Andrew Hood is a winner of the Danuta Gleed Award and the author of The Cloaca, a new collection available from Invisible Publishing. Read a story on Joyland here. For the next month Andrew will be sharing insights into creative writing.
Making It Sloppy: How to Make a Living as a Writer
I have no idea how to make a living as a writer. I’ve never done it. And I can’t claim to have struggled because I can’t claim to have necessarily tried. Those years that I’ve applied for grants that weren’t accepted I just kept working my job. And those years that I’ve applied for grants and had them accepted, I quit my job and then began to sweat the prospect of finding another one when the money was gone.
Since about the age of six I’ve worked. Delivering newspapers wasn’t exactly a Victorian factory, but it was a thing I did and did well. I kept that route near a decade, at which point I landed a job at the Harvey’s up the street from my house. For a year I worked the garnish station—making hamburgers your way—and did my best not to laugh when hardworking people called lettuce “salad” and mayonnaise “Miracle Whip.” (And, incidentally, there came a request from time to time for me to do the burger “sloppy,” which is a request for the burger to overflow with veg and sauces so a mess will be made of the burger eater’s face, shirt, fingers, and table. I’m serious: Sloppy is a thing.) I did my time up front, and was moved onto the grill, where my memory shone in the tense hours of a Friday super rush (this was before computer screens in the kitchen) and I discovered a knack for creating near-perfect, 90 degree angled grill grids on the meat. My boss was a pervert and Christian who often described the day of Rapture. “I’ll be driving in my car, maybe to this place, and I’ll just go. I’ll be gone. My car will still be driving, my clothes in the seat, my shoes in there, but I’ll be gone. I’ll be gone and you’ll still be here, left on earth to be fucked by fags and lawyers.”
The summer before leaving Guelph for Montreal, I worked nights at a factory that is now condos. We made freezers. I was in the lid department, which was the highest level of the factory, where all the heat rose to. The lids came to us from the paint department, hanging from the hooks of a ceiling conveyor. The first step was to tape the “gadget holes”—where the on/off switch was, etc—so that the lid would not overflow when it went through the next stage, The Foamer. This kiosk-sized machine filled the lids with insulation, and I was on the other end to stack the result. The final stages involved the insertion of the gadgetry and then affixing the shell and rubber lining with twenty plastic rivets, plunged into the foam with my thumb. When the heat in the plant exceeded a certain temperature I can’t remember, we stopped until the temperature was legal. In this time, me and the other gruff dudes I worked with would sit around on skids fellating the popsicles they gave us. For a time there I tried to teach the operator of the Foamer (either Danny or Danby, I was never sure) basic German. “Fear!” he loved to yell.
The next summer I had my jaw broken and so didn’t work. The summer after that I was back at a different version of the previous factory, this one making dehumidifiers. Not one of the dehumidifiers me and my crew of other summer students produced our first night was usable, and the second night began with our foreman destroying one of said useless dehumidifiers with a bat. Most of the students quit within the first week, but I stayed on and got good at my job, which was screwing the plastic shell onto each unit with an air drill that left my hand a claw at the end of the day. I remember my nipples bleeding in the chaffed heat a lot that summer, plus I threw up on myself once.
While at school I worked in a call center for the Concordia Alumni Association, Friendraising. The most money I ever raised at that job was on the Sunday of the St. Paddy’s Day parade, where I phoned, thrilled by whiskey, from under my call desk.
Out of school I got a job at a Montreal brewery, where I stayed for three foggy years. At the best of times, production of this Montreal beer was handled by a crew made almost entirely up of chumps from Guelph. I began as a mop jockey and ended that job filtering hundreds of hectoliters of Moosehead and Carlsberg and the brewery’s own hot shit craft beer on the nightshift, drinking green (or young) beer from a measuring cup, sometime napping on the malt bags. A few times I caught the brewer I worked nights with doing slow motion karate in the fermentation room.
I moved back to Guelph from Montreal with a grant and after failing to write the best book you’ve ever read—the one our country deserves—I got a job opening a small café. I started at 5am, vacuuming and cleaning and taking out the trash and making muffins. From there I got a job at one of the best bookstores in the country, first in the accompanying cinema, ripping tickets, shovelling popcorn, and cleaning the theatre, getting into the bookstore (The Big Show) after a few months. There is a bar and restaurant attached and before my shift I would brew and drink a pot of coffee while writing in the empty bar. It was the best thing ever. I owe those amazing people a lot of coffee.
In Halifax I washed dishes before receiving another blessed grant, after which I worked in another small brewery—from which I’ve got a day off today. For a few months I ran the labeller and made six packs. Making six packs involves making one tray and filling it with four six packs, then—four at a time, two beers in each hand—filling the sixers, closing them, dating them, and sending them down the line. I followed some guiding light to the position of Filler, a shift that lasts anywhere between ten and thirteen hours. I fill the bottles, or rather I man the apparatus that fills the bottles. Never mind how that works. And never take this job. When a weak bottle goes through the filler it blows up in your face.
In that time I’ve written two books of short stories, failed to write one novel, and am currently trying not to fail to write another novel. I’ve never made a living as a writer, because I’ve never really tried. But I’ve always made a living and wrote.
This is not advice. I’m just saying is all.