I’ve been on a job-application binge the last two weeks. I’d love to say that employers are banging down my door, but sadly this is not the case. I wonder if it’s my answer to the where-do-you-see-yourself-in-five-years question, which has come up repeatedly and never fails to annoy me. What’s the right answer to that one, anyway? I hope to be alive, let’s say, still clothed and with a roof over my head. Still married, still writing, still free to walk the streets. Clearly the answer to an employer should fall along the lines of: I hope to be moving up the ranks! Acquiring new skills! Happily and slavishly devoted to the man, hoo-ah!

Look, I get it, and I can bullshit with the best of them. But what about my real work? What about writing? Where do I go from here?

I can’t decide whether it’s helpful to think long-term about writing. I tend to be a goal-oriented person and a real worker bee, but even knowing that about myself and retracing my steps as a writer doesn’t seem to indicate any clear direction for my future. I’ve considered starting a series with my next book. I have some rough ideas about what that might look like and it isn’t unappealing. But writing a series scares me a little. It’s such a long-term commitment, and what if the first one bombs? Or worse, what if I got bored with the characters? Boredom is death for a writer. Imagine slogging through book three of a trilogy when you were sick of the world you’d made by the end of book one.

Maybe it would be better to stick to single titles. I could write a sexed-up new adult book, maybe, or try to make like Gillian Flynn and hit the lottery with book three by sticking to my tried-and-true. Psychological suspense is the bomb-diggity as far as I’m concerned; I could write this stuff for a long time before it got old. But what if my thrillers aren’t that good, what if they wither on the vine? Would I bail? Try a new genre? Throw myself at my agent and demand that he hand over a bestselling plot?

I have no idea. All I can see at the moment is the manuscript under my nose, begging me to finish the rewrite.

What about you? Where do you imagine you’ll be in five years, writing or otherwise?

Photo by Aneta Bartos

Photo by Aneta Bartos

46 responses

  1. I’ve always HATED that question. I’ve answered it many time during yearly reviews, and if I hadn’t served up the line of bullshit like you mention, and answered it honestly? I’d have said, “Not here.” That was the answer in my head.

    What about you? Where do you imagine you’ll be in five years, writing or otherwise? Thank God I can speak honestly for once to this question. I’d love to be able to support this little family here with writing. Nothing else…that’s all I want.

  2. In 5 years, I’d like to have a part-time job at the library. My god, that sounds so fucking small, doesn’t it? I mean, a person is supposed to look forward to future that is bigger and better, right? But all I want is a nice job that doesn’t take too much from me. I suppose by then, my eldest will be applying to college and my little one will probably be getting her period.I suppose I will still be trying to fit writing in on the edges of everything else. I know my writing will never make money, or if it did it would not be enough, but I hope that by then, I will have a memoir finished, a nonfiction thing I’ve been dreaming of finished, and another novel in the works.

    You should do the series. Three is good.

    • I’ve pulled way back from my day-job aspirations, too (not that they were set all that high to begin with), which is why the five-year question on a job application makes me so uncomfortable. I don’t want to move up, I don’t care about the money, I just want something to put into our savings account so my husband doesn’t have to work until he’s 80. But it sounds so uninspired, put that way.

      Thank god for Josey’s answer, which I will cut and paste from here on out.

  3. In five years, besides still breathing and vertical, I’d like to be considered the Grandma Moses of writing, doing interviews about how prophetic it was to hang in, and how it all went big-time in 2013.

    • Me too, joplingirl, me too.

      Those 5 yr questions on office applications or reviews are nothing but bullshit. I still remember the first time I had to answer it. I said to my coworker, “It’s asking me where I want to be in 5 years, and if I’m willing to relocate. I’m not willing to relocate.”

      To which she replied, “No no no. They’ll blackball you. You say, YES! Of course I’d love to relocate! And then if it ever actually comes up, you say, Not right now. Just tell them what they want to hear. Next year they’ll want to hear something else anyway.

  4. “In today’s economy, with the record breaking speed of new technology continuously changing the landscape of how we work and what we do, it’s impossible for anyone to say where they see their career in five years. I would like to hope that I am happy and productive in an organization that is as adaptable as I am.”

    isn’t it funny how our “what ifs” most always take us down the scary road? i do it too, “what if…the worst possible thing that could happen happens?”

    of course, we could always go the other way. there just thoughts, right? but i don’t know if enough of us are wired to turn our collective conscious in that direction, “what if in the next year, my books start selling like hot cakes and writing novels is my forever full-time job?” “what if i start playing around with a series idea and i fall in the love with everything about it, the characters, the plotlines, the settings, EVERYTHING?” “what if i just do what makes me the happiest right now and see where that leads?”

