Essays, Writers on Writing

What if writing full-time isn’t right for you?

How often have you thought about quitting your day job and writing full-time? That’s what we are all supposed to be aiming for, right? Someday, we think, we will make enough money writing that we can tell our employers to take our crappy day jobs and shove ‘em where the sun don’t shine. Anyway, that’s what we’re supposed to want. But what happens if it turns out that dream isn’t right for you?

Take this job and shove it. writing meme
Take this job and shove it.

I spent a few years freelancing, and let me tell you: It was not what it was cracked up to be. I had to really hustle to make a living, and then the self-employment headaches ended up being more trouble than they were worth. The line between my personal life and my professional life blurred to the point where I felt like I was working 24/7.

And the worst part was, I wasn’t enjoying it. I was cranking out boring marketing materials and business articles that I didn’t give a crap about aside from the tiny paychecks that came with them. I spent so much time working on other people’s writing, there was never any time for my own. It was hard to justify taking time to write my Great American Novel when I could be writing for money and feeding my kids.

While I have never quite given up the idea of writing novels full-time someday, I quickly realized that simply “writing for a living” wasn’t exactly what I was looking for. My freelance writing career eventually morphed into an adjunct teaching career, and before long, I was working on MY writing again.

And while teaching in an adjunct position allowed me the flexibility I needed to finish graduate school with two kids in tow and no child support coming in, before long, I was dreaming of a regular, full-time job with health insurance and paid vacation days. I longed to be able to call in sick when I was sick without losing a full day’s pay. Suffice it to say, it turned out that I missed being able to check out of my paying job at the end of the day. Knock it if you will, but there is a certain appeal to this “nine to five pace.”

Another thing I learned about myself these past few years is that I don’t get any more writing accomplished when I’m not working than I do when I am. As a teacher, I often had several weeks off between semesters. Did I use them to write? NO! Not usually! Hardly ever! Despite my constant complaints about not having enough time to write during the semester, I somehow always managed to write more when I was working than I did when I wasn’t. I could always get so much more done in a smaller space of time than I could when I had all the time in the world.

Apparently I’m not alone. In a recent blog post, writer Marcy McKay of The Write Practice says, “If I have four hours to complete a blog post, I’ll use it and finish. If I have ninety minutes to crank out the same blog post, I’ll use it and finish.” This comment rang so true for me! How many times have I sat down to write something–anything–and found that the length of time it took me to finish always seemed to equal the length of time I had available to finish? As it turns out, I really only need as much time as I already have to write!

The length of time it takes to write something writing meme
How many times have I sat down to write something – anything – and found that the length of time it took me to finish always seemed to equal the length of time I had available to finish?

Now, try to wrap your head around what I just said. This will require a major paradigm shift. You already have time to write. It may be a minute here or twenty there. But as long as you have something ready to write when that time arrives, you will get it written! You just have to decide to do it. Stop thinking in terms of what you can’t get done with the small amount of time you have. Instead, own up to how much time you waste when you have lots of it.

Nowadays, I get most of my writing done on my work breaks, or while sitting in my car in the morning because I have to get to work twenty minutes early to get a parking space. Guess what. I get more writing done in those regularly scheduled time slots than I was ever able to accomplish back in the day when I had three or more weeks off work in a row between semesters.

If you’re like me, you may not be built to write full-time. If you’re like me, you might find you have more to write when you are out living a regular life instead of holing up in your home office watching the days of your cats’ lives. As interesting as our cats’ lives may be, let’s stop complaining about having to work day jobs and start looking at our day jobs as a source of inspiration. Let’s be like all those famous writers before us whose work was fueled by their day jobs. Let’s be like William Carlos Williams who is said to have written poems on prescription pads in between office visits while working as a doctor for forty years. Let’s start now.

What happened at work this week that would make a great story? Write about it! Post it on your blog and share a link here with us. I bet we all have some great work stories!

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