Sometimes I have to remind myself how awesome Meghan O’Keefe is. If you haven’t met her, Meghan is breaking into the comedy scene in NYC, the modern equivalent to a fourth tour of ‘Nam. She did this by moving to New York, getting a day job, and then doing something like five open mics a week forever (I don’t have exact figures handy). Now she’s got gigs at Peoples’ Improv Theater and UCB, as well as regular columns for The Huffington Post, Hello Giggles, The Hairpin, etc. She is Living The Dream.
I was reminded of the awesomeness of Meghan’s path when rereading Jon Acuff’s Quitter (which deserves its own post). Acuff talks about Jerry Seinfeld’s famous hour-long interview on comedy, in which he talks about his own apprenticeship in the NYC comedy scene. His method: to do two shows a night, every night, without a single night off, for eighteen months. That’s over a thousand stand-up sets.
I thought of these inspiring people because I’ve been struggling with the balance between a dream job and a day job. All of us have creative passions that inspire us. All of us also recognize the need to earn a wage and pay for health insurance. How do you balance those? When do you take the leap to pursue your dream? And is the dream that you’re about to pursue worth that leap?
I don’t have the experience to answer the first question or the financial sense to answer the second. But based on my experience, and based on what my friends (and Jerry Seinfeld) have gone through, I think I can field the third.
If you’re wondering whether or not a particular dream of yours is your true calling in life, ask yourself: how long would I be willing to labor in fruitless obscurity just for the joy of pursuing this dream?
If the answer is “weeks” or “months,” forget it. If the answer is “years,” you’re on the right track. If it’s “decades,” you have a winner.
That’s not to say that you couldn’t find overnight success. And I don’t want to perpetuate the myth of the starving artist shivering in a garret apartment. A person’s got to eat! You don’t have to suffer. You just have to be willing to suffer.
(Or, more importantly, you don’t count obscurity as “suffering”)
It’s process, not feedback, that will make your dream succeed. You have to pursue your dream with the discipline of a 40hr/week day job, only with fewer than 40 hours a week to do it in. If you’re chasing after an immediate fix, you’ll get discouraged early on. Even worse, if you find early success and don’t immediately start work on your next project, you can get distracted from your dream before it fully takes off.
Too Close to Miss has succeeded to the point that it’s paid for itself (editing, cover design, Createspace account costs). It continues to sell at a slow clip. I’m incredibly lucky in that regard. But getting to this point took a decade of experimenting with fiction, and five years of writing novels. I tell people Too Close to Miss is my first novel, meaning the first one I’ve published. In terms of manuscripts I’ve completed, it’s probably my sixth or seventh. But none of those others will ever see the light of day. They’re not marketable. I needed to write them in order to learn the novel.
Ask yourself how long you’d be willing to pursue your dream without getting paid. Not for fame, not for money, just for the joy and curiosity of practicing the craft. If the answer isn’t “a sizable portion of your life,” then it’s not your true calling. Don’t worry: you do have one. Just keep searching.
If you want to see whether my years of toiling in obscurity paid off, check out Too Close to Miss, the crime thriller that readers “stayed up way too late finishing,” available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iTunes.
If you read it and liked it, please let your friends know via Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, or old-fashioned word of mouth.