Monday, February 20

The Writing Life....or: what life?

I was talking to a friend the other day about writing. She's a writer too (and a darned good one!) She's written some short stories and is working on a couple of novel length manuscripts. When I mentioned that I'd submitted my BDSM novel to my publisher for consideration, she said something to the effect of, "I wish I could get mine finished". That was followed up by happy astonishment that I've gotten one novel published and another one done and submitted, while she continues to pick steadily away at hers.

The conversation got me thinking about how I accomplished the sometimes seemingly daunting task of finishing a novel. (I don't know the actual statistics, but there are a LOT of would-be novelists who start writing a novel...but never finish it. There are a lot more people who have an idea for a novel but never even start, or who don't get more than a page or two written). 

In addition to the novel that was published last year and the one I just submitted, I've got several novels in various stages of completion waiting for me to get back to them. They are all projects I will get back to (rather than those statistical novels that never get written), I've just found that for me, it's best to actually get a few thousand words down on the electronic page when the Muses start dancing, than to wait until later "when I have time" to write it. I never "have time", I have to make time. 

What all this really means is that I spend every free moment writing. I don't go to parties, I only go on movie dates with my husband once a month, I hardly watch any television (I have two guilty pleasures, Project Runway and Face Off--and of course when Doctor Who starts up again, I'll watch that. I think I missed an entire season of Primeaval and two seasons of The Closer, two of my absolute favorite shows.)  I don't even try to keep up with what's current in the news. I catch the headlines now and then, try to be aware enough of politics so I can cast informed, intelligent votes, but all that Primary stuff? I didn't have the time for it until it came down to the last couple of guys running. I can't vote in the Republican primaries anyway, I'm a registered Democrat. 

And when I take a few hours for myself (I sort of lost a whole day playing a stupid computer game), I feel incredibly guilty. The only thing I don't feel guilty about is reading--because reading is part of a writer's job. Even then, I often think, "I should be writing my own novel, not reading someone else's". 

My social consists of meeting with my critique group twice a month. You know. To talk about writing. I'm even taking a writing class. 

My daughter is old enough that I don't need to worry about watching her every second, but sometimes I worry, because I feel like an absentee parent, spending nearly every waking moment locked in my little office with the door closed, clacking away at my keyboard. I'm here, I'm in the house, but that closed door is one huge "Do Not Disturb Sign". Is she going to grow up and need therapy because her mother was never "home"? 

This summer, I'm not going to have much of a garden. By last year, by this time, I had tomato plants on order, Richter's had gotten their yearly order from me, I was starting to think about what I was going to put where, and what I needed to buy... this year, I'll be lucky to get out and clean out the beds I've got (oh, I do not want to face the strawberry beds! I let them totally go to pot last fall because I was busy writing).  I haven't looked at a single seed catalog. My husband still wants me to do some tomatoes and I'll probably get a few (I like black krims and white queens, which just are not available at Kroger) and maybe a couple of cucumber plants, but I don't think I have the energy for much else, especially since I need to find a job. (A part time waitressing gig is looking better and better--because it will give me the time to write.)

So yeah, I've written a book. But, it didn't come without sacrifice. 

Would I change that, go back to writing part time?  Not on your life!  I love my job.  


Susan Laine said...

I'm in the same boat as you, Helen, having lost my job a while back, and now spending most of my free time writing. I even write during the weekend, which makes writing different from my previous evil day job where I got the weekends off.

But if I do manage to take some time off, say play a computer game or watch TV or what-not, I feel so damn guilty for wasting precious time. It's tough when you're your own boss, so to speak.

I am looking for a new job but I don't know how enthusiastically. My heart's not in it. I got out of the rat race, and a part of me doesn't want to go back to it. Yet, everyone keeps telling me I need to have a real job. Yeah, like writing and being published isn't a real job! Irks me sometimes...

So, in essence, I know exactly what you're going through. I say good luck to us both - and to any writer who dreams of doing this full time. I wish you all the best and success to boot!


H.B. Pattskyn said...

