Thursday, September 15, 2016

Finding passion in work

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing.” Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

I’ve always wanted to do work that I love. I would read about people who had turned their passion into a career. And then I’d look at myself.

Seven years ago, I was working in the local office of a large corporation. I spent my days sitting in a cramped cubicle writing technical manuals. It wasn’t my life’s dream but it was a good, solid job. I held a senior position that paid more money than I had ever earned. The people were nice. The coffee was free.

My mother died a few weeks before I accepted the job. She had always worried about me, working the freelance life, the constant search for a paycheck. Going without. Finally, I would have a title and a steady income. She would have been proud of me.

But after four years, I felt the urge to move on. I had been a tech writer for a long time, long before this job, and was eager to try other genres of writing. Kurt Vonnegut once remarked that technical writers and newspaper reporters were “freaks in the world of writers.” They are trained to reveal almost nothing about themselves in their writing, he said, whereas most writers bare their soul.

I tried on a few hats, applied for a few (hundred) jobs. Marketing writer. Copywriter. Content specialist. Nothing seemed to fit.

Then I read about the craft and business of storytelling. Writing stories seemed like something I could love. I’d had a taste of it once, when I wrote a story for a local newspaper.

Of course, one story does not make a storyteller.

I had a lot of learning to do.

* * *

I learned three things. One, I can be impulsive. Two, never quit your job during a recession. Three, don’t give up, despite what others say.

I’m a work in progress.

Sometimes late at night when I’m feeling discouraged, I find inspiration in the words of Hemingway. In his memoir, A Moveable Feast, the author discussed writing a story in the first person. He said that to be successful in telling your story, you must create a story “that will become a part of the reader’s experience and a part of his memory.”

There are a million reasons to tell a story. But it seemed to me that making the reader feel present in the story—and walk away remembering it—was a damn good reason.

I love to write. I love the mechanics—the endless drafts, the details, the research. I love talking to people about their special stories and learning about their personal history.

“I’ve never seen a job for a storyteller,” a friend said when I told her of my new direction. She advised me to apply for welfare.

On my worst day, I worry she might be right.

On my best day, I imagine myself as chief storyteller, keeper of the narratives.