. . . don’t fail as a human being.
Sorry we’ve gone a whole two weeks with zippo blog updates. I was working on three (count ’em), three deadlines, only one of which was self-imposed, and got a little bogged down. Until Proven is now officially on its first round of edits, my ghost writing MS is shined for agents and A Merry War was ready to go just in time for Pitch Madness.
But now that’s all done.
A few days ago, I was driving home from my (third) job–third not counting my own writing as paying work, at least not yet–and yawning at the wheel. On the weekends I work all night long doing custodial work to help cover rent costs after my (amazing and worth it!) trip to England kind of sank me. So anyway, it’s a little after 6 AM and I’m going home and as I’m driving along past a Starbucks, I see three girls in signature green aprons, huddling outside on the sidewalk and looking behind me at Utah’s impressively high mountains. What are they doing? I wondered, and then I realized they were waiting for the sunrise.
If you live by high mountains, then you know the sky gets light far before the sun actually shows itself (and it takes a while to get fully dark after the sun sets). I felt a sort of camaraderie with these girls, also working during these ungodly hours, who probably didn’t aspire to be baristas, but maybe CEO’s or pastry chefs or even writers like me. So I turned my car into the mall lot, parked going the wrong away along three yellow lines, and watched the sun rise with them.
I’ve had a lot of weird menial-labor un-enjoyable jobs over the years. Some–like summers spent as a ropes course host or a Girl Scout camp counselor–have been a lot of fun. But others . . . like my brief stint as a telemarketer to pay for my speeding ticket or the job at the bakery where I had to go to work at 4 bloody AM and suffer through a supervisor who always redid my roses on the cakes because they weren’t good enough were somewhat less fun.
The closer I get to achieving my goal as a writer, the harder it is to endure these jobs I need-but-do-not-like. In his awesome keynote address for the University of Arts, Neil Gaiman said, “Something that worked for me was imagining that where I wanted to be – an author, primarily of fiction, making good books, making good comics and supporting myself through my words – was a mountain. A distant mountain. My goal. And I knew that as long as I kept walking towards the mountain I would be all right. And when I truly was not sure what to do, I could stop, and think about whether it was taking me towards or away from the mountain.”
It’s tempting, as an artist–of any caliber, writing or otherwise, to throw down the gauntlet and say, “I REFUSE TO DO ANYTHING NOT MOVING ME TOWARD THE MOUNTAIN,” and get a little bitter about the necessity of staying there.
But. (there’s always a ‘but’).
There’s more to life than writing.
I know, I know. (Traitor! hissss)
Roughly six months ago, I inadvertently got some advice that was maybe the best thing I could have heard about trying to make it as a writer. It was an author interview and the student asked the author, in slightly desperate tones, what he needed to do to make a living as a writer, what were all the tricks he needed to know? What are the real chances of being able to support yourself as a writer? How can an unknown outsider get a fair shot?
The author answered like this: “Don’t be intimidated. If you’re good enough and smart enough and persistent (i.e., brave) enough, you’ll make it. If not, then with luck you’ll realize it in time to get on with another job that will enable you to support your family and have a good life.
There are worse things in the world than not making it as a writer. Not making it as a human being, that really sucks. Not making it as a writer almost doesn’t matter, compared to that.”
For me, at the time, it was like getting cannonballed in the stomach. Writing was the only thing I wanted to do. Envisioning a career where I could write all the time kept me up at night in a half-desperate fever and envisioning giving up made me sick.
But this just made me think . . . if you have to do janitor work while you write your stories, that’s not a big deal. Relax, Joe.
If nobody but your best friends and your family ever read your stories, well . . . there are worse things.
Be a good human being first and everything else is sort of secondary. Go after your mountain with everything you have, but in the meantime, don’t let it destroy the things that are really important.