Sunday, August 28, 2011

Thinking of the Future

In a society where your job very much defines who you are, the "who" and the "what" definitions of any one person are nearly interchangeable. I never thought I would have a problem determining "who" and "what" I would be. But I was wrong.

First, I wanted to be an opera singer. My mom was an opera singer, and at 7 or 8 years of age, my life ambition was to do whatever she did. Plus, the director of the children's choir praised my voice, and in second grade, I even got a solo in my school's Christmas pageant, so it was clearly a logical career path!

Once I picked up other interests such as playing the flute and swimming, my aspirations to become an opera singer soon gave way to what, for many years, I was sure was my life purpose: to become a writer. An Author. Scribbling away in my notebooks, I was sure that someday soon I would look up at the shelves in our local library and see my name on the spines of books on display. I would sit in bookstores and sign copies. I would visit universities around the country and give readings. Everyone would love and praise me, and my name would be known around the world as synonymous with "literary genius."

Little did I know that the more formal writing education I had, the harder it would become to get words down on paper. Still, I continued to receive unending praise and support from friends, family, and teachers alike, so I kept persevered, churning out stories and poems and essays and plays. I wrote for classes; I wrote for my friends' amusement; I wrote for the local newspaper; and all of it was worth it, because it was bringing me that much closer to becoming a Real Author.

Then I reached college. Here was where I realized that plenty of people can write at least passably, but very few of them land book deals, and even fewer are able live off of what they make as a writer. That realization, combined with the simultaneous realization that the people who land book deals aren't necessarily the ones who are any good at writing, ruined any lingering remnants of ambition I had left. Despite what any of my teachers or friends or parents believed, I would never become a true writer.

While I may have given up the dream of seeing my name on a book jacket, I wasn't ready to give up on my love of language. If I couldn't become an author, I would go into publishing from the opposite angle and become an editor. Although this would mean giving up the glamor and prestige of having my name on a book jacket, my experiences editing my friends' papers and tutoring college peers assured me that being an editor was both something I could be good at and something I would enjoy. And after all, wasn't that the ultimate goal in life: to find a satisfying job that you could do well and that would provide for your immediate needs?

Then I landed the job. No, it wasn't the exact job I had hoped for, but it gave me a way to support myself in NYC, which, in the 2008 economy, wasn't anything to take lightly. Here was where I learned that the editorial job of my dreams didn't really exist. I had envisioned a job that consisted of reading manuscripts, separating the wheat from the chaff, and then working hand-in-hand with authors to improve their manuscripts to the point of perfection. In reality, these editors, called "acquisitions editors," are forced to meet quotas: to sign X number of books per year amounting to Y dollars in revenue for the company. This reduces what I thought was an artistic, creative process to a money machine--just like every other company-company out there.

So now I'm stuck back at square one, only with more pragmatic, "adult" concerns like rent and health insurance to worry about.

What do I want to be when I grow up?


Kelly said...

Reminds me of the last time I was in NYC with you and we had dinner with Andy, and he said something along the lines of "We've been taught that we can be anything. Now we just have to decide what we want to be."

I have to wonder though how many people truly, truly LOVE their jobs.

Anonymous said...

As with many things in life, jobs have good aspects and not-so-good aspects. A job is usually a good fit and is enjoyable for someone when the good aspects outweigh the not-so-good aspects. And people LOVE their jobs when the good aspects far outweigh the not-so-good aspects. I actually LOVE most of the jobs I've had/have.

Mike S said...

You have to think of your 9-5 job as a means to an end. Per Kelly's comment, I'd say 95% of people either hate or tolerate their jobs, which is fine. It's the nightime/weekend stuff that needs to motivate you to do what you love.

I think the most important thing to take away from this post is that you HAVE to keep writing, or you'll have nothing motivating you to eventually reach your end (writing) goal. Even if that's just a blog post every few days. It's doing what you love, and you have people who have been consistent readers for 4+ years now.

So do you day job, come home, and keep churning out stories and posts, train for marathons, or play the flute. And one's EVER going to read your writing during the day anyways - we're all slugging through our own 9-5s .