Please welcome Robin Riopelle to The Qwillery as part of the 2013 Debut Author Challenge Guest Blogs. Dead Roads, Robin's debut, will be published on April 2, 2013.
The Work/Write Balance: How I Learned to Stop Worrying
and Love My Day Job
By Robin Riopelle
A piece of advice from my father-in-law, a well-published poet of some repute: writing will never pay the bills (for the record, he’s a retired English professor and, yes, poetry pays even less than fiction). Let’s face it, unless we’re spectacularly lucky and great fortune smiles upon us, most of us will have a day job. We will always have a day job.
So, how do you/can you love your day job and still function as a writer? The two aren’t, and shouldn’t be, mutually exclusive.
I actually love my day job, and am one of those people who would say, upon winning the lottery, “Well, I’ll still go to work.” Really. I’m a freelance museum exhibition planner. Shut up, it’s a real job. It’s a good real job. I work from my office at home, which is a huge plus. Any number of surprising things can catch my interest, and I’ve worked on projects varying from antique toys to New France to potash.
A writer friend of mine mused, “Wouldn’t life be great if we didn’t need to write?” I imagine it sometimes: after work, nothing but time to catch up on TV, learn to knit, spend quality time with the kids. Instead, to paraphrase Charles Bukowski, the writing has to roar out of me, it’s uncontainable, a massive itch in need of good long scratch.
A brief description of the writing job: it’s solitary time spent on yourself, every bit sustaining as a meditation retreat (not that I’ve ever had time for one of those, you understand). You spend a stupid amount of time hunched in front of a computer (if that’s your poison). Time walking the dog is more about working out a thorny plot problem, or anticipating a delicious scene you’ll get to when you return home. When it’s going well, there is nothing quite as good.
It feeds you. When it’s not eating you.
Work cuts into fiction writing time. But if I sat at my computer all day, working on the writing job, I don’t think it would make me a better, or even a more prolific writer.
Why? Because work helps the writing.
Knowing a little about a lot always comes in handy, whether it’s at a cocktail party or in fiction. In Dead Roads, I’m called upon to know a fair bit about trains, particularly in Nebraska. Do you think I’m an Omaha train engineer? No, but I’d worked on exhibitions about westward expansion. Ditto for New France, Acadia and the Grand Dérangement. Being able to identify the audience-pleasing story in a mass of research is a skill I’ve honed in my day job, and you know what? It helps the writing.
A lot of my daily word output goes toward exhibitions. These words go through any number of editors, bosses, CEOs, focus groups. They get handed back to me with “change this”, “don’t like this”. Cut this, re-write that. When it comes to my professional writing, I write for an audience. I have to have a thick skin. If it’s not working, I don’t take it personally, I revise. And it’s exactly the same with the fiction.
Work helps the writing.
I spent a number of years as an intermediary for Vancouver Family Services, reuniting adoptees with birthfamilies. Yes, that’s also actually a day job. Not only did I become a crack detective, I became a counselor of sorts. Telling someone they have a long-long sister, working out why families break down and what it looks like when they get back together after years apart—these experiences wiggled into Dead Roads as well.
The only real downside to having a writing job and a day job is the computer. I spend most of my day sitting in front of it. Working, writing, working at writing, writing for work. It involves the same muscles for me, figuratively and literally.
Fair enough, I have no spare time. No left-over hours. No time to kill. A recently retired relative worried aloud to me that he was “going to have to get a hobby” in order to fill his time. Seriously, I can’t even imagine those words coming out of my mouth.
If it’s one thing that we writers will never have to worry about, it’s retirement. Possibly because we’ll never be able to afford to retire, but also, at some level, because writing is more than a job. It’s a life. And how do you retire from that?
About Dead Roads
Night Shade Books, April 4, 2013
Trade Paperback and eBook, 368 pages
Lutie always wanted a pet ghost—but the devil’s in the details.
The Sarrazins have always stood apart from the rest of their Bayou-born neighbors. Almost as far apart as they prefer to stand from each other. Blessed—or cursed—with the uncanny ability to see beyond the spectral plain, Aurie has raised his children, Sol, Baz, and Lutie, in the tradition of the traiteur, finding wayward spirits and using his special gift to release them along Dead Roads into the afterworld. The family, however, fractured by their clashing egos, drifted apart, scattered high and low across the continent.
But tragedy serves to bring them together. When Aurie, while investigating a series of ghastly (and ghostly) murders, is himself killed by a devil, Sol, EMT by day and traiteur by night, Baz, a travelling musician with a truly spiritual voice, and Lutie, combating her eerie visions with antipsychotics, are thrown headlong into a world of gory spirits, brilliant angels, and nefarious demons—small potatoes compared to reconciling their familial differences.
From the Louisiana swamps to the snowfields of the north and everywhere in between, Dead Roads summons you onto a mysterious trail of paranormal proportions.
• told unsuspecting people the whereabouts of a long-lost family member,
• go-go danced in front of 700 people,
• traipsed across a wind-whipped hospital rooftop with a nun,
• lost a frozen beaver head under a parked car.
Robin Riopelle is the author’s birthname. She currently lives on the border between French and English Canada with her criminologist husband, two seemingly delightful children, and an obstreperous spaniel.
In addition to writing fiction for adults, Riopelle also illustrates children’s books. Dead Roads is her first novel.
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