Friday, December 17, 2010

Writing Like It's Your Job

I ran across a writing article in the webberworlds that set me off a little. The well-intentioned writer made the suggestion that, to succeed as a writer, one must treat it like a job.

That's a great idea. You have to be serious about it, commit to it, write whether there's a muse standing over your shoulder dishing you inspiration or not. Yes, write like it's your job.

She then, however, went on to describe what that looked like--her method was to work on her writing, whatever stage she was at, from 9-5 everyday. She didn't work on the weekends. She wrote, literally, like it was her job.

So here's the thing. Show of hands, everybody--who here has the ability to actually treat writing like a job? I sure don't. I work in an office from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. every day. I don't have the option to write eight hours a day. If I didn't write on the weekends, I'd never get anything accomplished. I have to piece my schedule together like a puzzle in order to carve out time to write.

The thing is--it wasn't that she gave her schedule. It's that she didn't give any other option. The only way, if you took this article at face value, to write like it's your job is to not have any other job. That's just not practical for most of us, is it?

Here's my take. This semester, I was a part-time student in addition to working full time. I budgeted my non-work time to make sure I completed assigned reading, got work done on my research paper, all that good stuff. Most of us can't be full-time writers. But we can be efficient part-time writers. We just have to take the committment seriously, and budget our time accordingly. Everyone's different, but seeing how effective I was at meeting deadlines for class made me rethink the value of setting writing/revision/editing goals and actually giving myself assignments.

Then there's the issue of balance. I bet most of us aren't just two things--employee/student and writer. I bet most of us are also "friend" "brother/sister" "homeowner/roommate/tenant" "father/mother" "husband/wife" "volunteer" "pet owner" "partridge" and/or "pear tree" in addition. The article made a good point that, if you're balancing all these things, it's a terrible idea to "earn" writing time by first cleaning the house and taking care of the kids. If you make yourself complete a laundry list, plus the laundry, before you write, you'll never get done.

What it didn't address was balance. Come on--you know you have to clean the house sometime, right? And the laundry doesn't do itself. And if people are going to eat in my house, well, I best get in the kitchen (unless I want to force down my husband's version of spaghetti, which includes bratwurst). You're allowed to admit that you need balance. You're allowed to admit that you can do it all, but not at the same time, and that this might mean taking a day "off" from writing to unearth your cat from a mountain of laundry and eliminate a herd of dust bunnies from underneath the sofa.

Because, in the end, while you sure would get a lot done if there was nothing in your life but writing, would you really be happy? I wouldn't. I crave all the elements of my life--professional, personal, and writing.

PS So I blathered about my ideals, ignoring the practical "how" question, but writer-friend Julie has an excellent post about making time to write--and made the AWESOME point, regarding balance, that she'd rather be remembered for her books than her awesomely clean house. The next time I decide to write for the afternoon instead of cleaning the toothpaste spatter from the bathroom mirror, I'm remembering that sentiment!

PPS Of course, enter to win free books! Not many entries yet--so your chances are very good!


Noelle Pierce said...

I used to feel this way, but I'd always had this nagging voice in my head telling me that I tend to get apathetic with jobs, even if I love what I do (as much as I enjoy teaching, there are weeks I wake up thinking, "I don't wanna do it."). And then I read a blog post by Elana Johnson about how if she treated writing like a job, the fun would be gone. As I read that, I kept thinking, YEAH! That's how I feel!

Now, don't get me wrong, I still tend to write every day (or nearly every's been more off than on in the last month). But I've given up the "think of it like a job" campaign, because that's just *not* how I roll. I appreciate others can do it, but I can't. And that's what works for me. Especially before it actually IS a job. <--wishful thinking. *grin*

Caroline said...

I've seen a few posters on Nathan Bransford's forums that work full-time, go to school, come home cook/clean/play with the kids, and then go write into the wee hours of the morning. No freaking way! I can't look at writing as just another thing on my daily to-do list, but I do need to make a daily (or perhaps weekly) time for me to write. If I did this, then maybe it will take me less than 10 years to finish my next MS. :-)

Rowenna said...

Thanks for your thoughts, ladies! Noelle--I think we're thinking the same thing in different ways, if that makes sense--you're allowed to make a commitment to your writing, however that works for you. For me, it will probably never be a 9-5!

Caroline--I know, that totally speaks to the balance thing--I forgot to mention "sleep" as a requisite element in my life! I'm going to try to be more conscious about making time to write, because it's worth it :)

Maybelle Leung said...

Wonderful point! I never got myself *that* committed or efficient with writing, but I definitely felt that way with piano when I was in music. I ended up being so uninspired that I just gave up on the ordeal... because you have to have the heart, in addition to the practice, to make something good.

I still think it's a good idea to have a schedule to get yourself rolling, and sometimes you don't feel inspired until you start getting deeper into the work. It would be nice to break writing down into small chunks - say, a bit in the morning, and a bit at night - so you won't have to be overwhelmed and think, "Oh God, I have to write 3000 words in the next 3 hours!" I feel that works for me.

And true, a variety interests is always good for writing :D It's literally creating an alternate reality.