When you want to be a writer, but also want to eat…
Passion is a strong cup of coffee. When it’s hot and fresh it keeps you awake and moving. Let it sit and it gets stale and bitter, choking you before being sent down the drain. Writing is passion that loves pursuit, but I’ve found it’s also a jaded and slightly off balance girlfriend who, when you’re late for dinner, throws things and cusses at you in Czech. At least that’s been my experience.
The problem with the needy girlfriend is, if you – like me – haven’t come into your own as a writer, you have a ‘real’ job that also commands your attention, and has as much, if not more, right to demand it. Compound that with a wonderful spouse who likes you to be around (apparently, some don’t) and fantastic kids who are yet to decide dad is dead weight (ditto) and you can see how the writing mistress can get a little bent.
That is where I found myself as I put hands to keyboard the other night, returning to a world in its infancy, but left adrift for several weeks as real life laid claim to me. Needless to say, she wasn’t pleased to see me. To press the metaphor, she yelled at me for an hour before I finally snapped the laptop closed and turned to Richard Kadrey for relief. Sandman Slim always has a way of helping me put life into perspective.
That didn’t solve the problem of course, only exacerbated it. She didn’t hate me, she missed me and felt neglected. And she was right. I had.
So what to do when you want to be a writer, but also want to eat…plus keep your kids from being homeless and whatnot. I am no means an expert, but I’ve listened to a few and here is what I have gleaned:
- Write Every Day – If you want to be a professional, you must behave like a professional. If you don’t treat your work like it is going to pay the bills (if that is your goal) then it never will. That doesn’t mean hours and hours. Some writers wake up an hour early and set a word count goal. Others give up past times or television. When you are forced to sacrifice something you enjoy, you will learn whether you really want this or not.
- Set Limits – I’m the type that, once I am into a story, I don’t want to put it down. That doesn’t work. Dedicate time each day to your craft, and honor the limits. If your family knows that when the hour is up you’ll be back and giving them the attention they deserve, they’ll honor your time to write. If your 60 minutes always turns into 4 hours, don’t be surprised at the bitterness.
- Know Yourself – Everyone writes differently, and works better in certain circumstances. If you are a morning person, forcing yourself to write from 11 to midnight isn’t going to be productive. Go to bed early and get up at 4, and you’ll get twice as much done and feel better to boot. Make the most of the time you spend.
- Maximize your Time – Just because you aren’t writing, doesn’t mean your story isn’t growing. I find myself plotting and coming up with the best parts of my stories in the most unlikely of places. I have a file on my phone to write down ideas throughout the day as they come, so as not to distract me from my work, but those ideas help form the words I write in my dedicated time, allowing me to write more, and imagine less in that time.
- Don’t Quit – Writing an hour or two a day will certainly slow down the completion of your 10 book, 5 million word epic epic fantasy, but slow and steady truly can win the race. Sure you felt more fulfilled spending 36 hours of your weekend neck deep in your world, but if you do that for long, the next time you pull your head out you may find nobody left in this one. Set realistic goals for yourself and stick to them, and in the end, your finished work may be better off for the time you spent away from the keyboard.
I’m no professional, nor do I claim to be. But these rules have helped keep my family from abandoning me during my journey. Maybe they’ll help you too. I borrowed most of them, and stole the rest, so feel free to do the same. But if you remember anything, make it #5. Don’t Quit. Some of the best stories ever told weren’t because the writer got tired, I’m convinced. Stay at it, stay at it, stay at it. And when you’re done, start again.
Until next time, may all your word babies have ten fingers and ten toes…unless they are aliens, in which case the physiology is your problem.