In my early 20s, I fantasised about getting paid to write fiction. I imagined I’d get a job that involved little work but required me to sit in front of a computer all day. I’d write my first novel while taking home a paycheck. Here was the equation I believed to be true: Time+Paycheck=Novel.
I was living in Jerusalem and found my literary Shangri-La as a writer and typist in the Israeli Prime Minister’s office. I couldn’t believe my luck. I’d be living the dream and giving my parents naches at the same time. I now had time, a paycheck and mathematically, I’d soon have a novel.
If only my equation had been accurate.
At first, I was productive. By 10am I’d finished my “day job” and started writing fiction. I’d had the idea of 13-year-old twins who learn that they and their entire suburban community were actually beings from another planet who’d tried to fit in, lost the ability to morph and then forgot who they were (I was in my early 20s!). Within the first few weeks, I wrote the first chapter, in which a washed-up journalist stumbles upon the town and notices bizarre occurrences, like the leaves spontaneously falling off the maple trees and then growing back the next day.
My two fellow typists were supportive of my writing but one of my bosses resented it. Whenever she spotted the novel on my monitor, she’d make up jobs for me to do, like re-filing already organised documents. Another woman from the legal department used to come in and have me type her personal letters. Afterwards, she’d pat me on the head like I was a puppy.
I still had time to write but as the weeks passed I found it increasingly difficult to focus. It wasn’t just being interrupted whenever I got into a rhythm. The atmosphere was anaesthetising. A second boss refused to learn how to use her computer on principle since it wasn’t in her job description. Other staff members refused to learn how to operate the fax or copier, fearing that if they did, they might be asked to use them. People were underpaid and unhappy and, like me, they were trying not to work.