I got an email a few weeks ago from a young man just graduating from college, an aspiring writer, who wanted to know which careers I thought might be most conducive to the writing life. I suspect the answer might be Fire Lookout. Or maybe Monk. Professional Writer seems promising, at least at first glance, but turns out to entail all kinds of stuff that’s not actually writing.
In fact, I’m not in the greatest position to answer this question. Aside from college stints as a waiter and a rock climbing instructor and a short time immediately after graduation in which I worked at a halfway house for convicted felons, the only job I’ve ever had, the one I held from my early twenties until I quit to write full time, was teaching. For all I know, Professional Water Skier might facilitate the hell out of some good writing, but I can only talk teaching.
Fortunately, teaching was almost the perfect writing job, at least for me. For one thing, teaching provides much, much more vacation time than most jobs: about four months a year, in my case. Of course, the pay isn’t stellar, and if you’re supporting a family or struggling to pay off debt, you might well be using those vacation months to work a second job; many of my friends and colleagues certainly did. When I was teaching, however, I was lucky enough to be single with no debt. I could live on my teacher’s salary, which meant those summers, and winter breaks, and spring breaks were pure, unbroken writing time.
This was fortunate, since I had no time to write during the school year. I tended to work seven days a week, often pretty late. It didn’t have to be this way. I knew a lot of teachers who were better at streamlining their lessons and keeping great files year-to-year. I couldn’t keep files day to day, which meant I was constantly reinventing my own wheel.
That reinvention, however, was the other blessing of teaching, one directly relevant to my writing. I taught at a school that allowed me to change my courses, and the syllabus for those courses, almost every year. I taught in two different departments — English and History — and explored, over my ten years, everything from The Art of Literary Translation to Philosophy, Physics, and the Brain. I should add that I had no background in most of this stuff, which mean that if I wanted to learn something new, all I needed to do was get it in the course catalogue. Then, when I realized enough students had signed up for, say, Comparative Religion, I’d think, “Well shit, I’d better learn something about comparative religion,” and spend a few furious months studying up.
And all that studying — the religion, the world history, the philosophy — played directly into my own writing. I could not have written this trilogy without that background, a background I was able to expand and develop year after year. The alternation between intense periods of reading, teaching, and study, followed by intense periods of writing worked perfectly for me, and I’ll be forever grateful to that high school, my colleagues, and my students, for providing the perfect incubation period for these novels.
That, of course, is just my experience. For all I know, aspiring writers would be better off as whisky distillers or astronauts. There are lots of ways to go through the world. Lots of paths to the top of any mountain.
About Brian Staveley…
After teaching literature, philosophy, history, and religion for more than a decade, Brian began writing epic fantasy. His first book, The Emperor’s Blades, the start of his series, Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne (UK/US), won the David Gemmell Morningstar Award, the Reddit Stabby for best debut, and scored semi-finalist spots in the Goodreads Choice Awards in two categories: epic fantasy and debut. The second book in the trilogy, The Providence of Fire, was also a Goodreads Choice semi-finalist. The concluding volume of the trilogy, The Last Mortal Bond, is published by Tor UK on 24 March; and is out now in North America, published by Tor Books.
Brian lives on a steep dirt road in the mountains of southern Vermont, where he divides his time between fathering, writing, husbanding, splitting wood, skiing, and adventuring, not necessarily in that order. He can be found on Twitter, Goodreads and Facebook. His website is: On the Writing of Epic Fantasy.