Monday, December 13, 2010

My Other Jobs

When my first book, I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE, came out, I quit my day job.

Not because I could afford it, mind you. Like many writers, I'm definitely not at the point where I make enough money from my writing career to pay my mortgage and my (massive!) student loans and other bills. I daydream about the day when I'll be able to do that or at least make enough from writing that we can live on that plus my husband's income, but right now that's not the case.

So why did I quit that job? Because I hated it. It was an administrative assistant gig where I was overworked and underpaid and even worse, underappreciated by one of my bosses, who had me doing an assistant director's job for a year, but then gave that job to someone with less experience and education than me and offered me the job of their secretary. Yeah, no thanks. That job was sucking the life out of me. I had no energy to go home and write, which was my true calling. So I used up my vacation time and went on a self-financed book tour/vacation to the West Coast, came home and gave my notice.

Like I said, there was no way I could afford to live for even a year on what I'd made on selling my first book, so I went back to one of the jobs I'd done as a grad student: Bartending.

Instead of a day job, I've held a night job for the past two and a half years. It doesn't come with the steady paycheck my old job provided and health insurance and a 401K? Forget about it. But I work three nights a week instead of a grueling 8:30 to 5 five day a week schedule. I can write during the day, which is when I'm freshest and though there are definitely some bad days at work (bar fights, huge groups of barely legal kids who don't know how to tip, or really slow periods like the month of January when I'm a little worried about making ends meet), for the most part my job inspires me. I meet new characters. I listen to people's stories. Through my job, I've become friends with people whose ages and backgrounds are very different than mine and I may not have met anywhere else. The job has truly helped me grow as a person and a writer and that's why I'm currently writing a book that is set largely in a neighborhood bar about a woman who has been bartending since she was eighteen (in several states it is legal to pour before it's legal to drink) and now, after a disastrous first year of college, her daughter is reluctantly following in her footsteps.

So here I am doing my other job as bartender at the Beacon Pub in Forest Park, IL (and yes if you are of legal drinking age and in the area, you are welcome to come in and say hi to me and I'm happy to talk about my day job as a writer):

I have to say that even if I am able to make a living off of my writing some day (and I hope I am because I probably can't bartend without health insurance and a 401K forever) that I'd keep one shift a week at the bar just because it's fun and allows me to get away from the computer and socialize.

There was also a strange merger between my writing and bartending career recently when I was talking to my local librarians who I know from wearing the author hat and they mentioned wanting to get out of the library and do a trivia night at a bar. I love trivia and had been trying to figure out how to run a trivia night and bartend at the same time, but knew it would be impossible. So we've combined forces and now on the second Wednesday of the month, the librarians run a trivia night at the Beacon while I serve drinks. Yeah, can you see why it's such a fun job now?

Being a writer also helped me stumble into another part time job. I write a monthly (well, technically, it's every three weeks) column for my town's paper, The Forest Park Review. They interviewed me after finding out that I had a book coming out and shortly after that offered me the gig. I was a little nervous at first because unlike many of my other writer friends, I've never freelanced for newspapers or magazines. I knew it was a good way to earn extra cash, but I wanted to make up fictional stories not be a journalist. However, the columns would be about the town I live in, which is a suburb of Chicago with a lot of interesting small businesses, local artists and writers, and I was encouraged to write in my own voice about what interested me. So I decided to think of it as my monthly blog about the town and once I got in that mindset, I figured I could totally do it. I've been writing for the paper for two and a half years now and have actually won some awards for my columns. I get to write about local things that matter to me like the organization that helps care for feral cats, the community garden, the farmer's market, the independent record store, the fact that there are so many cemeteries in my town that we have more dead people than living and would have a hell of a problem with zombies. Just this weekend, I covered a local Mystery Writers of America chapter's holiday party complete with murder mystery! That will be in the paper and live online this Wednesday, but if your curious about the kind of things I write about and the town I live in, this column gives an overview of why I like it so much. I'm a shy person, but writing for the paper has helped me come out of my shell a bit to talk to interesting people in my community and check out new events.

So I guess this is another job I'd be hesitant to give up even if I could afford to. Interesting how that works....

It's a little bit nerve-wracking to work jobs that don't provide a steady income, but these jobs support my writing habit. They feed the muse rather than sucking me dry. I don't know if I can do them forever, but I'm enjoying them now and plan to stick with it a couple more years to see where the writing takes me.

What about you? Do you have a job that feeds your muse? Are you lucky enough to do what you love full time? And if you aren't working yet, I hope this encourages you to find a way to follow your passion and find a job that is fun because it is possible!

