In my early 20s, I fantasised about getting paid to write fiction. I imagined I'd get a job that involved little work but required me to sit in front of a computer all day. I'd write my first novel while taking home a paycheck. Here was the equation I believed to be true: Time+Paycheck=Novel.
I was living in Jerusalem and found my literary Shangri-La as a writer and typist in the Israeli Prime Minister's office. I couldn't believe my luck. I'd be living the dream and giving my parents naches at the same time. I now had time, a paycheck and mathematically, I'd soon have a novel.
If only my equation had been accurate. At first, I was productive. By 10am I'd finished my "day job" and started writing fiction. I'd had the idea of 13-year-old twins who learn that they and their entire suburban community were actually beings from another planet who'd tried to fit in, lost the ability to morph and then forgot who they were (I was in my early 20s!). Within the first few weeks, I wrote the first chapter, in which a washed-up journalist stumbles upon the town and notices bizarre occurrences, like the leaves spontaneously falling off the maple trees and then growing back the next day.
My two fellow typists were supportive of my writing but one of my bosses resented it. Whenever she spotted the novel on my monitor, she'd make up jobs for me to do, like re-filing already organised documents. Another woman from the legal department used to come in and have me type her personal letters. Afterwards, she'd pat me on the head like I was a puppy.
I still had time to write but as the weeks passed I found it increasingly difficult to focus. It wasn't just being interrupted whenever I got into a rhythm. The atmosphere was anaesthetising. A second boss refused to learn how to use her computer on principle since it wasn't in her job description. Other staff members refused to learn how to operate the fax or copier, fearing that if they did, they might be asked to use them. People were underpaid and unhappy and, like me, they were trying not to work.
The job was a drag - and minimum wage
Lethargy is infectious. It creates a vibe in the space around you, so that any idea of creating something is dulled into the vague urge to get a can of soda. In retrospect, I wonder how much my plot was influenced by this indolence. The once-spirited aliens on my pages were lulled into a collective stupor by the materialistic culture around them. I revised my formula: Time+Paycheck+Focus+Positive Energy=Novel.
I was starting to suspect that the perfect day job was as elusive as a book deal. I was also becoming depressed. Paycheck or no, the job was a drag. And it was minimum wage.
After four months, I accepted a job as a writer in a multimedia company. It was a real job and I had no down time to write fiction, but it was saving my writer's soul. I got more done at night and on weekends than I ever would have in the civil servant vortex I'd mistaken for my dream job.
The equation has only grown more complicated with the passage of years, its statement shifting to include variables such as "+Hard-Drive-Not-Crashing" and "+Kids Not Having Strop". I'm still writing but I now understand that earning a living and creative writing are two separate entities. In the end you accept that you're both an alien from outer space and a human from the suburbs.