Several years ago, I attended a book signing/reading event featuring 2000 Newberry Winner Christopher Paul Curtis, on tour for his YA novel Bud, Not Buddy. I remember several aspects of his talk.
- Curtis had a fabulous reading voice, making his excellent prose and dialogue lively and funny
- His protagonist, Bud, Not Buddy, had a witty, authentic voice
- Curtis conceived and began writing his first YA novel during 30 minute breaks from his full-time job of attaching car doors at a General Motors Assembly Plant in Flint, MI
When I heard Curtis’s story related to his “perfect job” for fiction writing, I was pursuing entry into YA fiction, and searching for my perfect job. At 5’2″ and 110 lbs the potential of finding a high-paying job lifting doors into place was unlikely.
I didn’t realize that I might be in the perfect job. I worked four days a week at a state-wide nonprofit, had earned respect and autonomy from my boss to get my work done and control my schedule. I rarely took work home or worked weekends. This might have been the perfect writing job for me but I became bored after my boss retired. When I gave birth to my first and only child, I quit my job to raise my son and pursue an MFA.
As I heard from so many students, the concept of writing and teaching part-time seemed like the ideal combination. How wrong we were. MFA in hand, teaching composition for $500 per month per class and spending weekends grading the three classes I was offered left plenty of financial stress and no time to write. Post graduation, I asked my mentors how they pursued their writing careers. The advice was 1) keep a low overhead and 2) don’t teach composition.
The general advice from a Society of Children’s Book Writer’s and Illustrators (SCBWI) workshop I attended was that writers are best off not teaching at all, given the emotional and creative drain required to prepare, inspire and grade. According to one workshop leader, teaching middle school students is among the worst jobs for writers. Summers off doesn’t make up for the mass drainage that takes place during the other seven months.
Since hearing Curtis’s proclamation about the assembly door job being a good one because it required mostly braun, little brain, I have considered what might be the perfect job for me now that I have honed my skills and have several drafts behind me. I’m not alone in this quest. Countless writer’s blogs focus on how to find time to write and pay the bills. What I have experienced is that when bills are stacking up, any creative energy is directed to finding a paying job, not creating a novel.
From my experience and research I offer the following components of the “perfect job” for writers:
- Jobs requiring great creative energy reduce the creative energy available for one’s own writing projects
- A steady paycheck without heavy supervisory expectations offers time (during the work day) for creating stories, imagining characters, and minding your own business
- Respecting your supervisor is not essential provided that s/he respects you enough to give you space (all definitions suitable)
At the time of this writing my job includes these components. It is soulless in itself, yes, but if I consider the soul work of my 8-hour workday the creation of stories, than it might be the “perfect job.”
Today I spent 5 minutes in a tree considering what constitutes the “perfect job” and inferred that many jobs (vastly more rewarding in their own right than mine) would not 1) have a tree nearby in which to spend 5 minutes, and 2) include a string of tasks that require little brain power so that I can clear my mind sufficiently for a story idea, or a blog post, to emerge 3) offer graduate level writing courses free to employees.
I have the perfect job.