My business card says writer – now what?

A little while ago, I got a promotion at my day job, which means that I’m now officially getting paid to write things. Non-fiction, sure, and not even in the area that I did a whole PhD in, but writing nonetheless, that people are reading and hopefully liking. I’m a writer. Or Writer, even. Why don’t I feel any different?

As I’ve written about before, I listen to my fair share of writer podcasts, and read wise words from established fiction writers where I find them, on twitter, in books and on blogs. One of the things they all say – other than warning people never to listen to writing advice – is to write what you love.

I remember one writer, I think it was Tobias Buckell, talking about it like so: if you write what you love, you will start out with 50% satisfaction, which can increase to 100% if you then manage to make money out of it (simply speaking), whereas if you write what you think will sell, you start from 0% satisfaction, and can only get to 50% if you do manage to sell it.

And that’s what I’m doing now. I’m getting paid to write, but that’s just getting me to 50%. The only way for me to move closer to 100% (if that’s even ever possible to achieve) is to write fiction I believe in and finally manage to sell it, or alternatively to move to writing non-fiction in a genre that is closer to my heart, or move into editing in the book/fiction world.

That’s not to say I’m not happy to have the opportunity to write for a living. It’s certainly better than a lot of other things I could be doing, and it’s a step in the right direction for my career. I guess I’m just saying that these lines we draw, these bridges we cross, are a lot more transparent than they look from a distance.

So, as a bridge I have trekked to has dissolved upon approach, so I set my sights onto the next bridge, knowing that it too will dissolve once I reach it, and I am the only one that can make it matter (pun intended). Meanwhile, I think I’ll treat myself to some fancy chocolate to celebrate.


Writing resistance

Reblogged the below because I’m sure I’m not the only one feeling somewhat guilty about pursuing a career in writing while the world around us crumbles and breaks.

via Personal Essay: Averting the Apocalypse, Quietly – BERKELEY FICTION REVIEW

Waiting is life

Ever since I became a teenager, I have been waiting. First, I was waiting for the next year of high school, because my parents kept promising next year would be better. Then, in university, I spent a year waiting for my father to die, for him to fully succumb to a brain tumour. Then eventually my Bachelor degree was completed and I still had no idea what I wanted to do, so I started waiting for a purpose, then for my PhD to be finished, and now I’m looking for a purpose again, or still, depending on how you look at it, while also waiting for a time when I am finally reunited with my partner and living in my own place. I’m starting to realise something though. I can’t postpone everything while I wait for life to start. It’s already happening.

The indubitable Terry Pratchett, through the character of Death, once stated “It is said your life flashes before your eyes before you die. This is true. It is called living.” Life is short, in the grand scheme of things, and any moments spent waiting is a moment not spent doing things. So, assuming I’m not the only person who’s ever had this feeling, why do we wait?

We can never stop running out of time

Everyone has goals they want to attain, personal and societal. We are told when the ‘normal’ ages are to have friends and start relationships, to move out of our parents’ house, to start a career, to establish ourselves. And once upon a time, this was easy. The career we were going into, it was the career of our parents. The person we married was probably from the same village, someone we had known growing up, maybe even someone our parents had picked out for us. Now, there are no guidelines. There are no rules. If you want to write a book and publish it, there’s self-publising. If you want to start a business, you can easily do it online. There are teenagers making lots of money by building apps, and there are people close to pension age reinventing themselves and discovering new talents. Contrarily, if you want to stay in the same job for your entire career, that’s now almost impossible.

What all of this uncertainty means is that there is no longer a defining point in one’s life where one can say ‘This is it, now I’ve really started.’ The goalposts keep getting moved. As soon as you’re done with school, you need to start making money. When you’ve got a job, you need a house. Once you’ve got a partner, you immediately start to feel pressured to get married and/or a child. And even when you’ve got all those things, there is always another goal ahead. Where does it end?

I don’t know how many other twenty-somethings out there feel like they’re still waiting for their lives to start. Maybe it’s just a symptom of not feeling satisfied with what you have, maybe it can actually push you to do/be better. Whatever the underlying doubt or fear or societal guilt is, I know it can’t be healthy in the long term. While some stress is good, when it prevents you from doing things and/or becomes chronic, your body starts to suffer. As a psychologist, I could diagnose myself with a form of anxiety. And like other forms of anxiety, it takes time to get over feeling constricted, to trust things will be able to work out again. So ironically, people who feel like they’re stuck need to wait it out, try to relax and work slowly to change their unhelpful thought patterns. Meanwhile, life keeps happening, so we’d better try to enjoy it.

Wise words

Maybe now that I’ve been able to vent these thoughts, it’s time for me to embrace the waiting and all of the uncertainty that comes with it, and just live, doing the things that I am able to do within the constraints of my ‘incomplete’ state of being, and not worry about the rest. Of course on the other hand, I like striving for more, and fantasising about the wonderful things to come. If I completely accept things as they are, I will never complete a novel or find a good job. So like everything else in life, balance is the key.

The importance of mentors

The closer I am getting to some idea of a career, the more I think about what differentiates me from people who already have one. One of the most important things that help people advance in a career, in my opinion, is a mentor.

Mentors are valuable no matter what career you choose to pursue. They can provide not just networking opportunities and advice on how to climb your desired career ladder, but also a glimpse of what a career like theirs leads to, the light at the end of the tunnel (or at least the light a little further down the line). Last year I heard a talk from one of the first female US higher court judges, and she mentioned some of her most important mentors. Not just women, not just judges, but very important to her was the influence of her dad, and later the guidance of the bosses she worked under. Everyone can be a stepping stone if you value their opinion and incorporate the advice that works for you.

Everyone gets some help along the way, and most people are happy to help

Another PhD student from my lab is now in her dream career because one of her supervisors was also her ideal mentor. Her background is medical, a degree system wherein mentors are mandatory, so she started off seeking a strong role model. I have no such background, so I’ve only just started thinking about needing a mentor, and what makes a good mentor. Hence this post.

Ideally, the best mentors are on the career track you want to be on. This might be difficult if (like me) you’re not in that world yet, but people are always happy to talk about themselves and give advice if you approach them in a respectful and open manner (and maybe buy them coffee or something). That doesn’t mean harassing Oprah on social media, but sending a nice, gushy email with a simple question to someone a bit more available can’t hurt.

In the writing world, agents and editors can often be mentors to new writers. This is one of the things that self-published authors may lack, but other, more senior self-published writers may help them along instead. If you look past the surface, most career tracks are full of people who want to help and want you to succeed, even if you may end up being a competitor down the line. Sometimes mentors don’t even need to have jobs directly related to what you want to do. Anyone can be a mentor, often starting with your parents when you’re young, a teacher at school, or a good friend.

The point of this post is to acknowledge that we can’t do everything alone, and its no use reinventing the wheel when there are lots of people out there willing to share their knowledge. So let them. Identify mentors or potential mentors in your own life, and have a talk with them, ask them how they got to where they are today, what their philosophy on life is, whatever you want to know. People generally love to be asked about their accomplishments. Use that to your advantage and listen.

Owls make great mentors

Finally, if any of you more senior bloggers who happen to read this post want to give me some mentorship, please do ^_^.