Author’s Note: This piece was originally published in the Fall 2013 Issue of Take Out, a handwritten paper zine.
My first full-time job out of college was as a copywriter. I thought I had won the artistic lottery. “For the rest of my life,” I told my mom, “I’ll be able to tell people my first full-time job was as a copywriter.” And yeah, that’s true. But if I had known that the cost of my bragging rights would be nine months of stress, panic attacks, emotional turmoil and some truly bad copy, I probably would have turned it down. Or maybe not, because for a 23 year old who has just spent a year in Los Angeles getting paid nothing in exchange for the intangible promise of “someday” and the opportunity to have Casey Affleck touch my arm, thirty grand a year is a powerful draw.
See, that’s the thing. You have to weigh your sacrifices.
I love television. I love watching television, I love writing television and I love reading television scripts. But I wasn’t willing to make the sacrifices. Life in Los Angeles is hard—anyone who says differently is probably closely related to the president of Warner Bros. If I wanted to, if I really, really wanted to, I could have gotten a paid television job in LA. It might not have paid much, and it might have been fetching coffee, but with enough time and tenacity I could have done it. But I missed Chicago. I missed my friends. And more than anything, I was frightened of the instability provided by an ever-changing industry. The sacrifices weren’t worth it, so I left.
I loved the cache of saying “I’m a copywriter.” The first time I met my roommate Mallory (who, at the time, held the much more interesting job of investigating rich people who claim their Monet was stolen), she said “I’ve never met a copywriter before.” I loved it, but I wasn’t willing to make the sacrifices.
When I quit my copywriting job, I told my friends and family that I didn’t want to find another creative job because I wanted to focus all my creative energy on my novel. I was also too scared to risk finding another copywriting job under a Creative Director as insane as the one I just left.
I’m going to be honest with you: this post was supposed to be brilliant. And witty. And just a little bit smug. It was supposed to be about how working in a cubical isn’t the end of the world, how it’s appallingly easy to keep up with your writing-on-the-side when you don’t have a job that requires you to pour out all your creative energy writing emails that will be torn apart by your crazy boss (and then deployed to 60,000 people, maybe 2% of whom will actually read it). When I landed my office job (complete with a cubicle), I thought I had it made. I could leave work at 5 every evening and go home and write endlessly!
I was, as I so often am, hilariously mistaken.
I told my friend as much when she asked me (as all my friends do now and again) how my writing was going. Because the truth is, it’s hard. It’s hard to balance a 40-hour work day and a novel on the side–especially when you have other pressing issues to attend to, like cooking dinner or finding an apartment that isn’t located in the intersection of two rival gang territories.
My friend pointed out that this post would be the proof in the pudding (or the proof would be in the pudding of this post. I’ve never really understood how that saying works). If I could just write this post it would be proof that being a cubical monkey and being a writer are not mutually exclusive.
Would it be easier for me to go on as I have, clocking in and out and going home and curling up with a book or my laptop or my Netflix account? Of course. But you have to weigh the sacrifices. If I keep deciding that things are “too hard,” soon I won’t be a writer anymore, just (in the words of Dorothy C. Fontana) “someone who dreams of about being a writer.”
I didn’t want to be a TV writer bad enough to stay in LA. I didn’t want to be a copywriter bad enough to brave a new creative director. But I sure as hell want to be a novelist bad enough to push through my own laziness and keep writing. So that’s what I’m going to do.