Sunday, April 5, 2009

Smith on "paying the price" and what it tells me about my dumb day job

I mentioned this topic in issue #3 in those notes on some writer blogs that I've been reading lately, but I ought to talk about it here, too, for those who didn't catch it there: If you're a writer, you really should read Dean Wesley Smith's blog. He's been doing a series that he calls "Paying the Price," each entry focusing on different challenges that one must confront if one is serious about getting a real career going in writing. He describes how, in his early days, he would take jobs tending bar because it paid the bills and didn't tax his brain too much, and so he had the mental power left to write during his off hours. 

I thought about that a lot the last few days while at work.  My day job is decidedly un-taxing mentally, and that often frustrates me. Sometime I crave some more stimulating work. I'm employed way below my proper professional level. But then I remember that I used to have an interesting but hugely time-consuming career that left me with very little extra brain-space and even less time--no, NOT time, motivation--to do any writing. I sure as hell would never have gotten around to running a zine back then. Indeed, I first conceived of M-Brane back in 1994 (though it was going to be called Domain Sf and Horror) when I was screwing around with graduate school and working part-time as a prep cook in a restaurant. It was to be a print zine only.  This was 1994. There wasn't even much going on on-line back then, and I didn't even have a proper computer in any case. I was seriously intending to produce it on my old Xerox Memorywriter in old-style paper cut-and-paste fashion much like The Alternative Warp (my mid-80s Trek zine).  I did a lot of planning on it, and even drummed up a little interest in the idea among a writers' crit group that I was in (in which we--get this--mailed paper manuscripts to each other round-robin style!). Then a few months later, I quit grad school, went full-time at that restaurant and began a rapidly advancing culinary career. Domain Sf and Horror sat as a pile of notes and sketches in a desk drawer for years after.

Fast forward a bunch of years: career ends, massive personal and professional upheaval, change of residence, acquisition of awesome new computer, and suddenly the zine seemed like a thing to do again. Though I changed the name to M-Brane and dropped the horror genre from the plan, the zine of which many of you have now seen three issues is remarkably like that old 1994 plan, and I am so glad that I finally did it. Would this have happened this year if I'd had a "real" day job?  I seriously doubt it. Reading Smith's comments is empowering. I'm not even looking for the so-called real job anymore. I already have it. I'm an editor and a writer and that's my real profession henceforth. So that other thing that I do to get the bills paid can just go on being brainless. I need the extra brainpower for my real work anyway.

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Anonymous said...

Right on. I came to that same conclusion several years ago. I make pizzas now to pay the bills, but as much as that isn't intellectually stimulating in the slightest I find it gives me way more time and ambition to write.

Christopher Fletcher said...

Hell yeah, Derek. Sometimes it chafes at work when I am clearly being regarded as a low-life by the so-called management of that company (I didn't even reveal to them my whole background when I applied for the job because I found that it was actually hindering me from getting employed at all), but I remind myself that this level of employment is actually just fine for what I need nowadays. I wish it PAID more because I'm sick of being on such a tight budget, but the money will eventually come from the other things I'm doing.


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