He used to say things like ‘You’ve got to put your time in in the trenches in this industry.’ What that basically meant to us at the time was that we weren’t going to be hired off the street and immediately become the anchor on the nightly news.
We were going to be starting off at the bottom, and working for somebody else’s organization, which was a pretty good assumption. It was a minimum-wage, salaried position where they’d be running our legs off until we rose up the food chain, maybe five or ten years down the line. It’s a kind of weeding-out process, for only the fittest and most determined will survive that long. The rate of attrition is high.
“You’ve got to pay your dues.”
It’s true in any industry. They’re not going to give you your electrician’s papers until you’ve read the books, taken the course, passed the tests, and served your apprenticeship.
Only then can you look people in the eye and call yourself an electrician.
I went back to school in September 1983 because I wanted someone to teach me how to write. In the early eighties, I must have been writing. When I lived in Oakville, in 1988, I wrote and submitted letters to the editor to the Oakville Beaver, the Hamilton Spectator, and probably fooled around with some not-very-good fiction. I was writing in 1993, and none of it ever saw the light of day. Yes, it was bad, awful, horrible stuff.
It was pure shit.
I took out some of that stuff years later. I ended up finishing one book, and publishing it on my own; twenty-something years later. (I burned the rest out behind the garage.) Writing that crap was part of paying the dues. Every so often we sell a copy and that’s fun too…
At that time, when I was working, it was all shit jobs. I did industrial doors, even managed the place. I worked as a landscaper. I worked as a construction labourer, mixing mortar and hauling concrete blocks up onto scaffolding. I did drywall, and acoustic ceilings and steel studs and commercial interior demolitions and renovations. I dug holes in the ground in the blazing hot sun and put roofs on houses with snow flurries coming down or in between intermittent thundershowers.
Here’s a funny thing.
Never at any time did I ever see that as paying my dues. Hell no, I was just trying to survive.
I was just trying to pay rent and buy food and keep a car on the road and shoes on my feet. It never ever occurred to me, that I was paying the dues.
I have never expressed it in those terms since then either.
It’s just something I’ve never thought of before. The connection isn’t immediately obvious.
To spend five or six years reading about the craft of writing—that may be construed as paying the dues. To write books, stories and submit them around to endless rejection, that might be construed as paying part of our dues. To self-publish, learn something about covers and formatting and editing and proof-reading, that might be considered as part of paying our dues.
Anyways, thirty-one years into this process, I get to look people in the eye and call myself a writer.
I knew what I wanted, ladies and gentlemen.