Your Dreams Are Your Real Job
By Vicki Pettersson
(NYT bestselling author of the "Sign of the Zodiac" series)

Figuring out a way to make a living while working to become a novelist has long been a universally lamented frustration. Man or woman, single or married, parent or childless, I don’t know anyone who hasn’t worried over budget and bills while simultaneously driving words onto the page. At the least, every author who ever put pen (or quill or stylus) to page has had to look at their writing in terms of opportunity cost. (I learned that term in Economics 101, the only useful bit of info gleaned there before flunking out and fleeing back to my beloved--and, hello, interesting!--English classes.)

Obviously, those who are published found a way to do it...and I suspect most answered the question of opportunity cost in the same way I did. With a question of their own: What would it cost me not to write?

That answer differs for everyone--sanity, freedom, self-respect, a creative outlet, and so on. (My answer, by the way, is sanity. I’m a royal pain to be around if I haven’t gotten my words in for the day, so consider yourself warned.) And because experiences and opportunities differ as well, so do the ways we go about supporting ourselves. Some of my favorite authors have spoken openly about having to hold down a job (or two) while going to school and/or raising children, and fighting all the while to make time for their minds to meet the page. My own experiences weren’t that much different from others’...right up until they were.

See, when you grow up in Las Vegas, and you happen to be a woman of a certain height who has, luckily, a bit of dance training, the statement that most often greets you isn’t “You should be a model,” or even, “You should be a basketball player!” but "You should be a showgirl."

I did because the opportunity was there. Once I discovered I’d get full-time pay for part-time work--that I could, in effect, use my days to write and my nights to work--I signed my first six-month showgirl contract faster than you could say “Pasties!”

I kept signing those twice-a-year contracts, even though each required me to maintain a certain weight while performing two shows a night, six nights a week, with no limit on rehearsal time, and no obligation on the part of the hotel to keep me on if I, for example, fell down the stairs while tottering around in a three-foot headdress. I was a commodity, I got that (without Econ 101, thanks), and I was willing to pay that price as long as it provided me time to write.

Now that I’m a full-time author, you’d think that the rest of my life would line up neatly to support it. Yet I must still be ruthless in choosing what else I take on, much as I did as a showgirl. For example, I couldn’t then choose to go skiing on my day off; if I fell, if I broke anything more than a nail, there went my livelihood. These days, I refrain from taking on things like PTA activities that require me to bake instead of write, or even seemingly related online commitments that require regular interactions which could otherwise be used to bolster my fiction.

I’m ruthless about this, but what I’m most ruthless about and what I really learned while being a showgirl is the title of this post: Your dreams are your real job. Whether you’re getting paid for them or not. And I wouldn’t be, not if I hadn’t been actively dreaming while tottering around beneath a feathered headdress.

So, what I’d like to ask all of you is what was or is the oddest job you’ve taken on while pursuing your dream of becoming a novelist? The weirder and wackier, the better. (And, yes, parenthood does fall into that category! As a mother of a three-year-old [only recently potty-trained, thank the Dogs!] I know that kind of wackiness, too!)

7 Comments:

Blogger GreenTease said:

Just wanted to say congrats on all your success and following your dream!!!

11:44 AM  

Anonymous Jeaniene Frost said:

Wackiest job that helped prepare me for being a writer? Medical accountant. Trying to get insurance companies to pay up (especially HMO's!) gave me GREAT insight into homicidal impulse, which helped me write my undead villains ;-).

Great post, Vicki!

11:29 AM  

Blogger Vicki Pettersson said:

Thank you, GreenTease!

And, J -- _that_, my friend, explains a LOT! LOL

12:51 PM  

Anonymous Wendy D said:

ha ha thanks for the tips on being a showgirl. :) love your books and hopefully get to see you in San Diego soon. crossing my fingers here.

1:35 PM  

Blogger Vicki Pettersson said:

Wendy -- SO glad if they were useful. Ha!

And yes on San Diego. I'm so looking forward to it. ComicCon is one of my favorites!

3:51 PM  

Anonymous stacey said:

The job that is preparing me to be a writer right now is being a mother. I have a day job writing non fiction but chasing a two year old trumps that every time.

Stacey

6:01 PM  

Blogger Vicki Pettersson said:

Stacey,

As a mother to a three-year old, I can tell you ... girl, you're in basic training!

I have a friend who advises taking on some extremely difficult task in order to make fiction seem easier. It adjusts perspective in your brain. Raising another lovely little human being absolutely counts!

10:07 AM  

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