When I was in my twenties and possessed unlimited energy, there was a brief period when I had three jobs.
First, I had my day job as an administrative assistant at a company that produced books, courses, and videotapes to assist corporate clients with quality control. The pay was less than stellar (far less, if truth be told), but since it had taken a year to make the transition from public school teaching to corporate life, I wasn’t in a position to be picky. I did get an extra $300.00 (yes, you read that right) per year because I’d finished my master’s degree. Also, since this was before the era when secretaries would be universally rebranded as “admins,” the title actually meant a (tiny) something, as did the box of business cards and personalized note pads, even though the vast majority of my duties were still secretarial.
Since the salary at my day job was so laughable, I had a second job as a night manager at a local Hallmark store. Two nights a week, plus one day out of each weekend, for a princely $4.25 an hour plus an employee discount. I still have the advent wreath I purchased that year, as well as a mug one of my day job coworkers and her young daughter bought me as a farewell gift when I was leaving my day job; they found it hilarious that I rang up the mug and even commented on how much I liked it, all without realizing that the next morning, it would be waiting on my desk to wish me well on my last day at the day job.
The third job was teaching creative writing in the town’s adult education department. I’d taught creative writing in my schoolteacher days, so I figured it would be easy enough to repackage the course for adults. Also, having worked for the adult ed director when I was in high school, I knew how not-picky they tended to be about credentials, such as whether I’d published anything (I hadn’t). I taught for two sessions, fall and spring, and my students and I had a fine time.
Even so, I recall distinctly how lovely it was to move on from all those jobs to a single 40-hour-a-week position as a legal secretary. The amount of free time would have been mind-boggling if the job shift hadn’t coincided with a new relationship; since he lived in New York City, he took the train to Connecticut every Friday and back every Sunday night or Monday morning, effectively consuming all that free time . . . but that’s a story for another time.
The reality is that I’ve rarely had an uncomplicated schedule. During my senior year in high school, I had two jobs in addition to full-time school. During my third year in law school, I interned for a Connecticut Supreme Court justice, worked in the school’s disability law clinic, wrote the law school equivalent of a thesis, served as a research assistant to a professor, held down a part-time job in a law firm, and even went to class most of the time. Since 2013, when I decided that it was time either to take my writing seriously or file it away as a fun little hobby with which I occasionally dabble, I’ve effectively had two careers: the one I’ve been doing for more than two decades (legal writing and research, which pays the bills), and the one I’m working to build, creative writing (which hasn’t paid much yet, but I’m hoping).
This year, I’ve launched what I’m calling half a career: the business of writing. At the moment, this involves reading, going to conferences and workshops, and researching and querying agents. Once I find an agent, there will be a brand-new new set of tasks: editing the manuscript for submission to publishers, editing it again once it’s been sold, and doing all the marketing and publicity work that will complement the publisher’s work in these areas because let’s face it, my name isn’t Kardashian and it’s enormously unlikely that my book will debut on the New York Times bestseller list without a blazing miracle. One of the great truisms in the writing world is that people can’t buy a book they’ve never heard of. Given my relative obscurity as a writer, it appears that if people are going to hear about (and buy) my book, a lot of the responsibility will rest on me. At a conference I attended yesterday, one of the speakers talked about the need for an author to prepare a “tool kit” that includes professional headshots, extra photographs relevant to the book, a biography to accompany publicity materials, press releases, and what she called a “blanket release” (still not certain what this one is).
Yes, Virginia, that’s all part of the writer’s job.
In addition to writing the next book.
If I heard the admonition once yesterday, I heard it at least half a dozen times:
“What do you do after you finish writing the first book? Start writing the second one!”
One of the speakers told a horror story about how he and his pal secured a meeting with a big-time Hollywood guy about a screenplay they’d written. Five minutes into the meeting, the Hollywood guy said, “We already have something similar. What else do you have?” Answer: nothing. They had only the one screenplay. As if we weren’t terrified enough, he hammered it home: “Our big chance, and we blew it because we didn’t have anything else!”
The takeaway is this. Yes, there will be a day job. (The mortgage won’t pay itself.) Yes, there will be all sorts of tasks relating to the business of writing. (I once heard a successful author comment that he spends his mornings writing and his afternoons on his small business. When someone inquired what that small business was, he replied, “Being a writer.”)
In the end, though, it all comes down to the same thing practically everybody has always said about being a writer.
No matter what, you have to write.
And you can’t stop just because you’re working on the business of writing.
The business of writing is important, but it’s only relevant as long as you’re writing. That’s why I call it half a career—because its existence depends on the writing it’s supposed to sell.
So, if you want to be a professional writer—one who sells books—but your writing isn’t bringing in enough to cover your obligations and you forgot to marry a rich person or be born with a trust fund, you’re going to need two and a half careers:
1. Day job
2-1/2. Business of writing.
Which may mean the laundry doesn’t get done quite as often as you might like, but that’s a discussion for another day.