Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Backup Plans

Sometimes its so damn frustrating to know what you want. There are days when I envy my friends for just being able to do the "college thing". It all seems so ridiculously easy. They all get to go to school for four years, pick a major, and follow their yellow-brick-road of a career path to wherever they want to go. They get to go to med school. They get to apply for the law program. It seems unfair for the rest of us that have "unconventional" career choices. What guidebook is there for us to follow?

There aren't pretty office complexes for writers. We don't get to sign up with big brand names and impersonal corporations. We don't have the job security, the HMO's, the pensions, or the 401k's. There's no set formula to do well in our industry. No guarantee that with good grades and extracurricular activities, we'll graduate with job offers and proud parents, with a sense of where we're headed, or even the promise that we'll like it when we get there. There are no try-outs, no hopeful gateways, and the entry-level jobs that one might work up from are few and far between. There aren't any support groups either - and writing is a lonely affair. Working on a book is nothing like blogging. The blog community has the benefits of instant validation on any and all content. For the lucky few of us that have a small number of dedicated readers we are able to receive immediate feedback, (and most of us survive off of this drip-line of positive reinforcement). Unfortunately with a book you're up against 65,000 words without any kind of a support system. And that can be pretty daunting. It can also make you reconsider what the hell it is you're trying to do exactly.

My mother wanted to be a writer too. She fell in love with words the same way I did, through literature and music, and like me, she never really let go of the idea. She worked hard at it, as she does with everything in her life, and sold a few short stories here and there but nothing further came of it. She's a testament to the reality that the creative industries have more than enough fresh blood each year, to glide over all the Mid-Lister's that didn't make it as big as they had planned. Now, at 44 years old, she's going into a nursing program, finally pursuing her only other passion. She's my reminder of how cruel life can be to those that fall between the cracks and it makes me wonder if I'm not setting myself up to fail.

Now that I'm here I can't imagine really doing anything else - the standard fall-backs of journalism and teaching don't appeal to me very much - but I can't help worrying about what happens if I'm not part of that lucky (but minuscule) percentage that actually manages to get published, let alone figure out a way to make a living off of this writing business. I know that all I can do is try my hardest and hope for the best outcome but it seems like I have so much riding on all this now, I can't help but let my rational side suggest that I might be making a mistake. I have a fiance with whom I hope to build a comfortable (read: not lacking) sort of lifestyle and I wonder if I ought to pursue a more established type of career. I know that he wants me to do what makes me happy but I refuse to be one of those women that stays home and lives off their husbands income. I wasn't raised that way - and frankly I'd probably go crazy. So what it really all comes down to is - if not this, then what?


Sarah said...

I feel for you. It's a tough decision to make. Whether to follow your passion or choose a more conventional road for you life.

I really don't have any advice. I've followed the conventional path (went into nursing) and I had to leave. I wasn't happy and I knew that I would have wasted my education if I continued down this path.

Now I'm pursuing Bio which I love and it does have lots of possibilities but I have no idea what I want to do with this degree. I'd like to work in a zoo but those jobs are pretty much nill they are so hard to get. I might want to go to Med School, but there are things I don't like about it and I wonder if I'll actually like being a Dr. Choices, choices. It seems the older we get the harder they seem to be, doesn't it?

Elizabeth said...

Very true. And the longer we wait to make our decisions, the more important it becomes that we make the right one. :-/

Sarcastica said...

I feel your pain Lizzy! But Celise Downs, a published author, comments often on my blog and whenever I express my fears of not making it, she says to have a back up plan, get a career, but still write. The fall back career (like being a Dental Receptionist in my case) will help pay for things while you commit to your passion. I know that I will ALWAYS love writing, and never give up on it - no matter if I get published or not.

Tassie said...

I think that if you are following your dream and doing your best to make it happen, then stay with it. Marrying a man that loves you and has a regular income doesn't mean that you'll be living off his income. You are a couple....both of you will contribute, in different ways. Stay with it and keep your chin up!

NewlyWed07 said...

Hi Elizabeth... just found your blog and it's intriguing -- I am also a writer, worried about the in's and out's of following your dreams -- I saw that you are reading The Secret... Well, it has a lot of answers in there regarding our fears of following our hearts -- About "living off a man" -- Read my blog... it's very much a give and take, up and down and all around day to day process --

Me! said...

It's warming to hear that I'm not the only one who feels sometimes lost, questioning my hopes. I did the college thing, then the corporate job thing, and was soo unhappy that it wasn't worth giving up my dream.

Now I work as a contractor for a Fortune 500 company developing training materials -- while it's not completely glamorous, the pay is wonderful, I get to work from home (most of the time), and I have plenty of time to write. Having this job keeps me from stressing out about money, about "what next?", and I get to draw on my sometimes comical office experiences.

Like you, I've always dreamed of writing a book -- I'm ten pages into it -- but I often wonder if it'll ever leave the confines of my laptop. I'm amazed at the number of wonderful writers out there -- and it's daunting to think of how my work may pale in comparison. But at the end of the day, I still enjoy it. And that's all that matters, right? Even if it only ever gets read to my cat, at least I know that I accomplished it. And who knows, maybe someone will want to read it someday.

Anonymous said...

Wow! You sound like you'd be the type of person to have their own column in some big newspaper, the way you write.. i love it! I agree with everything you say, you really have a way with words. I think you really should try to pursue a career in writing b/c you are really great at it, whether you start by writing short stories or small splurges in a local newspaper, get your stuff out there! The more ppl read it the more they become aware of how great a writer you are.
Keep it up your great!
Audz ;P