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Calling All Applicants

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Photo by: A. Birkan ÇAGHAN

So, here’s the job I’m offering you.

There are no benefits. No dental, medical, or retirement. You get no days off. No sick leave. No personal leave. No vacation time. There’s no job security.

You get to pay your own taxes.

Seniority means nothing.

You’ll be on the hook for any college classes or professional conferences or online courses you sign up for. Degrees in this field will do little or nothing to land you a position or put you ahead of the other applicants.

And there will be plenty of them.

Hundreds of thousands.

Applying daily.

Any compensation at all is uncertain, wildly sporadic, and if you do get paid, the person who helped you land your job will get fifteen percent of everything you make. Forever.

There’s no bonus for working overtime. In fact, you’ll probably put in some form of overtime nearly every day for the rest of your life.

Long hours? You better believe it.

An ergonomically designed office? Unlikely. That cluttered corner of your basement will probably have to do.

If you don’t like feeling pressured, under the gun, stressed, or overwhelmed, this position isn’t going to be a good fit for you.

It’s the kind of job you can’t leave at the office and it’ll nag at you, scratching away at a corner of your mind when you’re at your son’s baseball game, your daughter’s piano recital, your wife’s birthday party. You’ll notice the sunlight dance across your son’s helmet, hear an off-key chord that takes you back to your own childhood, catch a snippet of dialogue that sounds just right and you’ll hastily scrounge for a scrap of paper and a pen, or whisper a transcribed note into your cell phone so you don’t lose it.

“What are you doing, dear?”

“Nothing. Just had an idea.”

“Pay attention to the movie.”

“I will.”

And you do.

Until another idea comes along. And you don’t.

Though a few rare exceptions exist, nearly everyone in this job fails financially in some way, and over the course of your career you’ll almost certainly not even manage to make minimum wage. Many who take this job become depressed. More than their fair share commit suicide.

You’ll never attend an office party or get a Christmas bonus.

In fact, you’ll be denied nearly everything that most people look for in a job.

But you will get something else.

You’ll have no traffic to battle.

No daily commute.

No mind-numbing meetings to attend.

You won’t have to hide your weirdness, your quirks, your curious insecurities under the thin veneer of workplace customs and conventions. You will befriend a cat. You will find solace in nightmares. You will be able to watch Dr. Who in the middle of the day and not feel guilty.

You will be a writer.

It is risk and adventure and imagination.

It is living on the razor-edged trill of a dream.

You will write.

But know this: Most people will not understand you or your career choice. Many will judge you. Some will ask when you’re going to get a “day” job or a “real” job, which means (although they don’t typically phrase it this way), having someone else tell you what to do, what to wear, when to work, and when you get to spend time with your lover or your children.

You will let passion drive you. Ideas will awaken you in the middle of the night and they will not rest in the cage of your mind until you set them free.

And so, you will scribble in notebooks at midnight.

Just as your predecessors did before you.

You will get lost wandering among the musty shelves of used bookstores. You will lurk in the corners of coffee shops. Eavesdropping will become your secret addiction.

For you, tragedy will be fodder.

Sorrow will be your Muse.

Pain, your barbed blessing.

You’ll feel a chill—yes, yes, that one right there—that comes when your book weaves together in a way that you hadn’t dreamed of and never would have planned, but that is Honest and True in All The Ways That Matter Most.

You will rip away the soothing, crippling lies about success that society likes to spin, and you will offer people a gift in their stead—laughter in the face of sorrow, a fist raised against the tyranny of the urgent, and a chance to actually believe the things we already know: that compassion is more important than possessions, that love is always worth the risk, and that no one dies wishing he’d spent more time in the cubicle and less time telling his daughter bedtime stories.

You’ll invite people who rarely cry in real life to shed a tear over the phantom artifices you have cast onto the page. In this way, you’ll lead people to be more human, more vulnerable, more awake, more alive. More free.

You will be forced to live with both eyes open to the glory and the pain, the wonder and horror and grief and joy of the world. You will not be able blink or turn away. The tears you shed will be real. The blood-drenched passion you offer the world will somehow scar you and heal you at the same time.

And you will be driven by the insatiable, unquenchable, uncompromising obsession to get others to open their eyes as well.

It’s a wild life and perilous, and you’re almost certain to fail.

You want to be a writer?

Here’s the dotted line: ………………………………………………

There’s room on there for your name.

Right next to mine.

About Steven James [2]

Steven James [3] is the award-winning, critically acclaimed author of more than fifty books, including seventeen novels. Publishers Weekly calls him “[A] master storyteller at the peak of his game.” His groundbreaking books on the craft of fiction, Story Trumps Structure and Troubleshooting Your Novel both won Storytelling World Awards of Excellence. When he’s not working on his next book, he teaches fiction writing at conferences spanning the globe and hosts the podcast The Story Blender. For all things Steven James, click to stevenjames.net [3].