Guest Post: Seanan McGuire on Writers with Day Jobs
My second guest blogger of awesomeness is the award-winning author Seanan McGuire (also known as Mira Grant). Her pseudonyms’ newest novels are Late Eclipses and Deadline, respectively. If you enjoy her guest blog post, I’d encourage you to check out her LiveJournal or go say hello on Twitter.
…zero hour, five a.m.
When I was a kid, I used to read about the lives of working writers. They seemed to live mostly in one-room apartments, where they hunched over their typewriters and pounded out a living one word at a time. They weren’t, for the most part, rich, but they kept the lights on with sonnets and movie reviews and the occasional filler column for the men’s magazines (and as a little girl, I assumed they were all writing for wrestling magazines and car catalogs, because there were some ways in which I was very, very sheltered). Edgar Allen Poe didn’t flip burgers. Lord Byron…well, he was a lord, which often comes with some financial assistance, but he never asked anybody if they wanted fries with that. Life as a writer was hard, but it was something you could do. All you had to do was write. Like Ewan MacGregor’s character in Moulin Rouge!
Times have changed. Thanks to inflation and a mutating market, it’s a little harder now to make do and keep the lights on with a few short story sales and some ghost-written letters to Penthouse every month (“Dear Penthouse; I never believed it would happen to me…”). It doesn’t help that we have more “vital expenses” than ever before. My grandmother used to talk about thinking of shoes as the sort of thing you only had to buy once every two years. I would go nuts if you took away my internet connection, cellular phone, and cable TV–and yes, I am one of those writers who still watches TV. Sometimes as much as ten hours of TV a week. I watch the shows, they do not watch me.
Regardless, even without children, I have more expenses than my predecessors, and the cost of living isn’t going down. Add on the sad necessity of private medical insurance (assuming I don’t feel like melting any time soon), and it becomes clear why I have joined the ranks of the many, the not so very proud, the utterly exhausted.
Writers with day jobs.
My clade is a strange one, neither fish nor foul, the synapsidian inhabitants of our fantastic ecosystem. Each day, we lumber from our caves, dressed in the colors of the regions, and shuffle into our places in the great working jungle. Maybe we press keys. Maybe we assemble small machines. Maybe we make your coffee. Regardless, we are synapsids in disguise, pretending to be one thing when we’re secretly another. At the end of the day, we shuffle back home, shedding a little more of the illusion with every step, until we fling ourselves at our keyboards, maybe pausing to shovel something into our mouths, and begin our real jobs. The ones we wouldn’t be doing if we didn’t really love them, because damn.
Being a working writer means constantly fighting a battle against our twin arch-enemies, Procrastination and Social Life. Procrastination says “Hey, there’s a big shiny internet right there. Maybe you could learn something cool. Become a better writer. Get even more awesome. Finally get that big break and quit your day job. Or just play Farmville for eight hours. Don’t you wonder which it would be?” Meanwhile, Social Life says, “It’s not like you’re doing anything, you’re just sitting there, we’re all starting to think you don’t like us anymore, you need to come outside, it’s not healthy, it’s not right, and hey, wasn’t that Farmville I just saw?” Sure, we have team-ups from time to time–even Magneto occasionally joins the X-Men–but at the end of the day, Procrastination and Social Life will do their best to make sure nothing ever actually gets done.
Zero hour. Five p.m.
Balancing work and life is hard in our modern world. Balancing work-that-pays-bills, work-that-soul-demands, and life can seem borderline impossible sometimes. Being a writer is exhausting, time consuming, and yes, incredibly rewarding…but it’s reward that comes after hundreds of hours of work that is borderline invisible to the people around us. It’s secret work. It’s work that only the other synapsids really see happening. And it’s work that, unless we have co-authors in our closets, we have to do alone. All this science, we don’t understand, you see. It’s just our job. Eight days a week.
Have you hugged your member of order synapsidia today?
July 7, 2011 @ 11:24 am
That Procrastination is a real bugger… always tempting me with the xbox or surfing aimlessly through wikipedia reading articles that may not be accurate and definitely have nothing to do with where I began looking.
But, I don’t have to worry about the ol’ Social Life. My daughter saw to the death of that one a little over two years ago. Of course, she brought “Parental Responsibility” into the mix which has really screwed up the writing schedule!
July 7, 2011 @ 11:37 am
Thanks for this Seanan, from a member of the clade.
July 7, 2011 @ 11:39 am
I think I’ve had the perfect job for a writer — working on a project basis in rainforest conservation. So for weeks at a time I’d be out in the field, then come back and pound away at the keyboard for weeks, alternating one job with the other. That way, I always felt fresh at either job, and focused too.
Then the inevitable day when deadlines for a project report clashed with deadlines for the publisher…aaargh.
July 7, 2011 @ 12:24 pm
It’s actually rather sad that someone with 7 published books still has to work a day job. I wouldn’t have thought it, but that’s probably because I’ve never ventured into writing as a profession.
I guess all we readers can do is keep buying the books.
Probably the main consolation for you is that because your books aren’t on the NYT list or being publicized by Oprah, the people who buy them and read them must really like what you’re writing. Here’s hoping your commercial success will continue to grow and someday you’ll be able to focus on that exclusively.
July 7, 2011 @ 9:16 pm
This is a magnificent ode. I work 7:30am- 4:30 pm as an office clerk, only to collapse back at home into my fantasy trilogy. This is my life. And I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Seanan, thank you for boosting my self-esteem. Speaking of which, you have the greatest last name in the universe.
July 8, 2011 Links and Plugs : Hobbies and Rides
July 8, 2011 @ 9:57 am
[…] Jim C. Hines (Seanan McGuire) on Writers with Day Jobs. […]
Jim C. Hines
July 9, 2011 @ 10:35 pm
I imagine rainforest work could give you some good information for story-writing, too!
Jim C. Hines
July 9, 2011 @ 10:36 pm
Health care is a big factor for a lot of us…
Jim C. Hines
July 9, 2011 @ 10:37 pm
Heh. When this comment came through, I thought it was Seanan and she had just been typing a little too fast.
Your schedule sounds a lot like mine, except my fantasy writing comes during the lunch break. Work day is the same, and probably about as exciting…