For years I worked as a journalist. Some days I loved it, some days I tolerated it. Most days, however, it was simply what I did. It rarely felt like work. Sometimes, flying over mountains in a float plane or interviewing sled dog mushers for a story, I’d stop and think: I get paid for doing this? And I’d pause and look out the window or at the dogs racing through the snow and it seemed a pretty incredible way to make a living.
But then the bad days began outpacing the good days. And I stopped loving journalism. It felt like too much damned work.
I was finishing up my first novel Dolls Behaving Badly at the time and living down in Seward, Alaska, a small town of about 2,000 at the end of the road system. I loved living in Seward, loved the mountains, the bay, the way the wind blew so fierce and sudden that it felt almost holy against my face. Afternoons I’d run mountain trails with the dog, and standing up there so high and looking down over the town I’d often weep with happiness.
But writing all day for work and working most of the night on my novel caught up with me. I was exhausted and stressed, and the day I burst into tears in the middle of the Safeway was the day I knew I had to make a choice: journalism or my writing.
That’s when my newspaper went out of business. I took this as a sign from God: “Cinthia,” I imagined him saying, “you’re not suppose to be a newspaper hack, you’re supposed to write beautiful and funny books.”
For two years I wrote books and, when my money became low, I freelanced. I spent days lost inside my head. I wrote all night if I damned well pleased. I finished my second novel. I wrote and published poetry and essays. I ran a couple of marathons. I worked on my abs.
Then I became restless.
I was tired of sitting on my ass all day at my desk, tired of spending so much time alone. I was tired, dare I say it, of writing books and poetry and essays.
I was also tired of never having any money, tired of running up my credit cards, tired of writing stories for magazines and waiting over half of a year to get paid.
So I slid back over to journalism and really, it felt like coming home. In the past few weeks I’ve attend a beauty pageant and a poetry reading, had breakfast with a school board candidate, chatted up legislators, went birding with a family and yesterday I spent the day eating Fig Newtons (sorry, don’t think they were vegan, hee, hee) while riding around a Humvee with two Army PR guys.
Not a bad way to make a living.
Yet I wonder: Am I selling out? Am I turning away from my “real” writing just when I’m seriously beginning to make it?
I wrote most of Dolls while working full-time as a journalist, waitressing weekends and raising a child by myself (without a dime of child support, either). So I know that it is possible to do both. And journalism offers the kind of flexibility not found in most jobs.
Still, I worry.
So, here’s a question: How do you justify your day job? Do you feel that it sucks up too much writing or personal time and, if so, how do you balance two opposing wants/needs?