After over three years, I’ve finally gone back to work. Believe me, it wasn’t that I was jobless by choice. I was laid off in December of 08 in a downsizing move from a company that supplied aluminum wheels to the auto manufacturers. I’d been there five years and, in some ways, it was a relief. I say that because for maybe three years of that employment, it seemed like we wondered if our jobs would stay there on a weekly, sometimes daily, basis. At least once I was laid off, I had an answer. When you work somewhere like that, you entertain constant thoughts of finding somewhere more secure. But with the way the Great Recession went, it didn’t seem to me there was a more secure job. Seems to me the only people who constantly underperform and make good money at it are members of Congress.
But that’s a whole ’nother post.
In the three years I was out of work, I managed to get to the interview stage exactly four times. And two of those were with the same lawn care company. I started questioning everything. Was it my age? Did they really not want to take a chance on somebody in their forties? Or should I leave off the words some college on my applications? Maybe they see that and think I’m overqualified and won’t want to stay with them.
Anybody who’s done extensive job searching can tell you what I went through. I was so envious of people who went to their jobs every day when I was stuck at home at least six days a week. I don’t know how it was in other parts of the country (and still is, I guess; seems that since I went to work this week, it feels like the high unemployment is over, since I’m usually the last one to have good things happen for him), but I gave up looking for about a year. I’d check the job boards occasionally, but everything required a degree, mostly in the medical professions.
So, here I am, finally back at work. It’s a factory job with a company that makes tools for the construction trades: trowels, mixers, bull floats, things like that. Their tools have a good reputation, from what I’ve heard, but I still hesitate to name them. These days, it’s usually safer that way.
The roughest part is adapting to being on my feet so much. Our shifts are a straight eight hours, and 7.5 of that is spent on your feet. I’ve been out of work three years, and for five years before that, I drove a forklift. That’s eight years when I didn’t have to stand around much, either at work or off.
What’s this got to do with writing? Not much. Though there is an old debate (or, at least, there used to be) about whether or not it’s better for a successful writer to hold down a regular job.
It seems to me that there are only two types of writers when it comes to earnings: either you’re making enough that you’re up with the likes of Dean Koontz and Robert Crais, or your writing is more or less a second source of income. Over the last three years, I’ve had ample opportunity to experience what it would be like as a full-time writer, and I have to say that I liked it. I woulda liked it better if I’d actually made money at it, but having the opportunity to spend the mornings writing and editing, then running errands or whatever the rest of the day, was very nice.
Just didn’t pay worth a damn.
But there are those who say that, even if you’re successful, it’s better to keep working because that exposes you to people. You can base your characters on coworkers, or at least on things you see/hear them doing. It’s never very wise to just put someone you know in a story, though I’ve done it with their permission. And was always very careful to portray them in a manner they approved of. Also, they were always walk-on characters, never people who were important to the plot.
On the flip side, there are those who say it’s better to quit your day job if feasible so you can dedicate more time to your craft. Without the daily pressure of going to a job and dealing with problems that pop up there, your mind is freer to deal with plot problems and polishing your writing itself.
There are pros and cons to both sides, and anybody out there can tell you why one side or the other is the best.
My personal opinion is that it’s better if you can dedicate yourself to it full-time. Yes, there have been successful authors who also held down regular jobs. But, in my opinion, you can people-watch anywhere, any time. You don’t need to hold down a job to do that. Watch your friends. Heck, these days, watch YouTube. God knows there’s probably more reality there than there is on so-called reality TV. And it’s more entertaining (at least it used to be. I haven’t visited YouTube in ages).
All in all, it probably boils down to what suits you best. For me, I think I became a much better writer after I had time to dedicate to my craft, and I expect if I’m ever successful enough to do it, I’ll quit my day job and go full-time. I’ve been a people watcher since I was a teenager, so I’m observing folks every time I go out in public. I first learned to do it as an actor in high school plays and, even though I never aspired to go to Hollywood, I never gave up the habit of people watching.
What do you think? Is there one best way? Which would you do?