been there? Pure nuts. But somehow I made it through what I called the “Fine Arts Dismissal” mentality, and I kept my respect for my career path even when it landed my bachelor’s degree working at a liquor store drive thru. (Actually, this was a fabulous job for a writer ~ what glorious specimens I had the chance to observe!)
The real problem was, in leaving college, I didn’t leave behind this incoming attitude. At a gathering of writers—at a graduate school FOR writers—a few summers past, I had the following exchange with a literary agent:
“I am lucky,” I said. “I have parents who supported my choice to study writing because they knew it would make me happy.”
“Bet they regret that now,” the agent said. “There’s only debt in studying writing.”
I wish I had had the mind to get up and walk away from such a downtrodden person, but I ended up attacking an admired writer friend later that evening instead:
“I’ll be graduating soon, and I’ll have to get a real job,” she said.
“WRITING IS A REAL JOB!” I yelled.
“I just mean I’ll need a job to pay the bills.”
“Good. Yes. But don’t dub writing as the fake job in the process!”
This friend didn’t deserve my fire, and it’s not her fault that I gave up once, beaten down to finding a salary/benefits/401nonsense “real job” that sucked the soul out of me on an hourly basis and even caused me to lose my pen and words and stories for years.
Last February, I got the news of my lifetime: my YA novel, The Color of Rain, was going to published! Stoked out of my mind, I hoped that an added perk of my dreams coming true would be that I would never have to argue my career choice again…and then my mother-in-law got ahold of me during Thanksgiving dinner, “Cori, are you going to get a real job?”
I think I love my mother-in-law even more than ever for reminding me that this is all part of being a writer. People will misunderstand, and what’s essential is that I find my ground to stand on during these moments. I want to be a Writer like Jim Henson was a Puppeteer. Calm and true. Because, as it turns out, all I probably need is the capital W.
“Hello there. My name is Cori McCarthy, and I’m a Writer.”