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?”

Classic.

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.”

Catch up with me @CoriMcCarthy or Facebook

 

13 thoughts on “A Real Job”

  1. Carol Brendler says:

    It wasnt until I had sold my second book that my family really woke up and started respecting my writing time as non-negotiable. On Facebook I settled for Works at Being Awesome.

  2. Cori McCarthy says:

    Carol–Ha! I like “Works at Being Awesome.” Perhaps I should just embrace the creativity that FB has thrust upon the occupation listing 🙂

  3. Tirzah Price says:

    Go, Cori! I experience a similar form of judgment whenever people ask me what I do with my BA in English and it just goes to show that they don’t understand the power of words and writing.

  4. Lyn Miller-Lachmann says:

    For some reason, I had no problem getting Facebook to put “Worked at Children’s Book Author” for my profession, though I do have some concerns about their putting it in the past tense–as if I used to be a children’s book author but got laid off or fired and am currently in the ranks of the long-term unemployed.

  5. Linda Washington says:

    Cori, this is where I live. When I was in the writing program as an undergraduate, people asked me when I would get a “real” major. Now some ask me when I plan to get a job worthy of a master’s degree. When I say I’m writing a fantasy novel, many roll their eyes and wonder when I’ll stop wasting my time.

  6. carrie Jones says:

    I love the humor and poignancy in this post. I dispatch about once a month at a police department and my dad still asks me, “Are you working much?” And I always answer, “I work every day.” And then he goes, “Oh! Oh! Um, uh, ehm, I meant at the police place.” I am slowly training him…. really slowly training him…

  7. Tami Lewis Brown says:

    Great Cori!
    Just you wait until your son is in elementary school and they demand you serve on every committee and field trip coming and going because you “don’t work.”

  8. Vicky Lorencen says:

    Thank you, thank you for your briliant post! I get a kick out of telling people I’m a writer. Not randomly mind you. I wait until I’m asked about what I do (well, most of the time). I’m lucky because I have a writing “job” that pays bills and allows me to live indoors and (over) eat, AND I have my own personal writing pursuits that are even more satisfying. I don’t see one as more valuable than the other. They’re both important and involve sentence-making, so I’m happy.

  9. Shawna Lenore Kastin says:

    Thanks for this, Cori! I’ve definitely been there. Right now I’m trying to figure out what kind of job I can get that will pay the bills and give me the flexibility to write. We’ll see how that goes. In the meantime, the past few times someone’s asked me what I do I’ve decided to be brave and say “I’m a writer”. So far the two people who asked seemed surprisingly excited about that and it definitely feels wonderful to own one’s identity.

  10. Meg Wiviott says:

    I tend to keep my writing a secret. No one asks me anymore when I’m going to get a “real” job. But I hate what comes after that … “Oh, you wrote a picture book, that’s nice. When are you going to write a real book?” Or, “Are you writing another book?” Or the ever popular, “When will your next book be published?” Heavy sigh. The average person just doesn’t get it.

  11. Cindy Strandvold says:

    Thank you for this post, it’s so true. I’ve struggled for years with saying I’m a Writer. Now I see I just need the capital W!

  12. Katrina Kent says:

    Tell me more about this drive thru liquor store. I don’t believe Maine has such things!

    Seriously, though, I love this post. Funny and inspiring. I feel stronger about being a writing just for reading it.

  13. Gayleen Rabakukk says:

    Cori,
    I’m about a week late in reading your post – but it was just what I needed today. Lately I’ve been pulled in lots of different directions and the priority of my writing time has slipped.
    There’s a lot of empowerment in those four words:
    I am a Writer.
    (and yes, the capital W is an absolute necessity)

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