Day jobs and writers (1)

“Solitude never hurt anyone. Emily Dickinson lived alone, and she wrote some of the most beautiful poetry the world has ever known… then went crazy as a loon.”
The Simpsons

I like my day job. (Actually in large part an evening job, and really-and-truly more of an all-over-the-place job, but you know what I mean.)

Whoops, we’re not supposed to admit that, are we? True writers want to write ALL THE TIME. To have it as the absolutely-only thing that they have to do. To be a Full-Time Writer. That’s every writer’s ultimate goal, right?

I would be quite happy to never be a full-time writer. I said something to this effect ten years ago, when my first book came out and I was an ickle thing, and honestly, truly – there are a lot of things I still agree with Younger Me on, when it comes to this issue.

There are a number of things I’m going to say about this (there shall be a post every day this week! I’m going blog-crazy!), but the first is the obvious-and-yet-often-forgotten fact that full-time writers aren’t full-time writers in the same way that full-time whatevers aren’t really full-time. There’s still laundry to do and things to be cleaned or cooked or taken care of or whatever. You still have to go to the supermarket or mind the kids or feed the cat; you still have a bunch of everyday things to do. And it’s obvious, of course, but it’s amazing the sense you get from people who talk dreamily about full-time writeriness, like it’s full-time writeriness with several staff attached. There’s still all the non-writing parts of Being A Writer, the admin/promotion/finance side of things. There’s still life. Life is still there to get in the way.

All writers are something else. All anythings are something else. They’re daughters/sons/nieces/nephews, friends/lovers/exes, mothers/fathers/aunts/uncles/cousins/godparents. They’re on a local sports team or they’re part of a choir or they’re helping out a friend with a film or they’re organising a family get-together or they’re going down to the pub for a pint or five. They’re watching boxsets of Desperate Housewives or The Wire or they’re rooting for a player at Wimbledon or a team at the World Cup.

People talk about wishing they had ‘nothing else to do but write’ as though it’d instantly relieve them of any other commitments they have. For 99.999% of people, their day job is not the one solid thing standing in the way of their writing. It is not the one thing that sucks up their time or their energy, although it can suck up an awful lot of it. But it’s not the only thing in their life. And removing it isn’t going to put their life on hold so that they can write their masterpiece completely uninterrupted.

For most people, though certainly not everyone, it’s not time that’s the problem. It’s time management.

About clairehennessy

Writer (mostly YA fiction), creative writing teacher, tea drinker, book junkie. View all posts by clairehennessy

10 responses to “Day jobs and writers (1)

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  • Emerald

    Good point. I’ve noticed that writers can be roughly divided into two categories:
    The whimsical, fickle sort of ones that always have a newer, better idea and are always complaining about never having enough time to get them all down;
    And the organised, disciplined ones who spend their carefully allotted time staring at their blank flashcards and trying to force something out.

    Almost as if imagination and discipline are mutually exclusive, like repetition and spontaneity. A good writer needs to strike a balance. Which is easier said than done. Hm, I may have gone a bit off topic here…

    • clairehennessy

      They’re not mutually exclusive at all, but it’s the first kind of writer who tends to get not much done and talk in airy-fairy terms about the muse descending upon them. You can definitely go overboard with organisation and ritual when it comes to writing, but people forget as well how much of writing is in the rewriting and editing. Even if you’ve squeezed something out, it’s there to edit, as opposed to existing only in your mind as a perfect mirage. 🙂

  • Janice

    I think I’d go insane if I was a full-time writer. I probably wouldn’t get any writing done, I’d procrastinate – I’d be a full-time procrastinator. 10am-1pm, Monday- Friday is my time to write/study, and if I don’t achieve anything my allotted time, too bad. Tough love works (for me anyway).

    • clairehennessy

      Oh, those are good times – early enough to still leave plenty of the day left, but not so early that half of the time needs to be spent at the kettle tea-ing up for the day. 🙂

  • ismiselisa

    I don’t think I’d be a good full-time writer. Regardless of the discipline and work involved, I’d get incredibly bored if I was expected to write all day.

    Plus, it seems like there’s constraints to writing all day. It must get boring and really start to feel like work.

    • clairehennessy

      It’s rare to have writers who actually get all day to write anyway – all the other stuff that needs to get done, which I’ve mentioned here and in the other ‘day job’ posts. But yeah – I mean, writing is work, but when it’s not your only work it gets to feel a little more like play, I think, at least in part. 🙂

  • Eimear

    Great post! I touched on this in my Scary Talk today (which went grand!). To be honest, I feel for would-be writers whose day job is extremely desk-bound and computery. It doesn’t make you want to fire up the laptop when you get home. Since most people can’t afford to write full time, the trick is to find something that can coexist peacefully with writing. I’m trying to find bookshop work at the mo, which would fit, but if someone were to offer me a preposterous advance I would gladly become a full timer …

    • clairehennessy

      Glad the talk went well! 🙂 And yes… there are a few things people do to get around that (writing at the office, using different programs for fun-writing) but it does blur the lines a bit.

      Hope bookshop work and/or preposterous advance emerges for you soon!

  • Daily Links 29/06/2010 | Irish Publishing News

    […] Day jobs and writers (1) Interesting post this by Claire Hennessy on the writing life and day jobs! Read more… […]

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