Thursday, April 10, 2008

Don't Give Up Your Day Job

Coming late to a writing career, the first piece of advice I was given was not to quit my day job. Unless lightening strikes, it could take a decade of work before the income from your writing pays the bills. And that's the optimistic view.

For more than twenty years, my day job has been with the Oklahoma Department of Mines. A few years after college I started as a surface coal mine inspector. Besides acquiring my first pair of steel-toed work boots and hard hat, I quickly learned that coal mines are dusty and miners don't much like state environmental regulators. I wish I could say that I envisioned that first day a long-term career in the field, but I was primarily focused on having a paycheck that covered my rent and car payment. But as the years passed, I slowly became an expert in my small slice of the world. I acquired new skills that made my biology degree a lot more useful (lots of training, classes, networking, and practice). I worked hard, learning how to do a little of everything when budget cuts left me shorthanded. Then through attrition (my supervisors left, retired, or died) and sheer stubbornness (refusing to quit when the job seemed impossible), I worked my way up the regulatory agency ladder.

Eventually I achieved the job I have now – Administrator of the Coal Program for Oklahoma. The pay is not very good, the work sounds more exciting than it is, and I've had to get used to lots of criticism. In other words – the perfect preparation for life as a writer!

Four years ago I started writing for fun, fortune, and fame. Didn't take long for me to learn that there would be no fortune, little fame (my family is impressed), but the fun was actually endless and the opportunity to try new things and go new places has been scary and exciting.

The first time I gave a library talk, I didn't sleep a wink the night before. I couldn't imagine what I had to share with the audience. I felt like a fraud. (Especially when I discovered the case of books I'd ordered for the event actually held someone else's book). But when I started talking I discovered that I could easily fill an hour just by talking about Evelyn David's writing journey and answering questions from mystery lovers and aspiring writers. I love sharing my continued sense of "wonder" about the process of turning thoughts into words and words into a novel.

Sometimes when I'm giving a speech at a library or civic club, I'll get questions about mining instead of mysteries. And that's okay. Without my day job, I wouldn't have the opportunity to write.

The Northern half of Evelyn David has suggested we write a mystery using a coal mine as the setting. Maybe someday!

Evelyn David

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