I had wanted a writing career but there I was, sitting on the high seat of the tractor, concentrating on steering the machine in a nice straight line. Eighteen acres of grass needed to be cut on my parents’ farm every week, and this was not one of my favourite jobs. It took a surprisingly long time to complete this country task, and there were bugs, snakes, and frighteningly steep slopes involved. Once the grass was cut, there was laundry to do, housework to complete and meals to cook. Plus my mother’s therapy.
My mom had had a massive stroke a couple of months earlier, and my dad and I were caring for her at home. I was in charge of her rehabilitation and most of her personal care: she had lost the use of the entire left side of her body and she was undergoing a massive recalibration of her plans for her life and her future. This was all taking place at the height of a major recession, and my father’s business was struggling. Mortgage rates were flirting with 20%, and cash flow was, well, not really flowing.
My mother had been renovating this pearl of a place in the country and her stroke had occurred before she had been able to replace the basement windows. As a result, every time there was a good, solid, rainstorm, snakes from the fields would wash into the basement through the cracks in the windows, and my father and I had to spend hours draining the basement and dealing with the snakes. We were all exhausted by the effort of living. Was anything ever going to be OK again?
This didn’t seem like the start of a promising and fulfilling career as a writer. I was 22 years old and I had just finished my Honours BA in Political Studies at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. I was at the top of a waiting list for a Masters Degree in Journalism at Western University, but there was no way I could afford to attend. And maybe that didn’t matter: the economy was so bad that seasoned journalists were being cut from newspapers across the country; I probably wasn’t going to be able to get a job in that field anyway. My friends were all travelling through Europe or starting exciting careers. I was sitting on a tractor, fighting tears.
Many of the young would-be writers I meet these days are practical about their prospects for a career as a writer – they know jobs are scarce and the future is by no means assured. Competition for jobs is steep. Some young people I’ve spoken with have expectations for pay that are way beyond what I’ve been seeing in the field, and others feel the achievement of a degree means they are excellent writers, a belief, from what I’ve seen, that is not often borne out by the reality.
I suspect that Hope is a strategy many people employ at the beginning of their writing career, and this is one that I can attest is no Earthly good at all when your luck has run out and your bank account is empty.
This is how I started my writing career – the next instalment in this series looks at what I did next, and what other would-be writers might consider doing, in order to build a successful career as a writer.