The working-class writer: 1) a writer that holds a job and who writes in their spare time; 2) a writer that wants to make a living, writing in their field/genre, but is tied to a job due to such trivialities as food, clothing, and shelter.
Both classes of writer face certain difficulties and obstacles, the most prevalent, I feel, is a lack of acknowledged professionalism from our peers, and in ourselves. It is difficult for people, even ourselves, to perceive non-paying work as a job. As such, it is very easy to be dismissive of a writer’s time—an environment ripe for honey do lists. When you tell your spouse that you don’t have time to go shopping, while reading a book, don’t be surprised if another book comes flying at your head. Interestingly enough, said spouse wouldn’t bat an eye if you said that while at your job.
It must be the pay! After all, stress abounds when bills are due and money is tight.
True, but not always valid. I am a disabled veteran, and I receive a survivable income. After having ventured out into the world for 30 years, I had finally begun to pursue a dream that had been germinating since I was in the 5th grade—becoming a published author. So, that’s what I did. I was living a very nice life in Rio de Janeiro and I started developing the world of Torgeir for The War of Ages. I read books and blogs on writing, listened to podcasts; I effectively inundated my life with writing. Not once did my family consider me a writer, neither did they consider my work as a job, but there is a reason, and I have only myself to blame. I couldn’t expect them to treat writing as my job until I did so myself.
Fast forward to the present. I have returned to the US, received my bachelor’s degree in philosophy of ethics, founded a charity to help veterans, and finished book one—150,000 words of learning how to write fantasy, which I’m currently trimming for an agent 🙂 —and I have finally learned the lesson, and how insidious it is.
Paying or not, writing is a job. It has responsibilities just like any other job, and just like any other job, the more you do it the better you get at it. When I was a clerk at a local hobby store, my responsibilities were to assist customers and ring up goods. The more I helped customers with their crafts, the more knowledgeable I became. It wasn’t long before I knew more than I’d wanted about knitting and yarn, but it helped me to better assist other customers. While I was assisting a customer, sometimes other customers would wait patiently for their turn. Unless there was an emergency, at no time did another employee interrupt me at my job in order to fill out a form, or talk about breakroom policies. That all occurred after I was in the middle of doing my job.
Writing is no different. We have responsibilities, many of which require uninterrupted time, all of which are essential for becoming a writer:
- Reading (daily)
- Writing (daily)
- Socializing (daily)
- Exercise (daily)
Each of those items needs to be treated no differently than any working-class writer would treat their responsibilities at their non-writing job. Why do we have to go to our non-writing jobs? Because that’s our responsibility. Why do we have to write every day? Because that’s our responsibility.
One of the biggest difficulties that I face is staying “in the zone”. Writing a novel requires the writer to juggle a lot of information at once. As with actual juggling, we get into a type a rhythm or groove and our fingers are struggling to keep up with our thoughts as thousands of words dance across our screen. When we reach that fragile state, any demand of attention can shatter it, leaving the writer frustrated and even angry. Especially if that delicate balance was ruined for some nonsensical rambling about a tweet, facebook post, or a superfluous question “Did you get the mail?”.
So, what do I do about it?
Well, first off, I try to not get irritated by interruptions, and I realize that I am sitting in the living room, next to my spouse who is sitting next to me on the couch and she might want to chat with me. It doesn’t always work, and I do end up getting frustrated more often than I’d like. But I can’t expect complete quiet and an interruption-free environment while I’m in the room where people gather as a family. If I have to, I excuse myself into another room so I can focus. I effectively “go to my job”. She knows that writing is my passion, and she fully supports my dreams. But sometimes it’s just difficult to not talk to someone you love when they are just an arm’s reach away.
Once we start prioritizing our writing, as we do with any other job we hold, those around us will start respecting the time we allocate to writing.