    (sorry, i followed a rabbit hole this morning that led to Carl Jung’s The Red Book and have been letting it linger in my gray matter ever since.)

    • Queen bullshitter, here’s your crown. Seriously, I’m using that answer next time it comes up on an application.

      I LOVE your optimism. Of course, something great could happen and my books could sell like hotcakes — I won’t say it’s never come up as a writerly wet dream. But I can’t let myself really hope for it that hard. So I’m just going with the happy-for-the moment idea, and whatever will be will be.

    • This is pretty darn true, and I think it’s a great “answer” for that question. maybe the goal for job-hunting is to find a boss/company that won’t suck the life out of you. Someone or place that gets irony and out-of-the-box thought-structure. I applaud you for answering those questions honestly and intelligently.

      That said, I like the idea of the NA series!!

  5. Still writing, I hope. And still running, I hope. An occasionally seeing or hearing from my offspring, if they have the time for me. Ideally, I’d like to make enuf money from my writing to be able to retire and live quietly.It thinks is almost realistic. (So far I’ve made $10.15 — literally — from my fiction.)

    As for what I’ll be writing, I’m eager to learn that. My Fathers and Sons stories seemed to have come out of nowhere, so I won’t be surprised if I’m diving into some wholly unexpected story or stories. And I’ll be glad of that.

    • I’m jealous of the stories that come out of nowhere. I have to get out the pickaxe to dig mine up, and usually I have to enlist some help for the heavy lifting. Maybe my five-year dreams should be to come up with something all on my own.

  6. “What about you? Where do you imagine you’ll be in five years, writing or otherwise?”

    As it is with you, so I hope it will be with me: still clothed, still housed, still married, still writing, still free to walk many streets during the daylight hours and some streets in the night.

    Susan and I are moving to Chicago next week. I’m nervous as a virgin and beset by disturbing dreams. Sometimes while awake, Susan and I are clashing under the pressure of such a great transition.

    Say, hey, here I am, I’m going to go on about it a little more. She was born and raised in Chicago. Life took her elsewhere, as life will do. In those other places she found some of what she was looking for, lost some of what she had hoped to keep, ended up with me, and decided she wanted to go back home and hoped I would want to go there with her. I decided I was up for that.

    For a year-and-a-half we planned and saved and then, this spring, it was time to put the plans into action and the savings to work. Three weeks ago she flew up to Chicago (we’re in Albuquerque) to attend the wedding of a nephew and spend a week looking for a place for us to live in come the beginning of August. With my logistical and communications support she was able to secure us an apartment on the upper north side, just south of Evanston, a few blocks from the El, and a block from Lake Michigan.

    We’re not wealthy and do not envision the prospect of same–my dream of writing a literary best-seller has vanished, replaced with the dream of doing the best work I can in the time I have left–so I am going to need a job PDQ. As soon as I had a Chicago address, I updated my resume and began contacting potential employers. Yesterday I was able to secure an interview the afternoon of my second day in the city, with a firm I believe I very much want to work at.

    As for writing… writing? Yes! Still! Things have been in the understandable turmoil that comes with a transcontinental residence shift and I haven’t been doing much writing. In fact, my comments here on your blog are almost all the writing I’ve been doing these past two months. But I have a dream… I always have a dream… not one of those disturbing ones where I’m lost in a vast train station while strangers try to steal my bags, but rather, the waking dream of my work–my true work–my writing. There are several books calling to me for me to write them, and I do intend to heed those calls. (Plus, there are several I have already written that have not yet found publishers, so I’ll be getting back to work on that, too.)

    My twenty-five-year-old son, Owen, is taking a week off work to accompany me to Chicago (Susan is flying and I am driving). This coming weekend we load up the rental truck. Monday morning, Owen and I set out on the great drive, pacing ourselves to arrive in Chicago on the 1st and off-load the truck. That day, Susan and the two cats we’ve been able to keep will fly in and join us. The next day is my job interview (the first and I hope the last), and the day after that, Owen flies back home. His home. Not mine any longer.

    I have a spiffy new wirelessy laptop and will post what I can, on my site and on Facebook and in any appropriate comments here, while I’m on the road and after I arrive in the cozy new apartment by the lake, in one of the world’s largest, most important, and most challenging cities (whole lotta shootin’ goin’ on).

    • Chicago makes me a little nervous, I’ll admit, because I’m such a country mouse. But it’s also big and exciting, and you and Susan will have tons of new places to explore together. I think you’re a brave and generous husband to take her back home where she wants to be. I hope you’ll come to love it there as much as she does.

      (And if those dreams you mention involve bees or other stinging insects, you have us standing by, ready to interpret them for you.)

      Be safe during the move, my friend. I can’t wait to hear your first impressions.


