This post was originally published on Murmur.com.
Last week I talked about my road from creative writing to an audio drama podcast. A bit of a twisty road, but it’s an interesting one. Obviously, the common link is story. If you know me at all, you know I’m all about the story. If you don’t, please allow me to introduce myself…
My name is David. I’m a writer.
Now, that’s a bit of a bold statement that usually means one of two things: I make my living by writing or I’m one of those feel-good hippie types who says that he’s a writer because he writes, regardless of whether he’s published or not. The internet is full of the latter, and the label is sometimes looked upon with derision.
The truth is that I am both of these things. And I am neither. And I suggest to you that the definitions above are not an either/or proposition. In my case, one begets the other begets the one.
If you google me, you’ll see I have several writing credits on IMDb.com. But this doesn’t mean I made any money by writing. It just means my short films were deemed worthy of inclusion in a film festival. As part of the creative team behind an audio drama podcast, we’ve been nominated and won awards for writing on our series. However, I earn my salary with a business card that reads “Marketing Communications Manager.”
Doesn’t exactly summon up images of corncob pipes, ink-stained fingers, and click-clacking typewriters, now does it?
I do write, of course, and writing has been a part of every job I’ve had since college. In fact, being a “Writer” has gotten me nearly every job I’ve had.
When I moved to Los Angeles, I assumed that I would get a job as a bartender. I had tended bar in San Francisco while attending college, and it seemed the easiest, most marketable skill to bring to any town.
Unfortunately, upon my arrival in Hollywood that fateful July, I learned a tough (albeit slightly obvious) lesson. Everyone in Los Angeles is a struggling actor or writer or producer. And that means there are a LOT of bartenders.
However, I also had my degree in English and Creative Writing, so it seemed foolish not to at least try to get a job as a writer.
I sent a resume full of retail, barista, and bartender experience to an advertising agency, along with a short story I had written. The short story was published by the college literary journal. It was my first publication, and I even did a public reading to a room with, oh, a dozen people in it. A small accomplishment, but one of which I was proud.
Even moreso when the same short story landed me a job as a junior copywriter.
The woman who hired me was my age, newly minted in a management position with the task of hiring entry-level writers. My story had touched her. It had made my resume stand out from the pack. She loved it enough that the rest of the hiring process was pushed along quickly. She was very nice, though not a great manager. She was the first person I met who felt guilty about being a writer.
“Well, I like it, even though I’m not really helping anyone,” she would say. It felt as if she was minimizing her own role.
“But you write!” I wanted to say. “You get to call yourself a writer!” I felt too guilty to actually voice this view. What would happen if she had a comeback?
“Yeah, sure… while kids are starving on the streets.”
“But… words! You… make things up… with words!”
That job ended badly, and, in all honesty, it was a good thing. It was a special niche advertising firm that worked almost entirely in classified ads. I spent most of my days trying to think of clever ways to promote that a hospital was seeking registered nurses.
But I had made my living as a writer, hadn’t I?
And then that same short story got me a job at a production company. A sardonic brit was moved by my story, and brought me on board. Within six months I was scripting satirical commentary and straight news stories. I had a job title of “News Producer.” Later, as the production arm of the company split off, I became the “In-house Producer,” and I was able to write several scripts for different marketing/ad pieces, including an X-Files themed piece for a famous Hollywood lighting company.
After the dotcom bust laid waste to the production company, I struggled a bit. I took several small freelance writing gigs, but I wound up in a day job with an even worse title: “Product Manager.” I had traveled the opposite direction intended. However, even in this position, I made it known that I was a writer, and whenever something came up, I was ready to offer my services. I wrote marketing copy for newsletters and brochures. I wasn’t a good fit for the company, but at the same time, I was able to start my career making short films. And I was gaining those hard-earned writing credits on IMDb.com.
That job led me to the position I’m in now, which involves graphic design, writing, and various other creative tasks. The company I work for is a small one, but they value my creativity, and the job itself allows me to focus on these aspects of my personality in a variety of ways. I spend my days writing marketing copy and my nights writing scripts and novels and short stories.
Do I make my living as a writer? I do, at least in part. But more importantly, I live my life as a writer, and living it this way has gotten me a number of different jobs. It’s informed my entire career. It takes a certain amount of bluster to say you’re a writer, and even more to back it up. But if you really live it — and this means constantly applying writing to all aspects of your life, whether it’s an advertising tagline or a feature film script or a column on a website — it will get you where you need to be. There are all different kinds of people who call themselves writers. Yes, it’s a profession, but I see that as a limited definition. I won’t say it’s a calling. For me, it’s just a way to live.
When I was fifteen years old, I was awarded a black belt in the small Ashan-Tao martial arts system. It was a relatively young style, developed by a correctional officer at Folsom prison, and it was known as a system that promoted intense, full-contact sparring. For the most part, the black belts were hardened, athletic men in their late 20’s and above. It would have been a big deal when I, at 15, received my belt, but I wasn’t the youngest. A year before me a friend who was my age had received his black belt — the youngest student to have received such an honor. As the time of my own test grew closer, we began to hear murmurings of whether or not 15 was too young to be granted the honor and the responsibility of the black belt. At a special meeting, my friend, the young black belt, shrugged off the criticism with the following response: “I earned it. You can take the belt away from me if you think I’m too young. But I am a black belt.”
Our teacher relayed this story to us with a proud smirk.
I received my black belt later that year. I earned it.
I haven’t made any money selling a screenplay. I haven’t earned royalties off the sales of a novel. Call it what you want… but me? I am a writer.
How about you?