Advice from Robert Jackson Bennett

Oh by the way, yet another book to keep an eye out for in 2016: CITY OF BLADES by Robert Jackson Bennett. It’s the sequel to CITY OF STAIRS, which you may recall got a fair bit of buzz last year. I liked CITY OF STAIRS quite a bit, though not as much as some people did. I do want to pick up this sequel, I’m definitely curious enough about where Bennett’s taking the trilogy for that.

But that’s not the point of this post. Via Twitter, I happened across this post by Bennett: Some advice to aspiring writers who wish to make a living off of writing. And in fact it struck me as Really Good Advice.

A lot of posts with that kind of title would be all about how to monetize all kinds of writing and pick up freelance work on the side and all like that, the kind of advice which always strikes me, frankly, as too much trouble if what you actually want to do is write novels. But that is not what this post is about. Instead, here is what Bennett advises:

As I get older – and I know I’m not old, but I am approaching middle age – I’m growing increasingly aware that so much of your future career rests upon the decisions you make in your twenties, when you are likely at your stupidest and horniest. When I was in my twenties, I thought I would just work crappy jobs and keep writing until I was successful.

I made that decision a decade ago. I moved from job to job based on whether or not it paid a dollar an hour more. There were a lot of call centers. I wasn’t on the fast track to big career success by a long shot.

Then I got lucky. I met the right person, who helped me get a decent job that made me actually think and work. If I had not known that person, I would not have gotten that job.

To my surprise, I found it stimulating. I found it meaningful. And I did well at it. A good job, I found, made me feel better and write better.

Bennett’s point is that planning to be The Starving Writer in a Garret is not the world’s greatest plan, that having a real life outside of writing can lend energy to your writing rather than suck it away, and that making sure you have marketable skills is probably a pretty good idea.

There is a vast preponderance of art and literature and pop culture that casts the twenty-something wandering artist as a figure to aspire to, perhaps not so much a career as a lifestyle choice.

I think this is true. And I completely agree with Bennett that this is potentially a very destructive image for a young would-be writer to have in his or her head.

Speaking as someone who has a day job, and is glad of it and has no wish to give it up any time in the near future — yes. What he said.

Mind you, what I have is a part-time low-stress day job, so I really have the best of both worlds. Nevertheless, I would definitely encourage any twenty-something writers to take a good look at Bennett’s post and think hard about how they might ideally arrange their lives, given the idea that a real job and a real life are probably going to be necessary, but may well also enhance, their enthusiasm for writing.

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