Mark Terry

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Is Writing Your Dream Job?

November 29, 2007
There's something of a running joke in my family. It concerns my wife, Leanne, and her "dream job." Now, Leanne is a medical technologist and she appears to really like her job and I think she's probably pretty good at it, but like most of us, she wishes she was doing something else from time to time. On her list of dream jobs:

U.S. Attorney General
Director of White House Communications
Constitutional Lawyer
Grounds Keeper for Detroit Tigers (Comerica Park)
Construction flag waver (you know, the person who stands out there on the highway and holds up a flag and tells you to slow down or stop).
Chef (haven't heard this one in a while)
Policy Wonk
Kayak tour guide

And for all I know, sometime she'll be one of them. Who can tell?

I confess that about 90% of what I do these days is my dream job. I love being a freelance writer. I'm thrilled that this is how I make my living. What about the other 10%?

Well, the real dream job would be to make a full-time living as a novelist, writing one or two novels a year. The "but" to that statement, having learned a great deal about how the publishing business works over the last few years is:

1. I would need to make enough money to live more than comfortably on and have a publisher who paid their advances and royalty checks in a timely, PREDICTABLE fashion. (Good luck).

2. I would have to be big enough (i.e., popular, selling enough) to have some version of security. That might mean being a bestseller.

I'm still working on this and I still have faith it will happen.

So, despite having my 90% dream job, which is, I suspect, significantly more than most people have, are there things about it that make me wish I were, oh, I don't know, doing something like, hmmm...

Running a surf shop on the beach in Maui?

Well, yeah. I confess, there are a lot of jobs that interest me, but not necessarily to the degree that I would pursue them. (Probably much like my wife's list of dream jobs). I think being an ambassador to someplace like Italy or, say, Costa Rica, would be interesting. I wonder what it would be like to run a bar on an island in the Caribbean. Since I've started taking up guitar, I'm reminded that at one point in my life the possibility of my earning a music degree and spending my days (afternoons & evenings, more likely) teaching kids piano and probably doing some gigs was quite high, but I consciously decided I didn't want to. Sometimes that strikes me now as being a perfectly acceptable way to make a living that I would probably have enjoyed.

Here's the thing, and I suspect it's true for bestselling novelists. It's certainly true for this full-time freelance writer:

It's a job. 

They call it work for a reason.

Sure, I love it. Sure, I look forward to hitting my desk every morning. This is light years away from the dread I felt about getting in the car and driving to the hospital in Detroit for 18 years, experiencing toward the end what I called my "elevator moods," which is to say, when I shut off the engine of my car there in Lot 12 by the Clara Ford Pavilion (or was it 10? How soon we forget!), my mood would sink and go black like a fast-moving elevator. Shit, Kemosabe, that's no way to live your life!

But sometimes the money doesn't come when you want it (or need it). Sometimes your clients are a pain in the ass. Sometimes you don't have work when you want it (or need it). Sometimes the business just doesn't run smoothly for one reason or another. Sometimes publishers owe you money and find a whole variety of reasons why they haven't paid you yet ("The check's in the mail" is a cliche because it's been said a million times, folks; it's not a joke! or a more recent reason given for no check: "We're really busy" and "well, we're checking into it.")

Still, I have very little to bitch about. I'm mostly doing what I dreamed of doing.

How about you? What's your dream job?

And maybe more importantly here, if writing is your dream job, what are your OTHER dream jobs?

Mark Terry 


Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

How well I know the dread of going in to an office every day. Where I worked was absolutely toxic. So just making a living freelance, without having to do that, is the biggest thing for me.

As for a dream job -- given what my talents actually are, such as they are, then probably making a living as a novelist would be it. That would be more realistic. Oh wait...did I say "realistic"?...ahahaha

However, disregarding even that tenuous link to reality, my true dream job would be either playing centerfield for the New York Yankees or being a rock star. Both of these worthy professions would also entail my being in my twenties which would be a bonus.

I'm reminded that last year I quite enjoyed reading the online Sporting News column (or maybe it was written for Yahoo) about baseball by Jack McDowell. Of course, then he was writing this national column but he had been a star baseball pitcher. Since pitching in the big leagues, aside from writing columns, he's been spending his time playing in a rock n roll band. I mean, is life unfair or what?

8:26 AM  
Blogger spyscribbler said...

I've always dreamt about owning a little chocolate cafe with a piano in it, in a little quaint town. Of course, I'd be able to afford someone who manages things, and I'd just sit around and chat with the customers, play some music at times, and write. And I'd make enough money where I wouldn't have to worry about it. And of course drink European chocolate all day without ever gaining an ounce.

So, um, complete fantasy there. :-)

You seem like you'd make a great piano teacher. Parents are worse than publishers, though. And you're "supposed" to be doing it because "love the children" and of course, as an adult, your needs must come after the child's needs, even if it's their family going on vacation instead of paying their piano bill, and of COURSE you understand that even though Johnny just got an iPod for no reason at all, they can't afford to pay their piano bill. You won't mind, of course, because you "love the children."

9:11 AM  
Anonymous Amy said...

Writing is my dream job - and making a living at it is still a dream I'm working toward!

My other dream job would be elementary school teacher - English. Not such a far flung dream but not what I studied and trained for.

My favorite saying is this: I do much better as a goddess, as my secretarial skills have always been limited. (Storypeople)

So you get the idea!

9:40 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

I'm not sure I'd make a great piano teacher for the long run. I love my own kids, but I'm not nearly as patient with other people's kids. Although, you know, when I taught piano I was 17 or 18 and I had a couple adult students and they were far worse than the kids when it came to coming up with excuses for why they didn't come to lessons prepared.

2:08 PM  
Blogger Aimless Writer said...

Writing novels. (Oh Please, God, please!)
Artist- Leave me in my garret and I'll be in heaven.
In my current wip one of my smaller characters is a fairly well off artist with agoraphobia. He never leaves the house. Perhaps he snuck out of my subconcious as wishful thinking.
If I need to be out amoung peeps I'd want to run an art gallery.
Thats about it. Short list. I've worked too long amoung stupid people...I want my garret! Just push food under the door..I'll be fine.
Mark, if you're 90% there then you'll be 110% soon!

3:05 PM  
Blogger Josephine Damian said...

Bestselling author, torch song singer, photographer, chess grandmaster are on my list of dream jobs.

Mark, great post. I stopped by to tell you I really loved the pitch you posted on BookEnds. Great word choice, clearly defined characters.... I thought you did a way better job than what I did on my pitch... proof positive how subjective this biz is.

Hang in. Enjoy the guitar lessons.

6:27 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Thanks. I suppose I'm going to have to post on that post about the pitch on the BookEnds blog. I was amused, because, if anything, it demonstrated how subjective the business is.

9:52 AM  
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