She’s a Full-Time Worker in Love with a Part-Time Gig

i-can-have-it-allI don’t know a lot of people who write full time, only people who wish that they could. The reality of mortgages or rent, cupcake expenditures and socks without holes tends to relegate those wishes to the fantasy worlds we create on the commutes to jobs that aren’t so bad and sometimes suck but definitely don’t tap into that magical dream state we’d rather stay in all day.

As a full-time Project Manager, I juggle multiple tasks throughout the day. I wrestle schedules and communication issues, answer drive-by questions and tackle financial spreadsheets that remind me of how lost I felt in the fourth grade when I couldn’t grasp multiplication tables. The last thing I want to do when I get home is log more time in front of a computer or figure out why that scene just doesn’t work. The desire to write is there, but my cognitive load and energy gets tapped around 2pm. It’s trouble enough to get through those last three hours.

It’s easy to be persuaded to go out and have fun and drink and party with your people. Or, plop down and huff four hours of Breaking Bad, but that doesn’t put words on the page. How, then, are you supposed to hit those word counts? Here are a few tips from my full-time job that have helped my part-time gig gain steam.

Claim the title of writer

I don’t have an MFA. I don’t have any publishing credits. Sound familiar?

I was embarrassed to call myself a writer for so long, despite having written reams of terrible poetry from junior high through my twenties, more than a handful of short stories and over four fully revised drafts of my novel. I worried that people might think – gasp! – Kelly Ford sure thinks she’s something special.

Writing all that time for no pay and recognition? That’s special, all right. Maybe it was age; maybe I finally cast off some Southern anxiety about being too big for my britches. Most likely, it’s because I began to surround myself with other hard-working writers with and without “credentials.” I stopped being embarrassed and started calling myself a writer instead of other, less useful names.

Create a schedule

One of the benefits of letting people know that you write — and a good reason to bite the self-esteem bullet and call yourself a writer — is that it allows you to treat writing as work.

Ugh, you say. Writing is not work! Writing is my passion!

Agreed. But it is also hard and frustrating and ego crushing. The only way to a good draft is through all the bad ones. And the fastest way through is by logging hours.

I’ve never understood why calendars and schedules freak people out, but I respect that it’s challenging for them the way tip calculation is challenging for me. For me, schedules light the way to sanity. I don’t like not knowing what’s coming next. I like the expectation of things, like holidays or the latest issue of Southern Living magazine. A lack of planning is like receiving news of another IRS audit.

This is scheduling made easy: Open the calendar. Find one day out of the seven that are available to you. Within the day that you have chosen, find one hour out of the twenty four available to you. Block it and mark it: Writing time. Go to the next week. Rinse and repeat.

During the Novel Incubator program, I downloaded an app to track my time. Pen and paper work just as well. The point is to track your time and make yourself accountable for getting that one hour in. Once that hour feels achievable, you can up your time as you see fit. If you’re newish to writing on a schedule, you may need to cut yourself some slack at first to discover your peak writing time. And just because you don’t get one or ten hours of writing time in a week doesn’t mean you’re a loser. Beating yourself up doesn’t help anyone, least of all the people who have to endure you.

Communicate your schedule to others

Don’t expect other people to read your mind and know that you’re a WRITER every Sunday at 3pm and then go mental on them when they come calling to tempt you with afternoon margaritas on their roof deck. If you like your friends and want to keep them after you emerge from your writer cave, then do them a courtesy by letting them know that Sundays don’t work for you. Not ever. Maybe the whole month of March is off limits. Your friends might not get it, but at least they’ll know.

It’s okay to say no, but don’t be a jerk. Offer other suggestions instead. You don’t want to end up only having writer friends. That would get boring and depressing, fast.

Write

Sit down. Stand up. Whichever posture you prefer, commit to that one hour or ten in your schedule. Write. Write until you’re happy. Write until you finish. Write until you can’t stand the idea of writing anymore. Then, do it again the next week or the next day. Pretty soon, what once felt impossible will become the norm.

I began my novel eight years ago. It took me four years to complete the first draft – not just because I had no idea what I was doing, but because it took me that long to realize that it was more than a hobby and deserved to be treated as such. For some, full-time writing is a reality. But if you’re like me, writing is a part-time job, the one that fulfills me while the other one fills the bank account.

4 comments

  1. Thanks, Kelly. Going from a part-time to a full-time employee was one of the worst things to ever happen to my novel! Here’s hoping we can all learn how to balance our REAL work (duh, the writing) with our fake work (the stuff that pays the bills.)

  2. “I was embarrassed to call myself a writer for so long…”

    Me too, Kelly. In my case, I think I was afraid people would hold me to the standards of a writer(i.e. they might ask for progress reports). Even good friends. When people asked, “how’s the novel coming along?” I might go all deer-in-the headlights, pause, then respond with “Hey…how about those Red Sox, huh?” Today I tell people I’m a novelist. Cause I am

    Very perceptive piece, I think, for all of us.

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