categories: Bad Advice / Cocktail Hour
Oh, I’ve seen such anguish on FB and elsewhere about the thin market in college jobs for writers. More jobs will turn up, of course, and somewhere, right now, someone’s writing up a job description that sounds a lot like you. But that September job list really is depressing. Then again, if you’ve set out to be a writer, why let the job statistics for teachers bother you? Yes, you need a way to make money, but what difference does it make how you get there, if the whole point is to buy time to write?
I always thought it was best to do work that had nothing to do with writing. So I put in kitchens and bathrooms. I bartended. I rode a horse and chased Simmental cattle around. I painted apartments in NYC. I played in bands (famously!). And when I got home from these generally lucrative activities (well, not the ranch stuff), or while I lay on the beach during all the time my night work opened up, I wrote. I didn’t really get that I was in an apprenticeship. But what I did get was that what I meant to be was a writer. Not a bartender, for example. So I didn’t take that too seriously (though I often made a teacher’s weekly salary in a night–tips). When I was done, I was done.
And not a contractor. No, I hadn’t set out to do that! Though construction got fairly serious at times… But then I’d remind myself: you, my friend are a writer. And so I’d finish up the bathroom I was working on, pinch the large wad of cash, and take as many months off as that cash would buy. And I’d write. Preferably someplace nice…
Practice novels, sure. And then stuff that was getting published. And that got me into grad school. My MFA program (Columbia U.) was wonderful as a way to focus on reading and writing among like-minded souls. I taught the undergrads (Logic and Rhetoric), and that paid my way. No different than the other work I’d done: my teaching assistantship bought me time to write. Also, grad school taught me to be poor, which was good preparation for teaching in the academy, or teaching anywhere.
After grad school, and largely because of it, I published a book, and with the degree, that made me employable. I applied for jobs and got some of them. I taught 25 years in all, promoted, tenured, endowed chair, the whole shebang. All so I could write, I didn’t forget. And when at long last I could rely on writing to pay the way, I quit teaching. Just like that.
Because I’d never set out to be a teacher.
Don’t get me wrong. I love teaching!
But I love not teaching more…
And I’m way busier than I ever was teaching, go figure…
I know it’s no fun to contemplate, but if you want to be a writer, it doesn’t really matter what else you do to get along. X dollars is X dollars, no matter where they came from.
Jesus, if you believe that, you’ll believe anything.
Be a writer first at least. Can you do that for me? Thanks.