The Page a Day Writers Group

Keeping Your Day Job While Keeping Your Creative Sanity

Posted on: March 21, 2010

Bob Dobbs says, "The SubGenius Must Have Slack" The logo is from the http://www.subgenius.com The SubGenius Foundation, Inc.

I have to admit, this has been difficult for me lately, especially with the ‘Global Economic Crisis’ in progress.  I swear, if I hear that standard excuse for treating employees unfairly and leaving us all feeling like we might be fired at any moment one more time, I’m going to walk out the door.  Actually, I can’t walk out, but I do in my head nearly ten times a day of late.  Still, I must soldier on because I need that piddly squat pay to feed and shelter myself.  I also need some of it to buy printer cartridges and paper.

I think all artists experience this feeling at one point or another.  I think we all dream about getting that phone call that we’ve made the big sale, or gotten the big part so we can finally tell the boss where he can stick his ‘Global Economic Crisis’.

I like to dream of the phone call going down like it did for my idol, Stephen King.  Getting the phone call from his agent that Carrie had sold.  That was the manuscript he says he tried to throw in the trash, but his lovely wife saved it.  Glad she did; it’s the book that hooked me on him in the first place.  That book also earned him a $40,000 advance (keep in mind, them’s 1973 dollars, so who knows how much of an advance it would be by today’s standards).

I’d like to at least make enough to get out of being robbed at least part of the time.  I could do part time, but this full time rape is getting old, bleeding me dry.  Sometimes exhausting me to the point of not being able to do what I really want to do at the end of a long day.  Being in a private institution for adults means that I work full time for these people, but I’m treated like a part time employee.

I have to tell myself every day that there has to be something there I need, something that will help my craft.  I read an article in which one writer claimed he got writer’s block when he stopped teaching and he couldn’t write a word until he went back to it part time.

Maybe he’s right.

I’ve also heard/witnessed over and over that you still can’t quit your day job even after you’ve made the big sale.

King continued to teach off and on after that first big sale.

I think the thing that keeps me going is the students.  As I mentioned before, they’re adults so it’s not like I’m ‘doin’ it for the kids’.  But in this crazy country that looks like one big shopping center to them, they are like a bunch of kids.  Even the ones who are well into their forties and fifties are astounded by our 24/7 society.

I get to answer cool questions like “When Americans ask you ‘How are you?’ do they really want to know the truth or are they just being polite?” or “What’s a Ped X-ing?” and here’s my favorite: “What are bail bonds?”

I love this one because I get to tell them a little about how our legal system works and that we really do have bounty hunters here in America.  Their eyes go very wide and they probably start imagining dusty streets with tumble weeds rolling by while Clint Eastwood comes down the street, spurs clanging ominously as his hands hover over the two six shooters strapped to his sides.

Though I have managed to relieve them of the notion that all Americans own guns since this one doesn’t and won’t.

I took a bunch down to the courthouse one week.  It wasn’t until I started working at this school that I discovered you can just walk in to the local courthouse and watch most trials.

The first thing one of my students whispered to me was, “This courtroom is so much smaller than I expected.”

I responded, “And much less tidy and well-lit.”

He nodded and added, “Nothing like it is on TV!”

It’s moments like these when I realize that American society is rarely ‘As Seen on TV’.

I also find my students are a wealth of knowledge I can draw upon.  I can find out how they really think, and what things are really like in their countries.  Not only do we misrepresent ourselves to other countries on TV, we fool ourselves into believing lots of really strange things about them!

Contrary to popular belief, only farmers wear those wooden clogs in the Netherlands and the country of Switzerland is not made entirely of chocolate!  french fries are really Belgian, and pizza in Italy is nothing like it is here.

The Swiss really do use Ricola and are usually on time, though.

I find that comforting.

Since a lot of my stories take place outside this country, my characters sometimes say things in other languages. I find I can’t rely on Babel Fish (the Alta Vista version, not the Douglas Adams one) since it’s just going to translate things word for word, never giving any hint about whether or not this is what a native speaker would really say in any given situation.

Example:  Here in America, we say, “What’s up?”, “How ya doin’?” or something like that for a greeting.  South of the border, we might say, “Que pasa”, which literally translates into ‘What passes”.  This is where Babel Fish will let you down.

But this is also where having students from all over the world is quite handy.

I remember asking an Italian male student about a translation once.  I needed to know how an Italian man would say that a girl is ‘curvey’ or ‘shapely’.  When I asked him, he said, “Who am I saying this to, my mother or another man?”

Valuable stuff, because the two versions of that are way different.  One of the ways would have earned him a slap from his mother and a trip to confess to the local priest, and the other would go by unnoticed.

So I do it for the students and I do it for me, I guess.

Now I just need to find someone who speaks some form of Gaelic!

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2 Responses to "Keeping Your Day Job While Keeping Your Creative Sanity"

Yes, we are all 10-year over-night successes. The important thing is to keep at it. And of course, our days jobs are a great place to find inspiration and real-life characters.

Deb, you have such a naturally-infused humor in your writing. Even writing about difficult times, you have a way of finding courage in the light side. And your writing world definitely reaps the benefit of your work-a-day adventures. Keep sharing.

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The Page a Day Writers Group is a diverse collection of wonderful writers based in San Diego, CA. We've been meeting monthly since 2004. Our primary function is in-depth writing critique, marketing and brainstorming, but there's usually some wine, chocolate and ribaldry involved too. We write fantasy, humor, literary fiction, nonfiction, romance, thrillers and YA. Join us on our journeys to publication and the wonderland beyond!

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