Oh and I have a winner to choose from my last post, don't I? The winner of a signed copy of BALLADS OF SUBURBIA and my zine as decided by a random number drawn by random.org is...Spav! Congrats!

10 comments:

  1. I think this is fascinating! I'm in an administrative job that is sucking the creative out of my soul, yet I have two bosses who DO appreciate me and it makes a huge difference when you try to get up in the morning.

    If I made money from singing/songwriting I would work in a bookstore for fun. That is what I would love to do. I love that you write and bartend. Yes, it is a sort of financial decision right now, but knowing that it's something you would do (though less often) if you could live off book sales is a great thing!

    Thanks for sharing this, Stephanie!

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  2. I work for a Very Large Bookseller (*cough*bn*cough*) and while I wouldn't call it my dream job (I worked in radio. THAT was a dream job.) I like the fact that I'll be working for Very Large Bookseller when my book comes out. I don't know that I'll ever make enough from my books to quit my day job, but I dream about it!

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  3. Hi Stephanie,

    It's true that a whole lot of insecurity and instability is the price of being any kind of artist, for most of us. I know how anxiety-provoking it can be. (I teach creative writing workshops in the public schools, which is awesome, and write standardized test questions, which isn't.)And I also have to confront the possibility that how I live might not be sustainable in the long term, but for now it's so completely worth it... Wishing you luck on making a living from your writing!

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  4. Your book about the bartender sounds so cool! I'm glad you finally got out of your crappy job and found a couple that suit you much better! :)

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  5. I worked in bars when I was in my early twenties (as a dj) so I know the atmosphere. It's definitely a different lifestyle! I also did a couple months as a cocktail waitress in college, but I was super bad at it. :)

    I was a stay at home parent when I sold my first book and now I have a part time job as a merchandiser/sales rep. I was a sales rep for years before having a child and getting the book writing bug, so it's worked out okay. I do miss having writing time. I find with work, after school activities and life in general my writing time is sucked up.

    I'd love to make a full time living off writing too, but yeah, it's tough. Maybe someday. :)

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  6. No wonder you're an inspiration to so many young women, Steph. And you've definitely got the networking thing figured out. Great post!

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  7. Hey thanks for all your insightful posts on what it's like to be a published writer! I think creating art is important , as well as working out to stay healthy, and eating right (I'm vegan).

    I graduated from Columbia College with a film degree in 1998, then when out and got a normal job. Then one day I picked one of the hardest jobs out there. I'm a successful Realtor. I sell the most important consumer product in the world. I've had my ups and downs the last eight years. This year has been my best. Also I enjoy not having a boss. I can't say it's any more difficult not having a boss, though. It sure would be nice to to get a paycheck each week, and know when or when I'm not going to be working. And as for creativity, it's not like most of us can turn it on and off like a faucet. Some days I'm creative, some days, even months, nothing happens.

    When I went to Columbia it was all about working with film. Film is so expensive, and I'm exited about how cheap it is now to make a movie using digital. Final Cut Express for Apple Macs is only $200, and it's mind boggling at what you can do. So my goal in the last five years was to buy a camera, write a script , and make a movie. Since I love books, once I started writing a script, I thought, hey! it would be even more cost effective to write a book! Was I wrong!
    I've worked on my short 120-150 page book for four years now. It's just as difficult as any other art form, yet I love it. It's like a puzzle. I'm just about finished. My big thing is English grammar and sentence corrections. Or making the sentences flow like poetry. It's like learning how to play guitar, or how to draw a picture, etc. I'm still learning. Just look at my sentences above! I have to rewrite the same sentences over and over again to get them right.

    I'm realistic. I've been looking at the options out there, and self-publishing looks to good to be true. I'm going to use a book printer, and print 100 copies. That doesn't mean I'll be able to sell my book, or anyone will even like it. I'm just going to have fun with it.

    Stephanie, you're an inspiration. Have fun writing, and best of luck to you.

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  8. Agreed - you are an inspiration, Stephanie!

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  9. Aww thanks for saying I'm an inspiration guys and it is so good to hear from people like Sarah who are also following their dreams. It reassures me to know I'mnot alone to live in the short term as I aspire for my long term dreams. And Cat, you are right too, having a boss that understands and appreciates you is so essential. My boss at the bar is totally like that. And Trish, a bookstore would be a dream job for me and yes a great place to be when your book comes out!

    Best of luck to all of you. Glad I could be encouraging! Follow your dreams!

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