Several years ago, at my local RWA chapter’s annual Christmas party, I struck up a conversation with a young man who happened to be a member at that time. What he wrote was more fantasy than romance, and I never learned how he came to join us romance writers, but there he was.
He took part in fantasy role-playing games. He made costumes and jewelry. When he went on vacation, he did crazy, adventurous things, rock climbing, and maybe gliding, I don’t quite remember. On top of it all, he looked a bit like Legolas, you know, Orlando Bloom in long, flowing blond hair.
For some reason, I thought he wrote games for a living and asked him about it. Not so, he informed me ruefully. He wished he made games for a living but it was only a hobby. Well then, what was his line of work?
He worked in a lab, making dental molds from what dentists around town sent to the lab. According to him, it was numbingly tedious work for not much pay.
For the rest of the night, and well into the next day, I couldn’t stop thinking about it, about the stark disparity between what he loved to do and what he had to do. And I made vow then and there: should I get published, I would never, never, ever complain about my job, because I’d number among the fortunate few who get paid to do what they loved, while so many around me lacked that choice.
Then I got published just as I returned to school. I’m in a one-year master’s program. How come it can be done in one year when most master’s programs take twice the time? Easy, we suffer. Classmates all around me are falling on their faces. And I have to hand in a brand-new, exquisite novel by the end of March.
What this has translated into is twelve to fourteen-hour workdays, every day of the week. In between the cases, the assignments, and the exams, I agonize over character development, pacing, believability, historical accuracy, and emotional cohesion. Is this story even doable? Can I make my deadline? And even if I do, would it be any good?
As with any writing, I’m taking stuff out as I go. But taking out stuff now makes me hyperventilate. I watch my word count the way divers watch their oxygen–every page I take out is a page I might not have time to write later. My nerves, in the meanwhile, fray, like the ends of my son’s shoelaces, the ones that drag on the ground all day long.
There I was last Friday, working at school, wondering why I can’t write faster, and why my first draft is such crap that every hour of output requires twice the amount of time to fix. Two fellow students in the program strike up a conversation next to me. The topic: jobs people in the program got after they graduated.
Some of the best graduates from my program have gone on to work at prestigious New York investment banking firms. And they are worked like dogs, so much so that they marvel at how nice it is to get back home by eleven o’clock at night, rather than two o’clock in the morning. People in their twenties burn out after five or six years. And to hear one student tell it, per hour they really didn’t make all that much more than folks at McDonalds, given the hundred-hour work weeks.
When I graduate, I will get to work in my pajamas, and pick up my children every afternoon from school. Sure, writing never gets easier, and first drafts will always be pure drivel, but you know what, it is still the best job around.