Yesterday at a social gathering, a few people near me were discussing their similar careers and companies. After several minutes of this, one of them — someone I don’t know well but see a few times a month — turned to me and said, “Well, what do you do?”
I have grown to hate this question, and that’s really sad, because I love what I do with every fibre of my being. But experience has taught me that 75% of the time, the response to my answer is not something I’m good at dealing with.
I told this person I’m a part-time freelance writer/editor, and write novels from home, his response was the perennial favourite,
“It must be nice.”
In case you’re thinking he said this in a wistful manner, let me gently nudge you more toward sarcastic with a hint of judgment and a dash of superiority, as he looked around at the other two he’d been chatting with.
It must be nice? What must be nice? That I don’t work a 9-5 job with a respectable paycheck, therefore I live on some kind of perma-holiday?
What I wish people who don’t write or create art knew about those that do is its often thankless. We do it because there’s an overpowering desire in our heart — not for money, or prestige, and certainly not fame — and if we didn’t siphon things out of this well inside us on a regular basis, we would go stark raving mad. Or as my friend and critique partner Megan Peterson recently put it, it would poison our whole being.
“It must be nice” infers we sit around in our jim-jams watching Netflix and letting the laundry pile up around our heads while we’re chugging back beers and covered in biscuit crumbs.
Let me be the billionth writer to say, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
On top of this, his comment was, in a word, degrading. But I suppose if I stepped back from the situation I could say the question reflects on him more than it does on me, or any of us who choose to pursue something that garners very little acclaim or money or, in most circles, respect. For reasons like this — as if we twiddle our thumbs and play Candy Crush (I don’t even know what that is) all day.
Not as if I work my butt off, taking online classes, studying craft books or published novels daily, working with critique partners through their own manuscripts, researching, enrolling in bootcamps and shelling out bucks to get professional feedback as often as means allow.
Not as if I get my heart ripped out after putting it on the page and then having to light it on fire and start over again on a regular basis.
Not as if I get next to no recognition for pursuing this dream that I love and believe will matter someday, and maybe inspire one other person to dream and write and create worlds that they love as well.
It makes me wonder, what’s harder? Working in a field that will always need employees, is guaranteed a nice paycheque, holidays, and a retirement plan? Or putting your heart and soul into a misshapen lump — one that you hammer out day after day, with no one overseeing your work or making sure you’re DOING the work (or making sure you’re taking breaks for your physical and mental health), with no accolades, no guaranteed paycheque, no water-cooler socialisation, very little respect, endless assumptions and suspicions about how you spend your time and your “REAL” motivation, cyclical self-doubt, the desire to change one little word or one entire character from the moment you wake up until you finally fall asleep at night (usually quite late) — all with the hope that one day that lump will become a shining work of art that you’re proud of, grateful to have been able to construct, and hopeful will inspire others, whether through the imagination, the entertainment, or simply the craft used to cobble it all together. Hopeful that the work will someday make it all up to the family and friends who were your moral support from day one.
The answer? I don’t think one is harder than the other. I think people are best suited to one or the other. I’ve been on the 9-5 desk job side of things, with the decent, reliable paycheque and the retirement options and the healthcare package. I know that that is bloody hard work, and most times, work that you don’t actually care about but need to do in order to live.
On the flip-side, another person at this gathering who I know even less well and see maybe twice a year not only remembered that I’m a writer, but asked me how it was going, and encouraged me with supportive comments about my current (positive) set of circumstances. I wanted to hug her. These sorts of responses are few and far between, but I’m beginning to learn not to expect them. And again, that’s sad. But that’s life. What matters is I believe in what I’m doing. I am confident in what I do. I just wish I could come up with a better response in the midst of conversation to people who say, “It must be nice.”
. . . But then, that’s why I’m a writer. Because I can’t come up with this stuff on the spur of the moment as the words are falling from someone else’s lips. They form in my head and are put down on a screen, and edited, and critiqued, and polished, and torn apart, and edited again, instead of coming out of my mouth and lingering on the air, unable to be taken back or fixed.
If that’s my choice, I’ll take it.
And I suppose the best response to this comment is it’s more than nice (and since I’m a writer, I don’t use words like “nice”, right? *grin*). I am grateful to be able to spend the majority of my time doing a job that I LOVE, and will never grow tired of. A job that challenges me every day, and when I face a hint of sarcasm or judgement, it only works to remind me that despite what anyone else thinks, I’m not going to give up.