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Pull back the curtain and see how a suspense writer puts the thrills and chills together.

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Do you have a Plan B? We all hope our dreams will come true, but what if they don’t? Do you have a back-up plan that, while not perfect, will still make you reasonably happy?

I once met this guy who worked as a waiter in a small northern town. He played drums in his spare time, and he was actually pretty good. When we started talking careers (we were in our late teens then), this guy had no doubts about where the future would take him.

“I’m gonna be a rock star,” he said.

While I love that kind of ballsy self-confidence, I was a bit surprised. After all, we were nineteen, not twelve. What about “I’m going to cut a few demos, shop them around, and try to get a record deal. In the meantime, I’m going to get enough money to support my dream of one day playing in stadiums and arenas”?

I’m not proud of this, but my inner realist kicked into gear. “What about learning sound editing? Or getting a career behind the scenes in the music industry, just to be close to what you love while you fight your way to the top?” I asked. The idea of not having a back-up plan spooked the hell out of me, even in my young, idealistic days.

“Nope,” he replied. “None of that stuff interests me. I’m gonna be a rock star.”

I’ve always known what I was meant to do with my life: write novels. I’ve also always had a Plan B: to work in the writing field in some way while I worked to get a book published on the side. For awhile, my day job of choice was print journalism. And I loved it. I was good at it, but maybe a little too good. I got so focused on being a journalist that my fiction writing was non-existent for years. Plan Bs aren’t great when they stand in the way of achieving Plan A.

What freaks me out is that I don’t have a Plan B anymore. Working in journalism isn’t a great option right now, with so many newspapers going the way of the dodo bird, and I’d already figured out that it wasn’t helpful for my fiction writing. For the last few years, I’ve worked in communications, but I can’t say I enjoy it. I don’t care for the lack of flexibility, the office politics, or being chained to a desk eight hours a day. One thing I loved about being a freelancer is that when my work was done, I could do something else. I didn’t have to continue to sit at my desk finding things to do when I could be working out or going for drinks with friends. It was awesome to have that much freedom, and I’m really glad I had that experience.

The problem is, what if I don’t get published? I’d love to believe 100 percent that it is going to happen for me, and sometimes I do, but that pesky realistic side always rears her ugly head. I don’t want to look back on my life and realize I spent the majority of it in an office, sitting behind a desk, writing things that require little of my talent or creativity. Many of the other careers that interest me–psychology, marine biology, etc.–would require going back to school for years, and the idea of entering my forties deep in debt and starting at the beginning again is just too depressing. That said, I haven’t done enough investigation to know I’d actually like those careers. And would going back to school to pursue a major degree or four hinder my writing? Most likely.

I will be out of debt by next October. When that milestone happens, a lot more doors will open for me, and I’ll be able to take risks that I can’t justify right now. I’ve committed to giving my writing career everything I have to give for the next few years, but if after that time I’m still in the same place, I’m going to have to take a long, hard look at finding another Plan B. Even today I’d feel better if I knew it was in the sidelines, waiting to catch me if I fall.

How about you, dear readers? Are you doing what you always wanted, or are you working your Plan B? Or are you pushing directly towards the dream without a safety net?
As for the rock star, I wish I could tell you that his bold dreams of glory paid off, but last I heard, he was delivering bread for a living. He sold his drums.
Making the Cut, Day 9: So far, I have continued to stay on the plan without cheating. I’m actually finding this diet fairly easy to stick to, except for the occasional mad craving for pasta. Another brutal workout is lined up for tonight.
To bed at: I really blew it here. Didn’t make it to bed until almost 1 a.m.
Awake at: 7:45 a.m.

Novel pages written: TBD

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14 Comments

  1. Kim

    I am steadily working away on Plan B.
    I wanted to be a writer. I started out in university majoring in English Lit (a cliche writer wannabe major) and was going to be a teacher. Then I got interested in health stuff and decided to become a nurse. Nursing caused a lot of disillusionment so now I teach nursing. So I’ve come full circle within Plan B. And I never married well enough to be supported by a spouse so that I could return to Plan A.

    It’s all OK though. I don’t mind Plan B. The Grass isn’t always greener in dream land.

    Reply
  2. TS

    I think that work does not equate life. Once I discovered that, I became much happier.

    I came out of University all piss n’ vinegar, wanting to climb the corporate ladder. My first boss – nicknamed jellyfish – was an absolute tool. He made me hate my job and the company I was working for.