    • You’re a good guy Tet. You are ‘showing’ Owen that change is sometimes the most noble of commitments to the ones we love. Enjoy this time with your son, it’s a gift.
      Happy job interview too.

  7. I recently sat through an interview where the guy wanted this new hire to do everything from answering the phones, writing all the documentation, writing white papers in the industry, acting as a help desk by carrying a phone 24/7 and training doctors and nurses on site at hospitals. The person needed to be available around the clock, including weekends and all holidays, and willing to travel. And there was more! Much more! Right then I committed to starting my own business. I hope it succeeds because even the thought of being subjected to that again bums me out.

    As far as writing, I haven’t written a word of fiction in weeks. Two agents told me they don’t believe in my current story, but think my writing is beautiful and asked if I have any other projects. I don’t. Only the other one that bombed last year. It seems a definitive thing that I will never make it as a novelist, so I better get on with it.

    • “It seems a definitive thing that I will never make it as a novelist.”

      Whoa. Back up the truck, chickadee. I have a list of rejections as long as my arm. You’ve got to send that shit OUT. Query WIDELY. When you hit the 60-70 rejections mark, then what you do is write the next book, having learned from your mistakes, and query that one. Lather, rinse, repeat.

      You’re allowed to be bummed. You are not allowed to give up.

  8. I would love to at least be enrolled in a PhD program, if not already in the thick of it. I already have the college picked out – commutable distance from my house and everything. If I had to pick one thing, that’s what I want.

    • You are so together! Knowing what you want is the first and biggest step toward getting it. Now you just need to string together the baby steps that will take you there.

  9. In five years? Dreading the moment when my oldest daughter gets her learner’s permit.

    Other than that, I really, really don’t know.

    • My daughter is driving now. She’s already crashed her car by taking a corner too fast and panicking when she should have been hitting the brakes. (She’s fine, and hopefully it’s taught her to slow down, but still my blood runs cold.)

      Be afraid.

  10. The five year question has always paralyzed me. Lately I’ve been trying to focus more on the short term, since thinking long-term is wigging me out (Will there be jobs? Health? Financial security? Cue screaming.) One day at a time, baby.

  11. This is the question I try very hard never to think about, damn it! But I do love that answer Josey gave – hope it’s not copyrighted 😉

    My only answer is this. Not here. And by that I mean physically…in this city. As well as everything else. With any luck, I’ll be earning an online living and travelling the world or…at least living in a warm third world country teaching English? I don’t know…

    Now that your armed with an answer to that question, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if you get the next job you apply for – so goodluck! 🙂

    • That was my goal, too, five years ago (and ten, and twenty). It took me forever, but all it really needed was a plan.

      I wonder if that’s why the five-year question is wigging me out. I’m used to planning things, you know? I like the step-by-step advancement. Only now I don’t know where I’m going, so a plan for the future is no help at all.

      • I suppose we could fire the same question back at them…? Something like, “Well, my answer to that question depends on the company. where do you think the company will be in five years?” 🙂 Of course, that could be perceived as being a smart ass more than likely…

  12. Great post and – as always – these are issues specific to my everyday worries. I also have five years of high school left with my youngest so that means five serious writing years in this house before I may overturn everything. So I have my list too. Overhaul two novels I have here, finish the new short story collection I’ve started, raise my profile, keep depression at bay and shoehorn my kids into their careers (no writers thank goodness but a composer and a singer dammit). Ahh Averil I hear you.

    • I’m cracking up about the shoehorning comment, because that’s exactly what I’m doing with my actor son. Seattle’s going to be good for him, so at the moment I’m trying to get him well wedged-in before I think about where to go from here.

        • i-clause — may i call you i-clause? — i would be embarrassed to show you the list i made when i was 19 of all the books i was to have written and published by the time i was 30. i no longer have that list but i do remember its youthful, ignorant optimism. as it was, i’ve had but one book published and that didn’t come till i was — let me see if i can count that high — i was 53.

          don’t give up. now get back to work. (and pay no attention to the man behind the avatar.)

  13. I never, ever think about this.
    I never expected to live to be 30, so the whole life planning thing never really happened. Maybe that’s why I still live in dread of going to sleep, and why my first thought of the day is Fuck, I’m still alive.

    I keep my delicate hold on sanity by not worrying about money, or trying to get anywhere financially.
    This frees me to live a simple life, to write what I want to, and in five years I would be very happy to be healthy, alive, and have completed the four books I currently have planned, in such a way I’m kind of happy with them.
    To have ideas for more stories would be great too.

    We live and we learn, and sometimes things work out how we want, and sometimes, even when they don’t, they still work out great. So mostly, in five years, I’ll be happy just to still be here.