By Stephen Jay Schwartz


Before I became an author and joined the community of authors I felt very much alone. Not so much in college, where I shared the artist dream with a community of dreamers who dreamed big because, well, they were in college and the world held so much possibility. No, it came after college when the dream began to fade, when the priority was to support first myself and then myself and my family through a variety of day jobs that others called “careers.”

I watched as my college peers took their own deconstructive paths, becoming car salesmen or temp workers or salesmen of one sort or another. I was the long hold-out for a long while, finding employment “within” the industry, in marketing and distribution at Disney Studios, in film development for Wolfgang Petersen. I seemed to be succeeding, but I wasn’t living my dream. I was still doing the “day job” while writing the dream at night and on weekends. The development gig was so invasive that I finally had to give it up. In roughly five years as a development executive I didn’t get any significant writing done. I had to leave the “creative” job and find a “normal” day job so I could create some time to write. Because, in the end, that’s what I do. I write. Writing is my career, even if it doesn’t pay my bills.

It took a lot to give up that high-profile film job. I had to really come to terms with what and who I was, and what the ultimate cost would be if I didn’t make the time to write. I had to realize that the ups and downs of the film business meant nothing to me. My head was somewhere else.

My head was in the story. The story that began when I woke up in the morning and paused when I went to work. The story that resumed after 5:00 pm and escalated into the night, until sleeping paused it again, or rather, shifted it into another gear, because dreaming was another form of writing. The story dominated my weekends and paused again at 9:00 Monday morning.

Why I like writers is they’re like-minded.

At all the day jobs I’ve had I’ve witnessed the petty machinations of office politics at work. It seems the more people involved in the process–customer service, inside sales, accounting, engineering, technical support, shipping–the more opportunity there is for back-biting, gossip and general chaos. People seem to need drama in their lives. People seem to need to be seen and heard and voice their opinions when their feelings are hurt, and then step on toes to assert their dominance. It’s high school all over again. It can be a full-time job just keeping up with who has the power and whose favor must be curried to stay in the game.

I’ve never participated in such office politics. It’s a drain on my creative energy. I don’t need the drama, because the drama is waiting for me when the work day is done. It’s on the page. It’s real drama, life-and-death drama, and the best thing about it is no one gets hurt.

Writers have more important things to do than dwell on their workplace version of Game of Thrones. And I think that tends to make us targets at the office. Because we won’t play the game. We’re outsiders, by definition. We sit on the outside and observe human behavior and translate our observations into believable, fictional characters. And sometimes we exact our revenge on characters who closely resemble characters in our daily lives, in our daily jobs. But it’s a private victory, and no one gets hurt.

The authors I’ve met since being published have instilled in me the confidence that I lacked when I was merely the “weird writer guy” at the office. I didn’t know a single author before I was published, and now I know thousands. It’s a community that gives me strength. I realize that I’m not the lonely dreamer, that there are tens of thousands of us, and each and every one has had to find his or her own way in a world where success is measured in dollars earned.

Writers live in the present and the future simultaneously. We sit at our computers presently, writing the story that will find it’s time in the future. We do our daily jobs in the present, but write an insurance policy for future happiness, when the book comes out and our dreams become reality.

Maybe the people who sit bickering at their day jobs, who ally themselves with others against a common enemy, who devour a co-worker’s reputation through continued picking and pecking, maybe these people see their day jobs as careers, and the hopeless realization of this truth is simply too much to bear. It would be too much for me. I, too, would be angry if I had to give up the dream. Because most people, when they’re kids, dream big. They want to be astronauts or firemen or super heros. When they become the tech support guy or customer sales associate for this or that company and realize that the road to NASA is closed, well, it can be a bitter pill. Then every little upset that occurs in the course of their day means the end of their world. Often they choose to bring others down with them, especially those who haven’t yet learned to let go of their dreams.

A writer’s world never ends. There’s always another story to be told. We’ll never live long enough to tell the stories we have to tell.

Our stories are simply more important than the workplace dramas that consume those around us.

And that’s why I like writers.

10 thoughts on “WHY I LIKE WRITERS

  1. Lisa Alber

    Hear, hear! (Written with my office door closed so that I don't hear the picking and pecking going on up and down the hallway.) It's weird that my fellow technical writers think of their jobs as their careers; I'd never thought about it like that before. Since I don't care, it's easy to not get to involved (most of the time), and people are amazed by my straightforward, informal way with the engineers–like I'm incredibly brave or something. When really, I just don't give a shit. Funny thing is, I think the engineers respect me–go figure. 🙂

  2. Kristopher

    Truer words have never been spoken. What is is about office politics. If I have to hear one more argument about who has the better cubicle, I will pull my hair out. Really, is it THAT important? Yes, I know you spend a large amount of time in it, but "pick your battles, folks."

    Being that I am in academic publishing certainly doesn't help matters.

    [Back to my blog, where I fly solo]

  3. J.F. Constantine

    Wow, wow, wow! Have you been eavesdropping on my brain? 😉 Telling it like it is, Stephen Jay Schwartz! Aletheia! (we say in Greek) – Truth!

  4. Timothy Hallinan

    Well, Stephen, writers like you, too. Even though your talent is so, ummm, threateningly large. One of the best things about the writers I know (those of them, at least, who don't go sock puppet and pan the competition on Amazon) is that they're generous of spirit. And you certainly are.

  5. Ron Scheer

    It is the generosity of other writers that makes the lonely life of the writer not so lonely at all. For at time, while working at a university, I directed a writing center, and the people I met in that profession had much the same spirit and support for each other. Coincidentally, most of them felt similarly marginalized by the organizations who employed them.

    Office politics is the drama that people choose to live instead of putting in on the page or the stage where it belongs.

  6. Karen, NZ

    Hi Stephen,

    I have been musing on Zoë's post yesterday about why I read (and what). I LOVE writers because they help supply my 'addiction' to escaping 🙂 I don't have what it takes to write and I celebrate those that have the courage, tenacity and sheer commitment to do so.

    I need those qualities for other things 🙂

    I'm very grateful to writers for being willing to step outside the norm, and being willing to put those stories out there. They are a lifeline for me. I may not be in a position to purchase what you write, though I visit my local library several times a week.

    Thank you.

  7. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Stephen.

    Nice post, sir. No politics in my office, which is a constant delight. I hate the Lord of the Flies syndrome that seems to take root whenever a group of people have to work together on a daily basis.

    And don't ever let go of that dream!

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