Saturday, November 22, 2008

Dawdling and Maudling. Dare I quit my day job?

This first bit
from an inspiration
© by Holly Lisle

Professional writer Holly Lisle writes on quitting your job to become a full-time writer.

".... It took me about eight years from the time I decided that I wanted to leave nursing to write full-time to the day in November of 1993 when I was able to give away my stethescope and do it. And even then I did it wrong, and jumped too soon, and cost myself some momentum and some money.

" ... I think I still would have jumped when I did. Writing full-time is as cool as you might ever hope it would be on the good days, and scarier than you can believe on the bad ones, and I wouldn't trade any of the rollercoaster ride that it has been up to now for the security a few more years in the day job could have given me.

First things first. If you are wedded to the idea of security and you like knowing that you're going to be able to pay your bills on time every month, kiss the idea of full-time writing a permanent goodbye. At levels of success higher than those I've yet reached, I imagine money is a bit more secure. At my level---which is fourteen or so books in print, all in a solid genre that generates a good audience, no single title breathtakingly successful, but several that have earned out and pay regular if small royalties---it is an adventure. And remember that the definition of adventure is "some poor shmuck having a hell of a hard time of it a thousand miles away." I'm doing what I love, and getting paid for it, and I wouldn't do anything else unless I were in imminent danger of starvation. Life doesn't suck. But I'm one of those people who never minded a bit of adventure. And even for me, sometimes the sheer amount of adventure makes the whole thing dicey.


Sez Ivan:

I reckon in the course of my long career I probably made abou $200,000 from my writing, but a lot of it had had to do with PR work, influence peddling, editing, teaching people how to do it, and a lot of journalism. I can certainly not boast Ms.Lisle's 20 novels--I have only written five.

Ms. Lisle is very lucky, and obviously very talented.

But here is how it really goes:

A working journalist, I had been greatly inspired by yet another writer, Gail Sheehy, who warned that there is something called Catch-3O...that at age 30, you slow right down. Yes! Thirty.

To someone bulletproof, like me at 30, this was depressing news.
I had taken a huge gamble on my novel, The Hat People, quit my job over I starved, but somehow, through the dance of the dialectic, fallen into a million dollars. The novel remained unpublished, save for one chapter in TOPIC magazine, but I was rich.

Still, I had failed to win a New York agent. Rich and depressed.

Why? A paid-for house, two beautiful children and not having to work for the rest of my life.
Still, depressed.
"Father says, "What is the matter with you. You not got enough to eat? Hah! Pepsi Generation. Good for shit."
(Ukrainian fathers tend to talk that way).

Yet here was Gail Sheehy telling me that it all starts to slow down at thirty, that you don't have the energy of a teenager any more, there is a biological slowdown and soon, you will be delving into more of life's mysteries.

Fact of the matter, I was totally seduced by Sheehy's writing style. It is almost poetry and seems to go past the usual intellectual wall in writing.
I guess marrying Clay Felker, top editor in New York and top magazine publilsher didn't hurt Gail Sheehey..Hey. Me too!
But the writing must have paid the rent. And Mr. Felker had a hit on his hands with his New York Magazine..

When I speak of New York Magazine, I don't mean the New Yorker, which, for the longest time seemed to talk of people living in the l930's, not having a crisis, like Catch-30.

Father used to say, "Not married by 30? Hah. Pepsi generation. Good for...."

Well, I certainly got married before this deadline decade. Family pressure. Girlfriend pressure.
I had proposed in a bathtub and my intentions were straight and clean.

Anyway, as I sat in my neat white cottage, case of beer usually in front of me, I had noticed that I could now guzzle down only seven beers instead of the usual 10.

Catch-30. The slowdown. Lost capacity.

On the typewriter to do some editing; my toddler is tugging at the paper in my typewriter and I complain to my wife over the frequency of my turns at babysitting.

An editor calls. I would at least be out of the house, working for the Star Weekly magazine, writing about baton-twirlers and inventors of the snowboard, chuckling over what Mordecai Richler had said about baton twirling: The Orangeman's flamenco."

Still, at today's equivalent salary of $60,OOO a year, I could put up with it.
Off that morning to interview Toronto's top hostess witth he mostess for the food and drink column.