    When work spills over into your personal life like that, nothing good can come.

    So perhaps I am being pragmatic, settling for a job that I don’t love, but I also don’t hate. Sure I would love to find a job that pays what I get paid now, and that I love. But I think such a thing is rare.

    Instead, I choose to look outside my job to find fullfilment. So does that make my job my Plan B? 🙂

    Reply
  3. Story Teller

    Thanks for the comments and insights. TS – I’ve totally been where you are, realizing that my day job is not going to make me happy and that I have to find my joy outside of it. What does continue to bother me is how much of our lives we spend at work. Since it’s such a large percentage, I stubbornly insist that my work be something I really enjoy (maybe that’s the non-realistic side of me).

    @ Kim, I’ve thought about teaching creative writing. I’m not sure if I would really like it, though, or if it’s just another fantasy. Do you find teaching gives you enough time that you could still write fiction, if you were so inclined?

    Reply
  4. TS

    So here’s a question – if you do what you love for a living, does it become more of a chore? For some reason I still think it is rare to do what you truly love and get paid for it.

    But maybe that’s part of my delusion 😉
    I think the real trick is to maximize the time doing what you love.

    Reply
  5. Story Teller

    I’m not sure, but it’s a damn good question. I love to cook, so once considered becoming a chef. My mom talked me out of it for the very reason you state above – that I wouldn’t enjoy it anymore if it was my job. And creating stories certainly became more “work” when I had an agent. Then again, I LOVED journalism, so I know that dream jobs do exist.

    I work with a few people who come in just three days a week, so they always have a four-day weekend, and holidays on top of that. It seems like the best of both worlds, but they’re comfortable with the accompanying low salary, or are at least able to manage it.

    Reply
  6. kungfusinger

    I think it’s not so much a matter of doing what you love, but finding a way to love what you do.

    I worked for three years as a receptionist. Not the coolest job in the world, and certainly not one I would consider anyone’s dream job. But I loved it. I loved going in to work every morning and make someone’s day brighter just by being the friendly voice on the other end of the phone who didn’t keep them on hold for too long. I was damn good at it (pardon my language).

    In most cases I have managed to take that attitude into every job with a few rare exceptions. Those exceptions are when personality conflicts within the workplace made work unbearable.

    I’ve never wanted to climb the corporate ladder or get published or get any of my songs on the radio. I have never dreamed of being rich and famous.

    Maybe I don’t have a Plan A. My husband would say I’m working on Plan A now. I’m working to get my Master’s in structural Engineering. My dream – to design a bridge. To one day drive over said bridge with my child(ren) and/or grandchild(ren) and say “see that? that was me. I designed that.”

    I guess maybe I do have a plan A. But I still think attitude plays a big part in your own fulfillment from whatever plan you are working on.

    Reply
  7. Kim

    The bonus to my job teaching is the flexibility. I have to get certain tasks completed within a term and as long as they are done and I go to my class on time as scheduled then I can structure my day however I wish. That means that if I have nothing pressing or nothing to attend on a given day then I may go for a run at 2 PM or write a blog or whatever while sitting at my desk.

    Not everyone can function in such an unstructured environment. And I still have days where I can’t escape my office and students and other instructors continuously demand my attention. (One memorable day in particular where I started 10 different tasks and finished none).

    Now my department is different from most in the college. I have large classes (70+) and low teaching hours. Most departments (including Cre-Com) have small classes and high teaching hours.

    I understand from the Cre-com coordinator I met at a teaching seminar last year, that FT teaching jobs are pretty coveted by writers at RRC. I think like any job you start out keen and enthusiastic and eventually you start looking for short cuts and efficiency. I’m about ready for a change but, the lifestyle right now is a bit to sweet to give up.

    Reply
  8. Story Teller

    @ Kungfusinger–yes, I’d say you’re definitely working on Plan A. Good luck! Keep on plugging and you will get there.

    @ Kim — yep, those teaching jobs are the Holy Grail. Highly coveted, most of all for the summers off. But I know from the former CW teacher that it’s very difficult to do your own writing while being responsible for the work of fifty others. He didn’t work on his own novels for the first two years, until he learned how to manage it.

    Reply
  9. Elspeth Cross

    My theory is that life in general is Plan B. Everyone is trying to get to the dream.

