by Jenna Reisch
Have you ever considered a career in writing? This week’s interview features writer, Roy Christopher, author of Follow for Now, who describes his unconventional career as an academic and para-academic writer. Read on!
If you could give yourself a job title, what would it be?
RC: Once I was unemployed during tax time, and I got to the end of my taxes where it asks for your occupation. I toyed with several ridiculous titles (e.g., Freelance Rabble Rouser, Mind Terrorist, Poet, Intergalactic Warlord, etc.). I think I settled on Writer, as I thought the others would surely get me audited.
If the word “theorist” didn’t sound so pretentious, I’d just say I was a Media Theorist. Writer definitely works though. Almost everything I do and want to do involves writing in some form.
The goal of our blog, Unconventional Jobs, is to give the public information about different professions and hobbies that are unique, cool, fun, etc. Our motto is: “think outside the cubicle”.
As a writer, what makes your job unique and unconventional?
RC: I’m able to get by because I do other things besides write. That’s the first unconventional part: being okay with focusing on something because I want to do it, not because it pays. I’m also fortunate enough to have found a line of work (academia) that is pretty well integrated into my writing and allows me to pursue it without much hindrance.
With that said, the open schedule and the freedom are probably the two main things. The open schedule is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because I tend to thrive in a project-oriented, deadline-driven environment, so the 40-hour-a-week, 9-5 gig doesn’t really work for me. It’s a curse because writing is often largely driven by inspiration, so often deadlines come before real inspiration, forcing me to turn in work that maybe wasn’t up to my standards. It happens less and less as one becomes a better writer, but it still happens.
By “the freedom,” I mean not only the personal, day-to-day freedom as above, but also the freedom to explore my interests. For the most part, I write about the things I am passionate about. The freedom to follow my curiosity that writing affords turns nearly everything else I do into research for my writing. It makes my whole life fun and full.
You’ve written Follow for Now, which I read in my Writing in Electronic Media course at the University of Illinois, Chicago. I also read on your blog, that you are in the process of putting together another book.
How did you get started in academic writing and what interested you the most? Is research a large part of this career?
RC: Well, academic writing, strictly speaking, is done for academic journals and is mostly written by scholars for other scholars. What I do and want to do is either called “para-academic” writing or “public intellectualism.” I’m not really interested in writing strictly for an academic audience. I want to write about smart stuff, but to write about it for everyone.
How I got into this is probably a longer story than we have room for, but I’ll try to make it brief. After several years of doing music journalism, writing for magazines about bands and records, I read a book by James Gleick called ‘Chaos’. It blew my head wide open. I suddenly realized I wanted to do so much more. From there I read tons of “sciencey” books until I zeroed in on what interested me most (which turns out to be human communication and technology), and I went back to school to study it, which is where I still am.
Research is a huge part of this. As I mentioned above, following my interests turns almost everything I do into research, but good, old-fashioned reading and note-taking are also a big part of it. Fortunately, I love that stuff!
It must be a pretty amazing book! That’s a cool way to realize that human communication and technology is really what you’re interested in studying.
What are your future goals in terms of your writing and do you have any recommendations or tips for people who are interested in pursuing a career in academic writing/research?
RC: My goal is to write for a living, but that’s kind of like saying I want to play guitar for a living. One doesn’t just go do that. So, academia is my back-up. Fortunately, the two are closely related. That is, the subjects I research teach, and write about in school are fairly aligned with the subjects I want to write books about anyway.
As far as getting into this line of work, the academic route is pretty established: get the degrees, do the research, get published, get tenure, continue. As for the work I’m trying to do outside the academy, it’s all about building a name for yourself. The tools for that are readily available and growing, but the work spreading the word is up to you.