Yet the novel was going nowhere. Rejected by a writer's co-op! Teased by House of Anansi Press because it might not be "our kind of book."
So what if you were a published writer. The folks at ANANSI were in fact using the word "sellout" quite a bit.
But didn't you sell out a little when your novels had to dovetail with Canada's public policy of political correctness and gay rights?
Well anyway. Catch-30.
Doing stupid stories and slowing down all the while. And the rejection letters for your novel.
Ah, but there were emoluments. The Reader's Digest reprinted something of mine.
Got me a trip to Florida.
Yup. Right to Ft. Myers Beach to join others in a Reader's Digest world of rich middle-aged f*ck-ups.
Wow. Is this how it goes? I want to be a rich middle-aged f*ck-up at once!

Back home at the cottage, with the Thirties Crisis upon me, I was starting to feel like a real middle-aged f*ck- up.
Off to Toronto to see "Jacquea Brel Is Alive and Well", wherein an artist sings, "The Middle Class Can KIss My Ass."

Well, I'd sent a rewrite of The Hat People back to Anansi. Maybe soon, I would be able to sing they dud ub Jaques Brel.

But the news was nor cheerful:

"The character in your novel doesn't entirely avoid self-pity. He is a spoiled brat."
Hah. I am thinking to myself: "Besides that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?"

Clearly I had to stop using myself as my gristmill.

Animal stories. Yes. Animal stories. I wrote about my dog Gulliver and the frequent times I wanted to shoot the son-of-a bitch.

Got an award.

But still the Uncle Vanya feeling. Chekhov. Men who just slowed down and froze.
I was an unpublished novelist while my peers were ploghing deep furrows into Canadian literature.
And I was 30.
Bird in a gilded cage. Married and 30.
"Oh you poor thing," my wife is jibing.
"Look around at all your friends. Living in cramped quarters, drinking cheap booze. Making noises like writers, but not having published a line.
"I am an artist, Martha."
"Well, 'artist', here is the vacuum cleaner. I'm tired of picking up after you."
"But I'm a genius, Martha."

'Who says? I made it in the top percentile at Mensa."

"Oh yes. Mensa. 'Open the encyclopaedia anywhere and I bet I can spell the word.'
Encyclopaedia salesmen all and not an achiever in the crowd"

"So achieve, achiever."
The money had come from her family. She was really my patron.
Ah, Catch-30.

Wasn't until decades after, I would hear Alanis Morisette singing, "I Got One Hand In My Pocket, And The Other is Swingin' on a Cigarette."

But Alanis had written the song at 24.

And here I am at Catch-70, still trying to write one.

And the turtles have long since passed me.

From white rabbit to something like the Red Queen.

Running madly to stay in just the one place.

Egad. My wife used to call me a king.

Now she's using terms out of anatomy.



Charles Gramlich said...

Hard to quit a day job when folks are relying on you. Once I took that first full time job after grad school there wasn't much choice. But I didn't mind. I love writing. I'm not willing to give up eating and loving for it though. said...

Yep, Charles.

I probably shouldn't have tried it married with children.

But then the surprise of somehow fluking out and still winning.

...But this rarely happens.

Most of our favourite writers had fulltime jobs throughout their writing careers.

eric1313 said...

To hell with the day job!


Day jobs are hell.

To f*ck with the day jobs! I'm a poet, and I will die a shriveled husk of of a human being, but a well read and somewhat clever husk who still never got it all right. Maybe then I can smell a whiff of success.

Death as a career move.

You've heard me talk about it before.

But, I still probably have my best writing ahead of me so maybe I need to stick around. Since no matter what grotesque legends primitive cultures around the world have to say about it, or the Hollywood schlock-mongers portray, people don't get to send messages from the crypt.

(Unless they have them emailed on an exquisitely well-timed delay)

Think I need to stick around to see where writing will lead me. Even if it leads me to my death, I need to be here.

At the very least, I'll need to write my own eulogy.

eric1313 said...

Still, in this harsh economic clime, I need to get out there and find a Donkey Job. Things are bad. A large part of my family still works for GM, and you have heard all about that corp's troubles--self-inflicted or not.

Keeping the faith often means starving, but if my family needs me to help them out, then I'm there, no problem. They shouldn't suffer because I want to chase dreams forever.

Crap like this is why I've been very careful over the years to not have my own kids. But it seems family obligation seeks me out, no matter what. And if it does, then I will do what I have to do.

But, when will it end?

Probably never...

Damnit. said...

