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Allan Emerson's Blog

Working: Earning a living vs writing….

Did you ever figure out what you wanted to be when you grew up?

I never did. I knew I wanted to write, but it was clear that I wasn’t going to make a living that way. That left the professions, which required going to university, and that didn’t happen either. So I didn’t choose a career; I got a job.

The first one was at a car wash, and it was as thrilling and richly remunerated as you can imagine. Then there was a stint as a waiter. That was marginally better; at least I wasn’t in danger of being accidentally spray-waxed all day, but working nights and every weekend got old fast.

Department store furniture salesman was next, which was more exciting than you might think. There was the time I was taking a massive wardrobe down to the shipping dock and had it halfway into the erratic old service elevator when it responded to a call from a higher floor and sailed majestically upward, showering me with wardrobe kindling.

I also got unsettling glimpses into customers' personal lives. One woman bought twin beds because, she told me, her husband was “a sweaty fat boy who snores.” The day after delivery she called to return the beds; evidently SFB had taken offence and moved out. (I wonder how he described her.)

After that came income tax assessor (but I only did it for three or four months and it was in another country far away--oh sure, like you’ve never done anything you’d hate to admit.) I was a forklift operator in a warehouse for a while, a security guard, an office clerk. As you’ll have gathered by now, I never turned down any job where they were willing to pay me.

And all the time I was doing these jobs, I was writing. I didn’t have anything like the dedication some writers have who get up two hours early every morning to carve out time for writing, or who turn out x thousand words every day. I admired their discipline because I never had any.

I only wrote when I was “in the mood.” Not surprisingly, my writing production was low. I was a great starter, but not much of a finisher. Inspiration made writing fun, but when inspiration flagged, so did my interest in finishing the story—it started to seem like … well, work, you know?

It took quite a while before I understood that inspiration could only be counted on to set the story wheels in motion and it actually did take work to see it through to completion. As soon as I understood that, I started doing the work that was needed. (heh, heh, heh—I knew you weren’t going to buy that!)

What really happened was my desire to see the story idea fully realized gradually grew stronger than my reluctance to do the work necessary to achieve it.

I’m more realistic now. I know that first flush of enthusiasm will wane, and there’ll be moments when it seems I’m back at the carwash trying to dodge the spray-wax. But I also know that if I keep grinding out the words I’ll eventually have that all-important first draft completed. And with that as a base, I can create something others might want to read.

Have you been able to strike a balance between working for a living and doing the things that make a life worth living?

I normally show up here every Tuesday and I hope you will too. And please hit the Comment button and let me know what you think about the topic of the day.

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