Hello, and gather ‘round once more, for “Tales from Outside Comics!” Hopefully I haven’t lost my Outsider status after a mere four installments. I’m sure the new-writer smell will fade away eventually, so let’s enjoy it while we can.
I think it’s safe to say every creative’s dream is to quit the day job. We all tell ourselves “man, if I didn’t have to spend 8 hours here every day… think of everything I could get done!” Sadly, as much as I’d love to encourage you into financial risk and potential ruin, I’m writing today in defense of the day job. At least mostly.
Before this year, I spent the previous 10 working in retail. Sure, I worked less while I was going to college, but once I graduated, it was right back to the grind. And despite knowing that writing was what I really wanted to do, I didn’t do it nearly enough.
Every day, I would come home exhausted, chow down, veg out on some shows or video games, then pass out and do it all again the next day. Even on my days off, I didn’t write enough. Throughout school, I’d always been a procrastinator, and now, without the pressure of a looming due date or deadline, I was struggling to get anything done. I’d tell myself it was the job, that it was sucking up any energy I might have had, and that was the first step on an ugly path.
I started to resent the job I had, feeling like “work” was what was keeping me from what I wanted to do rather than what I needed to do. (Which was make money.) In my mind, writing became this elusive way to “escape” work. If I could somehow get a break, start getting paid to write, then I could quit the job I hated, and everything would be perfect… right?
The problem was, I was idealizing writing. Dreaming about life as a writer was a short-term way for me to escape my present situation, but really, I was just deluding myself. This goes back to not taking myself seriously, not seeing writing as the process it actually is. Not knowing that this is its own kind of work.
Writing isn’t some golden ticket out of having a job. Not realizing that, having that barrier between myself and reality, it made progress impossible. Or at least it made sustained progress impossible. Because, despite merely playing at writing, making half-assed fore’s into developing stories, I did manage to meet an editor at a convention. And I even sent in a couple pitch ideas. But when things didn’t just fall into place, I gave up way too easily. First bump in the road, and I fell right back into thinking I wasn’t good enough. Maybe, at that point, I could have written a solid story, even gotten it published, but now I’ll never know. In truth, the problem was my work ethic, that’s what wasn’t good enough.
After that half-hearted attempt at making comics, I kind of gave up for a while. I say kind of, because despite not writing anything more than a text for nearly 4 years, I never stopped thinking about writing. I never stopped analyzing what I was reading or watching – even though I wasn’t writing, I kept thinking like a writer.
There are plenty of people out there who reiterate “you’re not a writer unless you’re writing,” and while that is (annoyingly, and technically) true, I still think there’s more to it than that. Because I think being a writer takes more than just putting words down – it takes not giving up.
It’s going to sound cheesy, but in those 4 years, when I didn’t write a damn thing, I was still growing. I was becoming the person I am today. The person who learned to not give up. The person who realized that writing, storytelling, being creative, it’s all part of who I am at my core, and if I’m not doing that, I’m not really alive.
They key thing I realized is that back then, I was writing to try and escape my situation – trying to get away from reality. But now, I’m writing from a different perspective – trying to engage with the world out there, create something with purpose and meaning. Growth over evasion. And that change wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t learn how to actually work. Not just complete tasks, but really embrace a sense of accomplishment in making something better than it was.
The catalyst for all of this, the so-called Tower Card on my journey, was a wake-up call. Back in January, I lost my job. It was a tough time, but part of what kept me going, from the very moment my boss told me I was let go, was the thought of “hey, at least now you’ll have time to write.”
And oh holy shit did I have time. (Pretty sure I binged through all of Game of Thrones in less than a week. It was kind of a haze, that’s for sure.) But I started writing again. Just journaling, at first, working through all the different emotions I was going through. But then I started a novel, started working on short stories, even (finally) fleshed out the idea for a miniseries I’d been holding onto for those 4 years. I was making up for lost time.
Now, I know it’s not realistic for everyone to take a year off of work to “find themselves,” or kickstart their writing or art or whatever. Because even with all that time off, I don’t have any kind of finished product to show anyone – I just have myself. A different self from the one that felt trapped by work, a different one from the gestating creative, and a different one from the person who got fired.
Transforming yourself, like writing, like therapy, like life, is a process. It takes work, and time, and perseverance. It’s something you can do without going through upheaval that throws your entire life into chaos, changes everything all at once, it just requires concerted effort. You can do it without quitting the day job. I know this because now, after nearly a year, I’m looking for a day job again. Yeah, there’s a part of me that’s afraid things will go back to how they were, afraid things will get harder. But there’s a larger part of me that knows this time, it’ll be different, because I’m different.
I’ll be working for a purpose – knowing that whatever I’ll be doing, it’ll be with the goal of making comics. (Hell, now that I’ll have income again, instead of living off of savings, hiring an artist feels like a possibility rather than a far-off dream.) If I feel drained after work, I just need to wake up earlier. (Something I’ve already learned in the boundless world of unemployment – even if you have nowhere to go, wake up early – you’ll just feel better.) And if that means watching less TV, playing less video games, sacrificing what doesn’t get me closer to having the life I want, then so be it. Nobody said it was going to be easy, and that’s why I can’t give up this time.
Before I go, let me leave you with a recommendation. (No, I didn’t almost forget this again, I was just on a roll… promise.) I wracked my brain for something that emphasizes jobs, or work, but finally settled on that elusive demonstration of incremental growth. A little different this time, but there’s an anime called Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple that captures the idea perfectly. (Yes, there’s a manga, too, but it’s a whopping 61 volumes. So, of course I haven’t read it. The show is a much more manageable 50 episodes). It follows the journey of a kid who starts out knowing absolutely nothing about martial arts, and slowly, one technique at a time, he becomes stronger and stronger. Going from tackling schoolyard bullies to evil organizations. (This is anime, after all, so you practically have to assume shadowy villains will be involved. Which also means, if you know you’re not an anime person, this one probably isn’t for you).
Next time, I plan on talking a bit about my experiences with pitches, including the full story I only hinted at up above. Get your schadenfreude ready, because there will be plenty of what-not-to-do.