It seemed to work for Hank Williams.
They guy's immortal. Even now, people still do him. Even Leonard Cohen...And Williamns had it all done by 29. But Lord, he could drink.
Myself, I kind of dig the anarchists Kropotkin Proudhon and and Bakunin . Not poets, anarchists.
But they went to hell for their revolt against an oppressive state. Gladly.

"Hell?" asked a friend of mine watching me fry. "Sounds great. When can I go?" I think he was half serious.
Sorcerer's apprentice?
Seem when it came to risking all and just writing, I have been to hell many times....Or was it just rungs?
Up and down the same old rungs.
Till the answer seems to boom out from the street, and not the sewer.
Kind of burns ya.

But then maybe I am thinking of your Phoenix poem on your site. said...


Heaven forbid that for guys like you and me, hell should be eternal.
But Dante seems to say it lasts only one night.
But he had a patrons. And we have to be our own patrons.
And Beatrice as Rosie the Riveter.
Ya never know.

eric1313 said...

Eternal or a night, I guess I prefer heat to cold.

But that's me.

Some like it hot and others like it cold as ice. said...

Well, how about the devil in the Capital One commercial? :)

eric1313 said...

Capital one is the Devil!

Oh Gawds, Ivan you should see what a wreck I am (or used to be) with a credit card.

But the ladies at the bar, they liked me...

eric1313 said...

by the way, if you ever email me, send it to, that's the one I always check now. it gets 0 spam emails.

My yahoo account gets about 200 spams a day, and 50 of them get past the filter into my main account.

So now, that's the one I use for junk. said...

Yeah, I'm Mad Max right now with Capital One.

Good to get your email, Eric. I think I tried once or twice to find it.

Whoop! There goes HERTZ rent-a-chick.

Research you uderstand. I was doing a story.
Friend saw me that night and said, "Why Ivan,you slut."

Lana Gramlich said...

I think I've found a happy medium, but only because I'm generally non-materialistic. I make enough to cover my bills & have a bit left over. My part-time library job sees to that. Anything I can do artistically is just gravy. Note that "just gravy" this year comes to over $800 in the hole, but then again, I'm restarting something I haven't done in years.
On the other hand, I've had other opportunities arise because of the art thing. Through one of my art groups I was offered some steady pay to create & maintain their website.
Will I ever be rich & famous? Certainly not. Fortunately for me, I don't want to be.

Monique said...

It's easy, isn't it to preach that you should take a gamble an stick to it, when you have made it.

I'm working part-time and enjoy it. Working is not all bad.

lol said...

Lana and Monique.

Yep. I'm with old Ari the Greek.
Stay in the middle; nothing in excess. The golden mean.

Interesting that Mick Jagger of the Stones, seems to have read a lot about the starving artiste.
"They were tragic little blokes.
Sort of mentally ill."

Heh. Guilty.

the walking man said...

The Quran implies that hell lasts long enough for you to pay for your sins. Personally I think it best to quantify nothing as sin.

I would love to be working my day job still. That thought was not endemic though when I was working that same job. I think I miss the grease more than the work, I liked going to functions with hands stained so heavy that people would not shake. The supposition being that I was dirty.

Fuck 'em they may have been correct in the assumption but I was thirty odd and still didn't care. I was paying all the bills my past dictated to me.

Now when I am fifty four (and nearly a half) I can write full time without caution or concern whether I will eat today. the singular has made me indifferent to the world of paper and ink publishing.

Maybe I should chase the again the muse of Random House (et. al.). If for no other reason then I have nothing much better to waste my time and money on. Stamps are still cheap, relatively.

But I would dearly love to stick whole sheets of them on my forehead and mail myself back to my 30's. I could still fight and fuck, drink and work my life like a teenager although I needed glasses by then. said...

Someone near to me visited recently.
To her mind, I was the fool who had destroyed my own family.

Had to go away and write the great Canadian novel, leaving the family to fortune.

The novel was a publishing disaster.
I was a disaster.
They were a disaster.

But somehow, I feel that this Budh was for me.
Maybe not the Surangama Sutra, but the Talmud: "Life lays down strange paths for men to tread upon in the dark."
There is as yet no enlightenment.
And Buddha was about the fourth Gautuma to shine through history. There were a lot of them.
It blows. said...

p.s. to Mark,

I personally know a lesser writer than you who hit Random House, and actually got to have lunch with Fred Loomis,it head.
Hey, a man can always eat.

PPS: Have you been reading the fiction in the slick magazines?

Oy. Sheisse!

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