Tuesday, March 16, 2010

On Writing

Why do writers sometimes get frustrated with their work?

Simple.  There's no built-in time off.  To continue a fresh riff on last week's productivity entry, self-employed writers (fiction especially) have to be turning out copy if they're going to get paid.  They can't go to the job and have a "light" day with little to do or time to play Words for Friends on their iPhone or Bejeweled on the computer.

If writers want to get the paycheck in a timely fashion, they can't slide through a work day.

The upside is that you can schedule your week around important things (kids, spouse, breaking movies you want to see the first day for matinee prices), but you still have to put in a full day.

While teaching at the University of Oklahoma in the Professional Writing program, I've often been surprised to hear students talk about only working 40 hour work weeks.  Some of the new graduates I've talked to have gone out and gotten professional jobs, then had to put in more than 40 hours, and even had to work on weekends.  They're shocked.

I tell them if they wanted true hourly jobs, McDonalds is hiring.  Anyone who works for himself or herself never stops at 40 hours.  Thankfully, as in my case and in my wife's case (she's an elementary school teacher and loves kids and teaching), our work is our passion.  We take days off now and again, but mostly we work.

In addition to doing the actual labor involved (writing stories), writers also have to stay up with technique, trends, and other books.  Add a slew of research to the pot, and garnish with doing any number of side projects to expose themselves to or learn methodology of other trades (what?  you thought writers just knew about firearms, carpentry, scuba diving, and space exploration?), and a writer is already working about eighty hours a week just to keep pace.

Time is precious to someone working for himself or herself.  Some of that time has to be spent on self-promotion (this blog), checking on other work (calling editors, perusing publication lists, reading news headlines to see what's in the wind), and remaining somehow approachable for writing groups, book stores, and schools.

This profession, like any other self-employed person's, tends to consume you.  And if you're going to be successful, you have to let it to a degree.  You also still have to keep yourself healthy (exercise) and in touch with your family and friends.

My wife totally gets that, and I understand her job.  Most writers/teachers don't have relationships like that.  We're incredibly fortunate and know it.  Even more so, our kids (for the most part) get it too.

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