When I was young, sometime during high school, I told my parents that I’d realized what I wanted to be. I wanted to be a writer and I had proof of both the ability and committed desire to do so: I’d already written 30,000 (Or was it 10,000? Memory is so slippery.) words on one story which I’d read aloud in my Senior (Or was it Junior?) English class. Raised as I was I realized that writing was one of “those” professions–those which my parents didn’t think of as “real” jobs. But I was certain if I proved my determination, surely they’d get on board. So after proving it to myself, at 17, I told my parents I knew what I wanted to be: a writer. My Dad laughed, guffawed, in my face. Then I counted off on my fingers the reasons why I was serious. He sniffed derisively, said “keep your day job,” and left the room.
I persisted. I’d realized that my parents really couldn’t force me to go to school–short of bodily carrying me there every day (which my dad did do at least once)–so I started staying home from school and writing. I worked hard, preemptively attempting to ensure that my parents at least saw me “working” a full day. I assumed that if I put in a full day of work, that surely it wouldn’t matter what domain it was in. I didn’t realize that my parents cared not about hours applied, but about hours applied for a paycheck. They wouldn’t have cared if I spent every waking moment writing if I wasn’t earning a steady paycheck immediately doing so. It’s weird, when you think about it: culturally, we have a much easier time accepting the value of a job at McDonalds then jobs where the rewards are less tangibly connected to the efforts invested. And I get it, somewhat. I have seen friends and relatives pursue degrees in music, theater, musical theater, film, and photography; Most of them attempted to make a living in their area of expertise, but most have “washed out.” They’ve gotten tired of hacking together a life out of various poor paying gigs which–while in their area of expertise–aren’t what they imagined for themselves when they were in school. One friend, who I thought had immense potential as a screenwriter, went to LA, placed well in some screenplay contests, met his now wife, and now lives in Arizona working in I.T.. I hope he still writes. Another friend, a talented director, got video-related jobs after college, but was barely skinning by on three or more gigs. Cobbling together a living that way just isn’t much fun after a while–especially when your dreams of being a director really don’t make it any more rewarding to set up and coordinate conference calls. He went back to working in a skilled labor position, exactly like he had held through college. Only one of my friends seems to be “making it” in a way which is relatively close to his abilities and desires. He is a commercial producer and director in North Dakota. I’ve seen some of his stuff, it looks incredible.
Anyway, the point is I get that the odds can be stacked against ones success in many creative pursuits. But I honestly don’t feel they’re unassailable for those willing to do “what it takes” to make it. In Hollywood they have a saying, “no one fails, they just give up.” But that’s how I feel now, more and more; It’s not how I felt then. Then I put a lot more stock in my dad’s all knowingness. Somehow, while I consciously rejected much of what he said, subconsciously some part of me was subverted by it. Ultimately, when it was clear I was not going back to high school, my parents insisted I get a full-time job or move out. I had no car and no GED. I found a job working for a real jerk at a lumberyard. He was so mean, I only lasted a week. My mom didn’t believe my account until much later–after they gave me an involuntary one-way ticket to elsewhere–when she went to the lumberyard and was so poorly treated as a customer that she cried.
My free one-way ticket to anywhere took me to Utah, where I figured I’d have an excellent familial support network. And it began a very long chapter in which I worked many jobs, got married and divorced, eventually went to college, and met my second (and much more compatible) wife with whom I’ve had a daughter and built a very rewarding rich life. But all along the way there was the dream of writing. There were also numerous obstacles. I didn’t want to be stuck working menial jobs for the rest of my life–as I felt confident I would without a degree–so eventually, when I was motivated enough, I completed a Bachelor’s of Science in Economics with Honors. The idea was that I’d then be able to get a “good job” where I could make a comfortable wage while writing. Honestly though, after graduating and going to work for a bank, I realized that I didn’t really like banking or even many of the jobs my degree made me suited for. I went back to graduate school in Computer Science thinking that I wanted to get into Web Development. I thought if I could get into something Computer Science-y, that I’d finally have it made: I’d have the excellent, rewarding day job which would provide a stable robust income while I pursued my passion in writing on the side.
Two years later, I’ve taken several Computer Science classes and moved to San Diego with my family. I’ve found another decent paying job at a bank. Honestly, I think I would enjoy something more Computer Science-y still. But the whole point of this lengthy post is that just this week I realized I’ve become adept over the past 20 years at putting obstacles in front of my dream of writing. Furthermore, I realized that I’ve been beating around the whole damn bush for a very long time. Ever since my dad said that there was no future in writing, I’ve continued to want to be a writer, but also been largely unfulfilled and frustrated doing anything else. I realized I haven’t treated Writer as a valid occupation. That I’ve been agreeing implicitly with my dad: that writing is some long-odds gamble where even the lucky don’t make a living.
But then I discovered a book called Write. Publish. Repeat.. Intuitively, even before I began to read, I suspected what I’d find within the book. And sure enough, the authors ascribe to the “no-luck” approach to making a living as a Professional Writer. Essentially, their approach boils down to write, publish, repeat. If you write and publish enough (assuming your work is quality and well-edited and presented), you will eventually have enough books out there making sufficient income to be able to live off of. Under the old system, sure, the odds were a lot longer, but now, if you’re willing to work hard enough, successfully making a living as a Professional Writer is not only possible, it’s likely. And that’s when it clicked.
I don’t need to focus on any other steps between me and my ultimate goal; And I need to stop thinking of it as some long-off pipe-dream. I need to think of Writer as a valid profession, a real career; And I need to stop putting up obstacles between me and executing on my goal. I don’t need to spend the next 5 years building my web development skill set and experience just so I can get a web dev job. Because in 5 years, in all likelihood, I’ll be making my living as a Professional Writer.
It’s just weird how for so long I’ve wondered what I really should be doing with my life when the answer was always right in front of my face; I just didn’t want to see it and believe it. To agree that writing is my real career goal is frightening. It’s scary because it doesn’t allow me to hedge anymore. And it’s scary because some significant part of me still believes that odds are stacked against me and that effort expended (as when I was 17) doesn’t count. That at the end of the day, even if I’m putting in the hours, it will all be for nothing. And it’s just downright scary to put aside a much surer thing (web dev) and take a leap of faith and attempt what, for many, is the impossible.
I’m facing down demons from my youth here. It’s going to be an interesting ride. But I’m excited to do a lot of writing, tell a lot of stories, and make some money off my products. Worse case scenario, I continue to make a decent living at the bank, release some books which will be read by at least a few people, and have a legitimate side-income to show for my efforts. Perhaps it will fund a comfortable retirement for us at a minimum… We’ll see. I’m excited to find out after all these years if I, or my dad, were…are right.
P.s., And in the meantime, just to be clear, I’m going to stop cultivating my interest in web development. Which is not to say that I will never do web development, but just that it will be my hobby after I’ve become a Professional Writer. The additional benefit is that it will give the coming Front-End Revolution (I predict a seismic shift from Back-End oriented systems built on Ruby on Rails or PHP to Front-End systems using Ember, Meteor, Angular, Dart, and the like) time to mature. When I do learn web development, it’ll be for FUN and because I have some “app” ideas I want to build for my own use.