    My Plan A has always been to write full-time. A friend has been telling me for years to quit my job: “leap and the net will appear.” But I never thought it was the right time to leap. Mostly because in my heart I knew I wasn’t truly serious about writing as a career.

    In the last six months, my husband unexpectedly changed jobs and we bought a new house. I think I was waiting for this. And these life changes helped me to decide that it was time to get serious about my writing. Now I can see myself quiting my job (despite the good boss, pay and benefits) because I feel ready. I’m at the “start saving because royalty cheques come slowly” stage and, if seriousness pays, I’ll be moving to Plan A soon, possibly in a year. (I also know my job will be ending in less than 3 years and I want out before the doors close, so I also have that motivation.)

    I think the shift to Plan A happens when you are ready for it and not a moment before. It sounds like you are already preparing for the shift (October for finances, and maybe a couple months of savings?)

    One final piece of advice from the financial sector: get a lot of credit lined up while you are still regularly, fully, traditionally employed. Get the credit cards, line of credit, and mortgage now. Then quit. You may not need them but it’s much easier to apply for them now.

    And keep John Lennon in mind when you are looking for Plan B 🙂

    Reply
  10. Story Teller

    Elspeth, what a beautiful post! It gave me hope, it really did. You are so brave for being able to take that leap, and I hope I can join you soon. 🙂 I wish you all the best, and of course I envy you – in a good way. 🙂

    When I first started working at my current job, I LOVED it. It was so fulfilling, and there were so many opportunities for me to be creative. After working for an insurance company, it was a fantastic change. So I focused way too much on it, and spent too much time at work.

    Now things are getting quite nasty, and I notice that I’m being drawn more and more to my writing. Maybe my Plan B *has* to be less than wonderful. Maybe I need the push of an uncomfortable, unhappy situation to keep me motivated. Does that make sense?

    Reply
  11. Elspeth Cross

    Absolutely that makes sense. Unhappiness is a great motivator. That is why many people quit their jobs.

    I have a theory that (boy, you are getting *all* my life theories, lucky you!) that if you are seriously considering an action, you have already decided to do it and now you are simply trying to convince yourself that you’ve made the right decision. If your work is noticably getting nasty and you have already planned to pay off all your debts, I think that deep down, you’ve already made a decision. Whether you are preparing to take the leap to Plan A or move on to a new, yet-to-be-identified Plan B is something only you can answer. That will be a scary conversation to have with yourself. But I’m here if you’d like a sounding board.

    Reply
  12. Story Teller

    Thanks, Elspeth. I don’t doubt that you are right, and will gladly take you up on your offer. 🙂

    Reply
  13. Jocé

    Holli,
    I’m so enjoying your blog. It is compelling, thought provoking and a pleasure to read. Makes me wish I’d had access to advice like your “Plan B” when I embarked on my career, all those many years ago. This article would make excellent pre-requisite reading for students taking career counseling 🙂
    As to your ‘real vocation’ – fiction writing – don’t loose heart, the breakthrough will come when you least expect it. Do what you love. Realistic evaluation is good and necessary but don’t let that negative monkey on your shoulder discourage you.
    I think I follow what you are hinting at when you ask if others have been stymied by their Plan B. — that is if you’re referring to giving up the original dream and settling for a Plan B? Obviously you are not, I admire how you make room for your novel writing amid all the other commitments and a full time job. (And the Kick-boxing is an ideal balance.) This all proves you will keep on writing no matter what. (unlike the would-be-rock-star, who sold his drums.)
    I’m reading Susan Musgrave’s Musings on the Writing Life (Musgrave Landing) and here’s a neat quote from the close of her essay, “None Return From Death Row”:
    “The only thing more difficult than being a writer is being a happily published one,” say the editors of The Writer’s Home Companion. “For once the book is written, the baby is born. The gestation period might have taken months or years but it is then put in the hands of someone else to care for it.” Hmm. Maybe Buddha would say, live in the moment, enjoy the process.

    Reply
  14. Story Teller

    What a beautiful, motivating, inspirational post, Jocelyn. Thank you so much for saying that. It means more to me than you will ever know, especially coming from you – a writer I respect and admire tremendously.

    I have always thought it would have been better if I’d come up with a more enjoyable Plan B, but honestly, if it was too comfortable, I wouldn’t have the same push to write. It *is* difficult to fit everything in, so it is so wonderful to have someone with an objective view tell me that I’m doing the right thing. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    Reply

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