Writing is not a real job

Get a 9-5 job and stop dreaming

Photo by Anna Nekrashevich

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For the longest time, I thought there was something wrong with me. I didn’t want a “normal” job, a “normal” family, or a “normal” life, and that automatically made me a failure.

I’m about to turn 35 and have made nothing of myself. Not only I don’t have any children, I don’t even have a good enough reason for not having them. I’m not some busy CEO or a doctor, nor am I wrapped up in fighting climate change. I’m just a self-taught unpublished writer, who is even by definition highly likely to fail. My mother is the first one to think so.

“These stories you’re writing seem silly, why can’t you just be like everyone else and have a normal job, a couple of kids…”
I looked deep into her eyes, wondering if she was serious. As if I needed proof. 
“I can’t, I just—”
“Sure you can, if everybody else can, so can you!” 
I stopped to think about what she was saying. For a second I imagined myself with a “normal” job. I was in an office, sorting through stacks of boring papers with twenty other people. My boss passed by and told us what a good job we were doing, but I only wanted to go home, just then remembered I had two small children there, ready to drain the little energy I had left.

I wish my imagination wasn’t so vivid because the mere thought of it caused immediate nausea. 

Even if I know that the “normal” lifestyle wouldn’t fit me, I sometimes wonder if I should just give up and go for it. I’ve been writing for more than ten years and I have nothing to prove for it, except for a couple of unfinished manuscripts to which I devoted the best years of my life. But it seems that despite that, I’m still ahead of my game. 

While many writers only come into their own after 30, most won’t start to rise until after 50. Half of those will continue to be prolific until 80. Writing is one of those skills that takes a long time to hone. 

— Digital Storytelling Collective (Source)

My mother was back the next day with a list of job-searching companies she insisted I should take a look at. I was just in between drafts at the time, which meant I needed to disconnect from the story I was writing in any way possible, so I took it as a good distraction. I skimmed through the job listings she pushed before me and pretended to find a few of them interesting.
“That one would be perfect for you!” My mother pointed at one of them, then at another one, and at another one: “And that one!”
I read the last job description and huffed. “Could you really imagine me sorting through emails all day long?”
“You’re always on your computer!”
“Yeah, but what I’m doing is actually worth something,” the words escaped me. “I mean, one day, if I get published, my stories could change people’s lives. What good can a written email do?”
My mother’s wrinkles straightened and her shoulders sagged, along with her excitement. I felt like a scam. One day, one imaginary day I really do hope to have my stories published. Unfortunately, that day seemed so distant it was hard to picture it.
“Maybe I should try to apply for that job,” I sighed, almost apologetically, and she greeted my decision with the biggest hug. I felt trapped but allowed her to hold me anyway.

In the end, I told myself I’d take a potential job proposal as a sign and applied. Surprisingly, I was invited for an interview straight away. A pang of discomfort shot through my belly the second I accepted. I called my mother with the news, but it only made my stomach ache worse. I knew I was going against myself, yet I went ahead anyway, if not for mine, then for my mother’s sake. 

My mother took me dress shopping for the interview since I had only joggers and T-shirts plastered to my butt 24/7. I wore a knee-length dress I wouldn’t pick up for myself if I was doomed to remain naked for the rest of my life, and a pair of not-so-high heels. She told me I was beautiful, but I felt like a scam. As if that wasn’t enough, my mother insisted we should find a matching purse to go with the outfit. So all arranged, I finally made it to the so-anticipated interview. And as much as it pained me, it actually went pretty well. There were no other candidates in sight, so I wondered if that played a part in its success. Miraculously, I was offered the job on the spot and accepted. I felt so proud of my achievement I immediately called my mother. She screamed so loudly I suddenly wished I hadn’t.

“I’m sorry if I’m such a disappointment to you, but I would rather die than give up writing!”

On my way home, my belly discomfort returned. It wasn’t until I took off my horrid dress and high heels that I felt able to breathe again. As soon as I did, I felt the urge to go write. I sat behind my computer and lost myself in a story. I ignored the ringing of my phone and forgot all about the celebratory lunch date my mother organised. It was only when I heard the doorbell that I realised I was so completely consumed by my writing the sun had set in the meantime. I rushed to open the door wearing my usual comfy combo, which seemed to immediately bother my mother. 
“Why aren’t you picking up your phone!” 
“I was busy with a story—”
“Not again!” she cut me off. 
“I think I’m onto something this time!”
My mother rolled her eyes at me, exaggeratedly. “I’ve heard that one before.”
“But this time I’m sure of it, it’s a short story about—”
“Listen, I don’t want to hear about another silly story coming from you, I’ve heard one too many already. Besides, shouldn’t you be preparing for tomorrow’s first day?”
I widened my eyes at her. “Preparing? To write emails?”
“Then you should probably go to sleep, you don’t want to be looking all crooked tomorrow.”
“I will, as soon as I finish this story.”
“Valentina, please! Enough! You’ve been at this for what, ten years now? If no one published you until now, there’s gotta be a reason!”
I stopped all motions. My eyes started to prickle with tears because I deep down feared she was right. But hearing her say it out loud hurt. 
“I wasn’t ready yet,” I managed to say back, “But I’m getting closer to it.”
“You should quit, that’s what you should do!”
“Why don’t you quit? You know I’ll never change, why can’t you just accept that?”
“Accept what? That my daughter is a failure?”
I let my mouth drop open. I just couldn’t believe her words. And she was serious, she always was, which hurt me even more. 
“Mum,” I said with my voice broken, “I’m sorry if I’m such a disappointment to you, but I would rather die than give up writing!” 
She nodded, then turned and left without another word. I burst into a cry the second she was out of sight. But I wasn’t crying for what she said to me, no matter how painful, I was crying because I almost gave myself up. 

I went to work the next day because despite all this, I couldn’t afford not to. But I didn’t sort through stupid emails all day long though, I used all the spare time I had to write my new story. 

Kafka, Dickens, Nabokov — they all had day jobs. Novelists have day jobs! Writers have day jobs because being a writer isn’t a job. Writing is a thing you can do if you like it! It’s a thing you might get paid for, now and again, if you’re good at it! But it’s not a job. 

— Lincoln Michael, Electricliterature.com (Source)

To me, writing isn’t a job. It is the reason I exist. It is the thing I love most doing and without which I would be immensely lost. I am aware I will never be a CEO or a doctor, there’ll never be any tags before my name, but I will always remain true to myself. I am, and always will be a writer, no matter how unsuccessful or underpaid, and no matter how many people I end up disappointing.

This article was originally published in New Writers Welcome.

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