Don't you just *hate* the "when are you going to get a real job?" comments? I'm super lucky to have an amazing support network with my husband and his family, but it took a couple of years (and my first publishing contract) to get some of my friends to even begin to take me seriously. I would get the "well, you're not working, so can you do me a favor..." I was working, I was writing!

And yeah, I'm not real enthusiastic about a job outside the home either right now. Who knows, maybe my next quarter check will be enough that I can put it off for another month ;-)

Good luck to all of us, indeed!


Susan Laine said...

Yep, those comments about a real job are stressful. Do people think I sit in front of my computer typing a grocery list? This is a job, just like any other, only I do it at home instead of an office.

And yes, those "hey since you're home, could run by the [input word here] or clean the [input word here], or fix the [input word here]", etc. My family does get that I write but since I don't make a lot of money with it, not enough to live on, it's only temporary for them.

Apparently a real job includes going to work in the morning to a place that's not anywhere near your house, staying there doing whatever it is you do, and coming home at the end of the day, put food in the microwave and watch TV until your brain is mush.

Yep, a real job...

It would be great if writing was considered as a real job by most people. Any artistic work is usually frowned upon as a leisure-time activity. Maybe one day we'll all get through to people and convince them that there's a lot work we put into this. And because it's our passion, we pour blood of our hearts and souls in there too.

I'm so glad you have a support network, Helen. It really makes this type of work a lot better as a life's choice. Thanks for the pep talk!


Shira Anthony said...

I didn't realize how much we're alike as writers! I also feel the "absentee parent guilt," avoid TV (I do stream yaoi anime from time to time, but I lie to myself and pretend it's "research") and write every waking moment when I'm not working (and sometimes at work, if it gets slow).

I know how I finish novels - I work my butt off on them. I guess that makes it sound far less romantic, but I think you hit the nail on the head!

H.B. Pattskyn said...

I'm glad I'm not the only parent who worries about that! (My husband always tells me not to worry, I'm a great mom, but then I look at some other women and I feel so inadequate... I've got an acquaintance who home schools her 4 children -- and she does it the "right" way, with lots of activities with other kids and other home schoolers. Another woman I know is just "super mom" in my eyes...) sigh.

H.B. Pattskyn said...

Susan--you're welcome! You summed up "real job" so well. :)

I remember being in high school and my mother telling me that band and art didn't count as "real" classes because they didn't involve real work. It's frustrating. But at least we have other writers to lean on!

dany-sirene said...

Great article Helen. It kinda made me think about this (it's been around forever, so you might have already seen it): Why Date a Writer

I sometimes find myself writing, or editing, in class. When I really should be doing other stuff. Occasionally, my grades even reflect it O_o but thankfully not too often. What can I do, editing a really steamy sex scene in the middle of class makes me feel like I'm getting away with something naughty ;) Besides, it's become something like a time-honored tradition with me. I've been hiding my notebooks and sketchbooks under my schoolwork since, like, third grade, so why should new and convenient technologies such as laptops change anything?

What I really feel guilty about is that there have been a cople of occasions when I told my SO I was meeting friends or something, so that in reality I could spend the evening writing for several hours straight. I'm just afraid he'll figure out... I mean, think... that I'm totally obsessed. Which I'm not, of course. Doing an edit for 14 hours without even getting up to eat and missing a ski tip is totally a normal thing, right?

--Dany, simultaneously working on three MS's and trying not to fail all her courses....

Lorraine Ulrich said...

I wish I were at a point where writing was all I got to do. However my day job is a necessity and I can't even write while doing it. (They took google away from us, which frustrates me for many reasons.) For now I just try to write on my breaks from being yelled at.

I'm not sure if I'd ever be able to just solely write in my day. I love it and I can do it for large stretches, but I need to break it up with other stuff. Ultimately, I would love to be able to support myself off of writing and the small business I want to start. Hopes for the future!

Also its nice to run into a fellow gardener. :) I probably won't have as involved a garden as I've tried the past two years, but I definitely will get some more herbs. I'm determined to have a lavender plant that lives more than two weeks in my care.