Thursday, February 14, 2008

Keeping the Day Job

John Scalzi stirred up a lot of discussion and maybe even a little controversy with this post of advice to new writers. One thing that seems to have gotten under some skins is his comments about marriage. Some of you know that I was incredibly lucky to persuade Judy Stutts to marry me. She has been so much a part of my writing career that twenty or so years ago, Mary Christian, a Houston writer, said, "I need a Judy!" But she couldn't have mine.

As for the day job, unlike some people, I kept mine for a long, long time. Why? Well, for one thing, I needed the money. Or at least I wanted it. And for another thing, I liked the security of a regular paycheck, a really good retirement program, and excellent insurance. Believe me, the insurance came in mighty handy after Judy was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. When I retired at age 62, the college continued to pay my insurance, and I paid for Judy's part of it. We'd have been up the creek without it.

And believe it or not, I liked the day job. When I was in high school, I decided I wanted to be a teacher. So I became one, and for nearly 40 years I enjoyed being in the classroom. Sure, the older I got, the more I got involved in administrative duties, but I always taught at least two or three classes a semester, and I looked forward to going into the classroom almost every time I did it.

So while the life of a full-time writer is probably filled with glamor and riches beyond the ken or ordinary mortals, I was perfectly happy with my life the way it was. Now that I've retired from college teaching into the life of being a rich and famous full-time writer, I write less than ever. Somebody's gotta do the blog, right?


bish8 said...

Hey, Bill!

I've kept my day job with LAPD while producing nine novels, a couple dozen huors of network TV, and a feature film. It's been tough, but I've never regretted it.

I may hae had more output if I'd have been strictly a writer (I have to have done in order to pay the bills), but the insurance and the retirement package can't be beat.

A writer's income is so inconsistent and relys on so much more than just the writers writing talent.

With 31 years on the job, I'm still going in to the squad room every day. I now run a sex crimes unit covering 25% of the city. I have twenty five detectives working the unit, who are so dedicated to the type of crimes we investigate they make me want to come to work each day.

And, quite frankly, every day brings new stories for the fiction fodder.

I'm a hugely lucky guy getting to do the two things I love most in life -- putting bad guys in jail, and putting words on paper.

I also have my own 'Judy.' Her name is Dell, but it is she who has kept me sane all these years ... well, mostly sane.

Paul Bishop

Bill Crider said...

Great comment, Paul. Thanks!

Brent McKee said...

I'm not a professional writer, but I have a suspicion that being a writer is in a lot of ways like being a professional poker player - unless you are really really successful you should probably keep the day job at least until you become really really successful. I know that I cringe every time I hear of some college kid who says he's going to quit (or graduate) and become a professional poker player. (And btw I'm not one of them either.)

Anonymous said...

I pretty much burned my bridges. I worked all manner of manual jobs to keep from getting too comfortable, and then in 81 I went full time. I have a Karen, however, and she quit working for the fire department and police department long ago as a dispatcher and works for me, which is great. It's kind of hard to believe I've been at it full time this long and that I've succeeded in staying at it and being successful enough to stay at it. Life is good, but, it is a bit nervous. Joe

Bill Crider said...

I started to use you as an example in the post. I've always admired your approach to the writing business. And I don't think you ever get really nervous. Maybe in the beginning, but not now.

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

Good to hear from Paul. I would have bet that he retired years ago. Just goes to show you what I know. When my first and only book came out my coworkers thought I was suddenly rich. I told them I could have made more money mowing lawns for a month than I made on that book.

Duane Swierczynski said...

"Some people," eh?

Seriously, what I'm really doing is trading one form of steady work for another. Hell, in some ways, working for a newspaper is far riskier. Today, the NY Times announced it would be cutting something like 150 jobs, a third of those from the newsroom. Yikes...

jj solari said...

I guess I oughta get on board this confessional, in the interests of teaching the young, who don't read this blog. According to my wife Cecily, this will be my last year in the grocery business. I've been putting cans on a shelf for almost 30 years. I worked at a fast food chain for ten. I quit work at the fast food chain in 1973 with two thousand dollars and decided if I couldn't get at least one piece of fiction published in a paying venue in two years i would forget about "being a writer." After two years I had technically achieved that goal so I knew I couldn't legitimately quit "being a writer," but I was then broke and went to work in retail. This is being shortened by 50,000 words. The hard parts were, one, quitting smoking. that was a must. two - training myself top "be creative" without smoking three packs a day. training myself to "be creative on a keyboard." training myself to "be creative with a 48 hour a week job" The creative life is a tough one, but probably no tougher than living in Borneo and selling crab rectums to the neighbors. At least if you fail in America there's plenty of cardboard lyiing around to make a house out of in an abandoned warehouse. Unlikke failing in Borneo where you just die.

Anonymous said...

Selling crab rectums is difficult. Nah. Those little items sell themselves. Joe

Livia said...

Anytime I talk to someone wanting to break into the writing field, I always tell them, "Don't quit your day job."

James and I have been living on our writing income for over 25 years. We have had some really tough years. At the same time, it kept us working hard writing. We did have to take some writing jobs that we might not have if we'd had any other income.

On the other hand we were both around to raise our daughters. We taught the oldest to read for herself when she was two and to write by the time she was three. She could type 40 words a minute by the time she was in second grade. I wonder if we warped the child . . .

Neither daughter have had any interest in becoming writers, even though both have natural talent. They saw how hard it is to make a living in this business, how you have to struggle to get the job, then sometimes struggle to get paid.

When our parents became elderly, we were both able to help them. Sometimes it really did help not having a 'real' job. And this is how most think of our work.

If we had it to do over, would we get 'real' jobs? That's hard to say. I think probably not, but steady income and insurance would have come in handy.


Bill Crider said...

Thanks for another great comment.

Mark from QuoteMyAuto said...

I have been busy trying to find good writers to provide unique content for a couple of my websites about insurance.

I think it would be very difficult to break into full time writing because of the volume you have to put out to make money.

When I write my own articles, it takes me about 2 hours per... but maybe I am doing something wrong.

Keep up the good work!

Bill Crider said...

It ain't easy.