August 12th, 2011

Myths of the Full-Time Writer

When I was in high-school, I read Banana Yoshimoto’s Kitchen (a great book, by the way). In the acknowledgements, she thanks her boss who let her write when she was supposed to be waiting tables. A light went on in my tiny teenaged brain–“Ah, that’s how you do it!”

That is not, as it turns out, how you do it. Most employers expect you to do the work you’re hired to do, and most writers, at least the ones I know, do something besides writing. Many of us simply have a full-time job and write evenings, weekends, and the occasional vacation. But even famous folks teach classes, edit journals and books, raise kids, and write for magazines–I can’t think of more than a handful of people in Canada who simply never do anything else than their own creative work.

*However*, there’s never and then there’s sometimes–many of us, if we are wily or lucky or both, can wrangle a period of time just for writing. I, for example, got to take a few months to focus on my new book, courtesy of the Canada Council, and I am most grateful.

However however, when you are slogging away in the salt mines, dreaming of perfect days spent with your perfect book, you might not accurately perceive how your life as a full-time writer might be. I didn’t, and since sometimes other people are like me, I thought I’d share my learnings with you, in hopes that your future transitions to full-time writing life, temporary or permanent, might be smoother than mine.

Myth #1: If I want to write full-time, I need to quit my job. This is totally true for some people, but not for everyone. It can’t hurt to ask for time off, if in fact you don’t *want* to quit. I like the people I work for and with, and most days enjoy my job pretty well, so I was eager to arrange my leave so I could come back at the end. On the other hand, if you hate your work, dread your colleagues, and dream of leaping into a fiery pit every morning as you board the bus, maybe you should consider quitting and using your post-writing hours to find a new job.

If, like me, you want to stay, think about the logistics. I was startled by how flexible and supportive my managers were about my leave, but they were also being logical–I wasn’t leaving work behind that would languish or be dumped on a colleague, and there was an easy way to suspend my pay. I knew colleagues had taken somewhat similar leaves and how it had worked for them, which is an important thing to know.

I think there are some companies that just have a “no leaves except for health” policy, and that’s pretty much that. If that’s the case for you, or you just don’t feel comfortable asking, another suggestion might be to try to scale back your hours and work part-time. I’ve done this in the past and it is *very* nice to have a day or two a week to work on nothing but writing. Just a thought!

Myth #2: The only thing holding me back from writing more is time. When I’m able, I will write all day every day. Who knows, this might be true for you–it wasn’t for me! I got a lot of writing done, yes–much more than if I’d had to jam it all into evenings and weekends. But I had a really hard time putting in uninterrupted days–at the very least, I had to go to the gym and run a few errands, and often I’d try to see another human being or something too (more on this below).

I got a lot of advice on how to be productive in unstructured time, most of which didn’t work for me but I’ll pass it on to you in case you can use it:
–write first thing in the morning, before doing anything else
–set a word-count goal and don’t stop writing until you reach it
–make a schedule and follow it every day, until it gets to be routine
–unplug the phone; don’t answer your email
–write in the morning, read in the afternoon (or vice versa)

Basically, I wound up doing whatever worked for the day–and mainly it worked pretty well. Some days wound up being wasted wreckages of clean floors and telemarketers, but I think that’s normal. Normal for me, anyway.

Myth #3: Writers are lone wolves, fuelled and solaced by their own imaginative creations. Again, maybe this applies to you. Actually, I’m one of the very few writers I know who self-identifies as an extrovert. That doesn’t mean that I’m not incredibly socially awkward, nor that I’m not often paralyzed by shyness–just that talking to other people, even just briefly, even about shallow or boring things, makes me happier than not doing so. And if I can actually have an interesting conversation with someone I like, home-run. One of my favourite things about my job is my varied and fascinating colleagues; I missed them and their daily chitter-chat intensely.

I would’ve been even worse off had I lived alone during this period; in fact, I probably wouldn’t have tried a leave when I did. As it was, I was octupus-like when my co-habitant returned home: clingy, intense, eager for mindless news of the outside world (ok, I don’t know if octopii enjoy mindless news). However, I did know about this extremely social side of my personality and took steps to bolster it accordingly–I made a lot of lunch plans with friends, used Air Miles to get gift-certificates to cafes and restaurants with Wi-Fi so I’d be able to work elsewhere than on the homefront, called my parents very often (they’re retired; it’s perfect!)

One of the best things I did on my leave was return to the habit of writing in the company of Kerry Clare. We used to do this after work in a cafe, but the birth of her daughter, Harriet, ended that. But this new version was even better, as we wrote during Harriet’s naptime and then, as a reward for all that work, we got to play when she woke up. Hanging around with a fellow writer gave me some good support, a spur to get to work, a source of baked goods and gossip in (somewhat) judicious amounts, and a place to go on Wednesday afternoons. If you, like me, like a little interaction with your literary efforts, I highly recommend a writing buddy. Though I doubt you’ll find one as great as Kerry, nor with as cute a toddler on hand.

Myth #4: A leave will build up some excellent writing momentum to carry me forward once I’ve returned to work and a more cramped writing lifestyle. I don’t know if many people even think about this, let alone believe it, but I did, and for me it totally wasn’t true. After so much time to do exactly what I wanted, even if I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do nor even want to make my own decisions much of the time, it has been very very challenging, not to mention exhausting, to return to a more structured existence. I am still not really back on my part-time writing horse yet–if anyone wants to write a post on that, I’d be most interested.

One Response to “Myths of the Full-Time Writer”

  • Kerry says:

    (Thank you! I miss you. I’ve been so busy with other assignments that I’ve only written one sentence of fiction in the last three weeks, but it was *so good* it’s okay. xo)

  • Leave a Reply

So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

Now and Next

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Follow Me

Good Reads

What People are saying!


Search the site