I have just now been looking for a better-paying day job. Preferably one that does not require one to be chained to the computer. Because wearing myself out on the keyboard over other things keeps me from doing my own writing.
There are other jobs I am qualified for other than writing. I can teach and do research. My intellectual capacities, logical reasoning, and my artistic side are well-developed, thanks to my parents who were determined I get a good liberal education.
Unfortunately, it is a reality that most prospective employers do not know what to do with someone whose college degree is in the arts, other than those with an actual practical arts course such as graphic design and architecture. And those fields are currently saturated.
Of course I had a wonderful education which expanded my horizons. I doubt very much I would have read Roland Barthes on my own (though I did the theoretical works of Umberto Eco and Edward Hall). But I have to say I remember as much of Barthes as I do calculus, which despite my difficulty with most kinds of math I loved and was even good at. Which is to say, I remember very little. If ever I need to use it, I have to look it up. I suppose I remember enough that my memory is triggered should it ever have potential use in what I'm doing. But I don't know if that kind of knowledge has had great impact on my life other than making it easier for me to read similar material on my own.
I don't know what I'd be like if my undergraduate eduation had been different. I was actually planning to take a practical course that was associated with a particular kind of job, as most of my high school classmates were planning to do. I thought of journalism, psychology, and hotel and restaurant management. This is what I worked out on my own based on what I liked and what I was good at--writing, helping solve other people's problems, and cooking. I also flirted with the thought of library science, but thought the job prospects would not be that great, given the library situation in my country.
But my mother steered me to the supremely impractical field of art studies. Since I wasn't definite with any of my choices, I went along easily enough and I did love my course and was good at it, but after graduation my mother's plan for me to be a museum researcher or an art teacher fell apart. This was due to practicalities. In fact, it was a great time for museum research jobs, given that it was the Philippine Centennial. And I did get one, but it was temporary. Most of the museums as well as most offices were concentrated in areas far from my home at that time. When my contract with my museum job ended, I found it so hard to find a job that I considered moving to an area closer to the highly industrialized areas, an idea also vetoed by my parents and since it was too much of a gamble since I hadn't saved that much, I gave up that idea too.
So I went into teaching and started a teaching course, but I didn't have a suitable teaching job toward the end of it, then I got married and pregnant. That I don't regret, because you are more likely to get a job at 36 than to have a baby. It's not like we haven't been able to survive on my husband's teaching salary with the help of my freelance writing and editing jobs. But I now have two children, and one will start school soon. Private schools are a necessity now given the congested state and lack of facilities of urban public schools--to show how dire the situation is, even a taxi driver my husband rode with said he had to put his three children in private schools because he felt they wouldn't learn anything in a classroom with more than 60 children.
I had planned my life along practical lines. I was never a bohemian type. I had planned to get a good job, to save up so I would be able to stay at home with my children when they were small, and to write during that period of staying at home. My life turned out pretty much that way except for the money part.
Money isn't everything, true. But if you want to have kids, then you have to plan to have enough money to support them. If you have aging parents near retirement age, you have to prepare for the possibility that they may become ill and you'll have to support them--something nobody has to think of, but if you care about them then you have to. Money is the means to achieve the life you want and to take care of the people you love.
I wonder if any writer has followed my original plan and succeeded? I think Stephenie Meyer did to some extent, working as a teacher and giving it up for a time when she had a bestseller. Jerry Spinelli worked for a publisher for years because he had five children to support and it took him a while before he was able to focus just on writing books. But people are more fascinated with J.K. Rowling's rags to riches story. Trust me, though, it's pretty easy to end up in rags. So you ought to be prepared so that you'll only end up in them if you choose them. I think Rowling did; I seem to remember she chose a waitressing job because it allowed her time to write.
Away with the myth of poverty making one an artist. You only need desperation to push you to create if you are terribly undisciplined. There are so many other, better motivators to write than needing money. Having children is, because when I read to mine I think of the thrill of having them read my own stories. In fact I have read a magazine story of mine to my daughter and was pleased when she asked me to read it to her again. And she proudly read my own name aloud to me. That was a great moment, and one I want to keep having. I also write in the hopes that more young people will read. Having taught high school and college, I know that interest in reading is declining, and I want to defeat that trend by catering to the reading interests of that challenging group of young adults.
Adversity does help you grow, but why force it on yourself? Life will give it to you sooner or later. Those years when I struggled to find a job after graduation, my grandmother was dying of cancer. So I didn't really need the added misery of being penniless.
Of course what I learned in my arts studies course did help me to write my book, Woman in a Frame. So I don't regret it. But this wouldn't be true of everyone. Not everyone is seeking a college course so that they could learn something they could write a novel about. I wasn't myself; it was an accident, and mostly thanks to my knowledgeable interviewee Santiago Albano Pilar. And lack of jobs made me end up as Albert McCoy's researcher for a book on the Martial Law period, and I did draw on some of the material I read on Martial Law victims for my novel. But most of these articles were in the daily papers, because it was the 40th anniversary of the declaration of Martial Law at that time, so I would have run into them anyway. I'm not sure I needed that job to develop an interest in the topic.
Those who flirt with the idea of such courses for pure love of learning but don't come from independently wealthy families, I suggest they focus instead on a course associated with an in-demand job (health services, psychology and such) and take electives in the subjects that interest them. Or if you can, take a minor in something that will help you towards a job along with your love-of-learning course. Take advantage of the intellectual climate of the university and join organizations and attend lectures that expand your interests. Above all, read. But don't forget to develop the practical side of yourself, because that is what prospective employers want.
I have always been able to find some kind of work and I have always been able to write. But do you really want to be like me and at 36 not have a car or be able to replace my broken appliances or even paint my house since I moved in here six years ago? And I only have a house thanks to a generous housing program of my husband's school. My advice is to take a course that will help you get a job and at the same time feed your intellectual interests and your artistic inclinations. Constantly struggling to make ends meet won't help you to write or create. It will only stress you out and keep you from focusing on your art. All you really have to do to find time to write is give up TV and computer games.
Give up everything for your art? I remember someone shared with me years ago something on the internet about a composer who cheated on lovers, constantly borrowed from his friends and never paid them back, and constantly got into quarrels. And at the end it said that he was this great composer. "No wonder he had no time to be a man."
I don't know about you, but I'd rather be the one who's prepared to help out her loved ones anytime than someone who keeps depending on them and hoping they'll forgive me when I'm finally rich and famous. Just because you're an artist doesn't make you entitled, because there are so many other artists out there. Prepare to get a job and look after yourself and whoever's important to you. And that begins with choosing a sensible college course.