"What do you mean?" I said, trying my best not to sound defensive. "I'm a writer."
"Yes," he replied. "I know, but what do you do for a job?"
Time spent working the day job often feels like time wasted. To be honest, well before I was getting paid to write, I felt much the same way. Time spent at work was often time spent counting down the minutes to the weekend, a time when I could be myself--and dedicate myself to what I really wanted to "do," which was to write.
If I can be cheesy, writing has always owned my heart, my passion. I work harder at it than I do at other work, which has often paid better. And I suspect it's my writing that will bring the greatest good to the world. I wasn't a very good waitress; I was a mediocre administrative assistant.
But I'm a good writer.
I suspect it says something about the values of our society that even when an artist is paid for his or her work, it's still not considered, you know, an actual job. Perhaps it's because the creative process is mysterious to some. Yet when I was an administrative assistant, I spent my time on tasks no less puzzling than writing; most of my time was spent with my butt in a chair, my hands on a keyboard. It didn't look so different from writing, except for the fact that I was wearing khakis and a button-down while I did it.
Maybe it's simply that it's an unusual job--rare enough that a career writer seems to be almost a mythical beast. We know about Rowling and Meyer, but how many people really know a writer?
Experiences like the above remind me of the importance of taking pride in the work of writing. Ownership over your career, and the identity you derive from it, help to dispel cultural myths about the working artist. Yes, it is possible to make money as a writer. Yes, if you work hard, you really can do it--it's not some distant pipe dream, something we need to dissuade our children from trying for the impracticality of it.
It makes me wish that, years ago, before I ever started earning income from my writing, I'd owned the work I was doing, all those hours spent with my hands on the keyboard, my butt in a chair. It was the job I worked hardest at, the one that gave me the greatest pride and the strongest sense of the difference I could make in the world.
Maybe it's a fantasy; maybe there will always be puzzled individuals at work parties who press, "No, really, what do you really do?" But I'd like to think that a career is more than whatever brings in the biggest bucks, or whichever job you do that seems to most socially appropriate. If you ask me, a career is whatever passion you have that brings the greatest good into the world.
For me, that's writing. Maybe it is for you, too.