I never imagined that I was moving to New Zealand to become a writer.
I had my eye set on a totally different industry. But, once I got arrived, I found that my overseas experience wasn’t what they were looking for. Most industries in New Zealand require a relevant university degree, and my degrees weren’t anywhere close to being relevant.
I was running out of money and desperate. I needed a job, fast.
So, one night, when I was browsing the classifieds, a job advertisement caught my eye: “Native American Speaker Wanted.”
How strange, I thought. Did they want someone who spoke Navajo or Apache?
I read further. “We are a thriving online company producing books on relationships and wedding speeches.” Right… Why would they need an American Indian for that?
So I called for an interview.
The young man who answered the telephone had a lilting, cultivated voice. As he scheduled a time for the interview and gave me directions to the office, I wondered if he wasn’t gay. That would make sense: a creative industry needs queer fashion sense.
When I arrived for the interview, the young man who had talked with me earlier introduced himself as Andrew. He was slender and willowy with fair hair mussed with gel. Gay as a straight girl’s eyes could make it. He handed me a sheet of paper and told me that I’d be expected to read it in my best voice in front of a camera.
It was a sales pitch for a guitar-learning kit and written as badly as a foreigner imitating an American informercial. I went into the interview room and read the piece in front of the camera.
Afterwards, I confessed to the young man conducting the interview, “You know, you could change that script here and here and make the sound flow much more naturally.”
“Oh, right.” He seemed a bit surprised. “Why would you know this?”
“I’m a writer,” I said. “I just finished a master’s degree.”
“Right.” He glanced down at my resume, thinking. “You know, we were thinking of hiring a copywriter…”
And that’s how I got hired. For the next four and a half years, I’d be writing books on every subject under the sun: how to attract men, how to attract women, how to play the piano, how to speak Spanish, how to cure yeast infections, how to stop panic attacks….
At first, I was worried about writing full-time. Writing was my passion, but was it my vocation? Would I start to hate writing if I did it full time? What if I ran out of ideas or words to say? What if I couldn’t write under pressure?
Those were all excellent questions, because it speaks to the heart of the matter of what it means to be a writer. Is a writer someone who makes their living from writing words, or is a writer a master craftsman who creates art, dictated by no one but the Muse?
You’ll have to decide that one for yourself.
Personally, I think that it’s all well and good to call yourself a writer, but until that first check comes in, you’re always going to have a different profession. You can be a nurse who writes, or a shop assistant who writes, or a lawyer who writes, but claiming to be “a writer” implies that it’s your profession rather than your hobby.
Luckily, you can make money writing virtually anything. You can write short stories and sell them to magazines. You can write articles and sell them to a range of publications. You can write sales or ad copy. You don’t have to be an author of books. In fact, you’ll become a writer more quickly if you set your sights a little lower.
And, really, it’s only snobbery to consider articles or short stories as “lesser” than books. Master essayists and short story writers prove that false all the time. There are a lot of terrible books out there not worth the price of publication, and a lot of extraordinary works of literature that don’t occupy more than a page.
So, if you really, truly, honestly want to be a writer, don’t pretend that you’re superior just because you have to be “inspired” to write and you do it for the love rather than the money. That reeks of amateurism.
Professional writers who do it for their job – who must write every day regardless of whether they’re inspired or not – and who get a monthly paycheck for their words are actually the unsung heroes of the writing world. Sure, they may not be winning a Pulitzer or Booker Prize, but their words are the ones we read on a daily basis.
Wouldn’t you rather be read than have your pages stuck away in some musty drawer, gathering dust? I know I would.