Happy Wondering Wednesday, Readers!
This week, we’re contemplating the various means of keeping the writing dream alive while responding to the call of reality.
The image of a struggling writer trying to make ends meet while devoting time and attention to his/her craft is so common it’s almost a cliche by now. It’s almost guaranteed that any writer who hasn’t yet made a career out of writing would be, at some point in his or her life, juggling the demands of real life and the dream. And by real life, we mean the day job. Or jobs. Because let’s be real here, those bills need paying. Commitments abound. Adulting is hard. To find time to write a novel – and get published – is an awesome feat in itself.
Here’s what it’s like for us:
A year ago, I was holding a regional role as the editor-in-chief of a digital fashion magazine. Crazy times. I felt like I was constantly juggling a bunch of stuff and not holding on to anything very well. There was always a new project coming up and a million other things running in the background. My window was always crammed with tabs, so to speak.
It got to a point where I sat back and asked myself why I was doing this. What joy was it bringing me? Why did I feel like such a failure at my job and why was it making me so miserable? Why was I letting my day job run my life – and drive me to this state – when I didn’t even plan on doing this as a career? I started as a writer, and things were so much simpler then, and I was much happier when I was writing (even if it was about fashion and beauty, not fiction).
Needless to say, my writing suffered in the two years I was in that role. I barely had anymore head-space left to think about my manuscript. I neglected it for as long as I was preoccupied by work, and felt like the biggest fraud. A writer who doesn’t write, well, isn’t a writer.
YA author Laini Taylor once said, in this post that I always come back to every now and then, to never put your dream in your pocket.
“There will be pressure to adjust your expectations, always shrinking them, shrinking, shrinking, until they fit in your pocket like a folded slip of paper, and you know what happens to folded slips of paper in your pocket. They go through the wash and get ruined. Don’t ever put your dream in your pocket.”
“And “backup plan” is code for, “Give up on your dreams,” and everyone I know who put any energy into a backup plan is now living that backup plan instead of their dream. Put all your energy into your dream. That’s the only way it will ever become real.”
Eventually, my misery drove me to see the light. I scaled back at work, stepped down from the regional role, and made time to write every evening, every morning, every weekend.
It could be on the commute to work, where I’d write on my phone, or during lunch break where everyone (fortunately) has their own plans and I can squeeze in some quality time alone with the manuscript. It could be a paragraph or two, even a short dialogue or scene, maybe a chapter. Point is, I found whatever pockets of time I had and wrote. I also agree very much with Nicole – decide what it is you are willing to sacrifice, because some sacrifices will definitely need to be made in order to get the words written.
Cliched as it might be, this dream can only come to fruition if I do my part and finish the manuscripts. And there’s always going to be one thing or other coming up, taking up your time, demanding for your attention. You are the only one who can put your foot down and defend your writing time fiercely, the only one who can give your manuscript the time and attention and devotion it deserves.
This is the eternal struggle for writers isn’t it? I’ve gone through periods of solid creativity, where I was able to crank out chapters alongside all the other work I was doing for my job/degree (hey, doing a PhD is totally a job, ok?). But I’ve also gone through those crappy periods where the days blur together and you feel like your to-do list never ends, where work is your life and suddenly it’s the weekend or you have a free evening and you’re just too tired to do anything, let alone create worlds inside your mind.
Once you move from the former to the latter, it’s rough to get back into the habit of creating regularly. I’m going through a wee rough patch at the moment, with a switch to full-time at work – which means my already wonky schedule is even more irregular – and a move to a new apartment, which drains the bank account as well as the brain account. I haven’t had a solid day of writing in months now, but do I still consider myself a writer? Well, yeah, I do, not gonna lie. Because as much as “real” writing is applying the seat of one’s pants to the chair and actually writing, it’s also the in-between daydreaming and plotting. The character development and arc-building. It’s the details and (for historical fiction especially) the research. So I’m still trying to fit all of these things in when I can, in stolen moments at work, or at home, with the knowledge that someday I will be able to sit down, process everything I’ve absorbed, and use it in my writing. And the same goes for when shit hits the fan in real life – my go-to reaction now is “Oh this is definitely going in my novel.”
Right now, since we don’t have Internet at our new place (and I’m currently writing this after work using their email…), I’m hoping to take advantage of this lack of the Internet gremlin, which always steals my concentration, and get back into some actual writing.
Tl;dr, life gets in the way, but it won’t forever. Writing will always be there, when you’re ready. Your characters and imagination are always with you (in a cool and not creepy way), and then, when you do have time to write, use it well.
(Now, I just need to take my own advice!)
This is not an easy task. At all. I’m actually really lucky with the way it works out of me now. During my “day” job (in quotations because I work evenings), I’m able to sneak in a little writing while I’m waiting for patrons who need my help, which is really lovely. Because that’s not a reality for a lot of people. So, I always get my daily work To-Do list done and then I immediately set out to get my writing word count goal met for the day after that, so I don’t get distracted and suddenly hours go by and I missed another day not writing.
But I’ve also been in the situation where I don’t have that luxury, so on top of working and living, I got to fit in writing. To me, that means sacrifice. What are you willing to give up in order to fit writing in? Let’s take an average day for an average person. Between working 8am-5pm, commuting, coming home and making dinner, it might be 7pm before you’re ready to settle down for the evening. And then you have a bunch of options: relax by watching TV, reading a book, playing video games, writing a blog post, whatever your hobby is. Or perhaps you like to exercise and do that in the evenings. Or need to take fluffy for a walk. So now you gotta decide whether or not you’re going to do that or write instead. But what if you don’t live alone, but live with your family? A partner? Or have a family of your own? Suddenly, your time restraints have become complicated beyond levels that you can count. How do you fit it in, then?
My advice? Be ridiculously honest with yourself and your life. For me, if I wasn’t able to sneak in writing at work, I’d have to do it in the mornings, after I ran and cooked dinner for the night, which meant that I’d be giving up video games. Or I’d have to write during my dinner breaks and give up my reading time. When I was in college, I often gave up hanging out with my friends in order to fit in another chapter, even sporadically.
But only you know what you can and won’t give up for your writing. Perhaps you won’t have to give up anything at all and are able to fit it in just fine. And that’s awesome. But figure that out with brutal honesty. Have the conversations you need to have, with friends, family and partners, so they understand why that time is important to you and help you protect it. And then protect it, with the reality that sometimes, life is going to get in the way and you won’t write. Or hell, perhaps something will come up and you’ll choose not to. And that’s okay, too. But don’t let this struggle keep you from chasing this dream.
Try and fail and try and succeed and do it all over again, every day.
Did you find our advice helpful, cathartic or downright daunting? How do you find time to write? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!