This past weekend, I attended a wedding in Yorkshire. It was a wholly beautiful affair with a giant tipi, a vintage bus ride and a multi-tiered cake made entirely of pork pies (most certainly a highlight for a food addict and gross over-eater like myself). It was here that I met a young woman who, in the course of one brief conversation, helped me to make a realisation that I had previously struggled with.
The woman that I was speaking with (her name is Hannah, by the way) is an actress. Like many other creative types that I know, Hannah holds a separate day job. Nonetheless, when I asked what she did, she told me that she is an actress. When this entirely safe and neutral question was levelled back in my direction, I stumbled. For a while now, I’ve been assuring myself that when I get that question I’m going to start telling people that I am a writer. Yes, my day job is a retail one and that is where I currently earn my living, but it is not how I choose to define myself. However, when someone asks the question “what do you do?”, I inevitably find myself falling back on the safe, comfortable answer of “I work in retail”. Why do I do that? The question isn’t about how I earn money. If that is what was being asked, then surely retail would have been the correct answer. But the question isn’t about that. It’s about what you do. On days off, after shifts and on lunch breaks, I write. It doesn’t matter if it’s short scripts, blog posts or my manuscript… I write.
In our chat, the point was made that people in the creative industry often feel the need to justify themselves because so many others don’t consider their passion to be a ‘proper job’. It’s a proper job when George Clooney makes a movie, Taylor Swift releases an album or James Patterson writes a novel. Why should it be different when someone is just starting out? Creativity, imagination and bravery in performance are still definite skills. If someone uses those skills, then their job is no less ‘proper’ than any other. And just because you don’t earn a wage from it, doesn’t mean that it can’t be your vocation. How many film editors do I know who work in offices, answering calls and replying to memos? How many actors and actresses do I know who, even at this very moment, are ringing up transactions at a cash register in some shopping centre? How many musicians will be working at a bar in a club this weekend, pouring shots for crowds of drunken students? If these people have credits to their name or a body of work that they are proud of, why should they not label themselves with the title of their prospective craft? Why are we (and by ‘we’ I almost certainly just mean ‘me’ as this entire blog is pretty much just a projection of my concerns and worries onto the world around me) so concerned about our job title? The people that I have listed above should be happy to use the name of their craft when someone drops that bomb in a conversation. “What do you do?”
It’s up to you to decide who you are and how you define yourself to others. The people asking don’t know. That’s WHY they’re asking. Tell them what feels true to you and it is going to be the right answer, regardless of what you actually say.
I have decided that my answer to that question from now on is “I’m a writer”. That’s where my drive is. That is my passion. It’s funny to think that it required a conversation with a complete stranger (thanks again for that, Hannah) in order for me to realise something that should have been so basic and obvious. That is one of the funny things in life, I guess. We are always looking for that one defining moment when something finally clicks. That epiphany moment that is always accompanied by an interesting musical sound effect in the movies. When that does occur, we know that it is all that we’ve needed all along. A little affirmation and then it all makes sense.
Hi. I’m Dave and I’m a writer. What do you do?