I seem to be a writer.

2003-09-10 01:25

For months, I’ve been saying “gosh, it looks like I’m sort of turning into a writer”.

Today, I’m staring at a to-do list which is, frankly, bordering on being too long. I have writing projects and writing projects. It’s 2AM, and I’m still working on a project I originally hoped to do over the weekend. I have others waiting. The first page of my PDA’s to-do list doesn’t even get me through the end of the week; too many projects that I’m obliged to at least make some kind of progress on.

If I actually manage to do all of these projects, I will, in fact, be earning a living as a writer. It won’t be the luxurious lifestyle I always wanted; it’s a lot of hours, and a lot of stress. But it’s way better than looking for techie jobs in the current market, and the flexible hours are unbeatable. Working at 2AM isn’t so bad when you don’t have to get up before noon. The office is great; I have cats and MP3s to listen to. Well, I had MP3s; a recent reorganization of furniture has my cat jumping on the power strip and killing the Linux box I play them on. I guess I have cats or MP3s.

If all goes well, I’ll have a book out by the end of the year. I lost count of my published articles a long time ago. Today saw the first time a hardware vendor offered me a free piece of hardware just to poke around on it, based (I think) partially on my history of publication credits.

The risks in this job are unlike the risks in most jobs. I actually have to worry about RSI, because I don’t do much of anything but type. This means all sorts of weird things; for instance, I’m trying out different typing monitors. Big obvious problem; they all assume you only have one computer. If I switch from one machine to another, the one I’m not on thinks I’m taking voluntary rest breaks, when in fact I’m doing nothing of the sort. Maybe I’ll write one which sets up a server over a network and monitors typing and mouse activity on multiple systems.

A lot of people want to be writers. Here’s the trick: There’s lots of writers out there. There’s not that many writers who can synthesize writing with other skills. A lot of the work I get requires technical skills, not just writing. For a typical project, I may well have to learn a little bit of a new programming language, or debug an embedded system I’ve never used before. General hacking skills pay off big here. Of course, the world is also full of computer people who can’t (or won’t) write. Most of the people I know who want to be professional writers, but aren’t able to get paid, are either unable or unwilling to develop the technical skills it would take to get these gigs. Why? Because it’s not art. I think people expect that, somehow, writing should be unlike other jobs. Other jobs subjugate you to the will of the employer, but writers are creative. Bollocks. Creative on your own terms doesn’t pay the bills, for most of us.

Left to my own devices, I doubt I would ever write in the style used in the “For Dummies” books. Offered enough money to make a month’s car payment, I’ll write in that style. It’s that simple. That’s what makes this a “job”, not a “hobby”. Without that, no, I wouldn’t be earning a living. I might have sold the book, but that wouldn’t exactly feed me for a year.

This is not an essay. I have no thesis statement. I just wanted to ramble a bit, and while I’m at it, gloat about the apparent success of my plan to earn a living writing. It’s not glamorous, but, for now, it’s paying the bills. That’s something.

Peter Seebach

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