The past couple days I have been going through a bunch of New Yorker and Narrative magazine stories I had bookmarked to read and never did. I consider this part of my job as a writer, but there are a probably a lot of people out there who are like, “Reading? That’s your job? HAH!”
But Alex pointed out today that I don’t work part-time; I work two jobs. There’s the one that I do for 30 hours a week, answering phones at a graphic design firm — the one that (mostly) pays the bills and provides health insurance. And then there’s the one that I do for at least that many hours if not more, the one with no boss but myself, no deadlines, no schedule or plan or client or anything. That’s the hard one, the one I really care about, the one that I think most people don’t get. (Unless of course they are working that job too…)
No need to pull out the world’s smallest violin for me; I know that I have it good and that I’m not special. I don’t really “get” anyone else’s job either, except my parents’. I’ve dated Andy for 4 years and I’m sure that what I know about his job is a tiny fraction of what he actually does. It’s the whole you gotta walk a mile in the other person’s shoes thing. Except, people respect Andy (as a purchasing manager) without really understanding his job. I don’t think the same is always true for me as a writer.
But that doesn’t really bother me. It just is what it is. No, what bothers me is that I’m starting to feel disappointed in myself. Two years (and a few months) after graduating college, I don’t feel like I have very much to show for my efforts. Yes, I made some big decisions — namely, I committed career suicide and quit my job as an account manager, and I switched from literary fiction to young adult — but what concrete things do I actually have to show for it? What can I point to when people ask what I’m doing, what I’ve done?
Last week my alma mater hosted an info session in downtown Cincinnati for high school students who were interested in applying/attending. I’ve volunteered at that session the past couple of years, helping people register and answering their questions both before and after the presentation. This year I decided not to go. There were a number of factors that led to that decision, but I admit, one of them was that I did not like the idea of having to answer the inevitable questions, “What did you study? What do you do? Have you been published?”
I know that my current struggles are normal, that I’m not behind schedule for this career. (In fact, given my age, it could easily be argued that I am ahead.) But I also know that those parents are considering paying a LOT of money for that education, and those kids are thinking not just about classes and dorms but about internships and job offers, and they all want to see results. They want to know that their time and money will be well-spent. And right now I just don’t think I would make a convincing case to them.
But this is not a pity fest. I knew (mostly) what this would be like when I decided I was really going for it. In fact, I have it easier than a lot of other aspiring writers, not to mention most people around the world.
So instead of feeling sorry for myself, I made a decision. I will be at that info session next year. And when they ask the inevitable questions, this is what I will answer:
What did you study? Creative writing.
What do you do? I write novels.
Have you been published? Yes.*
*If not “Yes,” then I’d at least like to be able to say something like, “Sort of. I have an agent, and we’re currently sifting through offers from multiple publishing houses on my first manuscript. It should be on bookshelves by 2011. Be sure to pick up a few copies!”