Jen B. Larson is a writer, musician, and teacher. She’s the author of the forthcoming book Hit Girls: Women of Punk in the USA, 1975-1983. Composed as a series of profiles, the book seeks to foreground women who have not received significant coverage of their contributions to punk music. It’s a much needed addition to a growing literature on this era of music.
How did you get to where you are today, professionally?
I studied English literature, creative writing, and philosophy in undergrad because I wanted to be a writer. At the time, I thought it was the only thing I could do. Looking back, I should have studied graphic design or something; I was a terrible English major. Although I intended to be a professional writer during undergrad and for some time after, I could only get freelance work or jobs that didn’t pay me enough for it to be my only full-time job. I graduated in the middle of the late aughts recession. I worked retail, dog-walking, and service industry jobs to pay the bills. I was playing in punk bands and taking comedy writing classes at night, but I had no free time. I didn’t like the instability, the 50+ hour weeks, or what it was doing to my brain.
I wanted to do meaningful writing for a living, but the only work I was getting was low-paying and soul-sucking. I wanted life experience and expertise in a field, but, in terms of writing, I was only getting all these part-time jobs writing copy, usually on topics I didn’t know or even want to know that much about. Stuff like descriptions of laser hair removal services or bulk industrial storage bins or medical blood transfusion devices. I wrote a column about financial literacy for college students on Aol., but I wasn’t financially literate myself—I could barely save a hundred bucks a week. I did some SEO stuff early on. I would go to this office in a skyscraper downtown Chicago and sit in a room with ten other people. We would all work in Google spreadsheets with our headphones on, taxonomizing words. That felt particularly bleak. I was barely making enough to get by. It was wearing me thin, and by that point, I had no creative energy left for my own projects.