the full-time writerly life, pt. 1

So, I am technically a full-time writer now.

I say “technically” because I need to get in touch with some folks back at IU and handle the wrap-up for my master’s there. But the only thing paying me any money these days is writing, so that’s the only actual job I have. Ergo, I need to figure out how to structure my life to make this thing work.

And because we live in the twenty-first century, the Age of the Internet, of course I’m going to blog all about it.

Expect more of these posts. I’m not sure how many, or how often; I have at least three I want to make, of which this is the first. Before I talk about structure, I want to talk about Things I Won’t Apologize For.

A while back, I posted on SF Novelists about “Writing as Work” — about the reasons why it’s hard to view this as an actual job. The corollary there is that I feel this stupid impulse to apologize for some of the things I do, because they don’t fit the standard model of what work ought to be like. I think it’s fair to say that the first thing I need to do is jettison that impulse, and accept the fact that this is my job, and this is how it goes.


1. I won’t apologize for the hours I keep. You know what? My brain turns on real good at about 10 p.m., and depending on how I’m feeling, keeps rolling until about 3 a.m. Not just in terms of creativity; heck, I have evidence my hand-eye coordination is better then, too. But it’s the creativity and discipline that matters here. There is no point in trying to fight that, not when I don’t have to. So yes: on days when I decide I don’t need the car and therefore don’t drive kniedzw to work, or all the time once we get our transportation sorted out, I sleep in until 11 a.m. or so. I refuse to feel like that’s lazy. It’s just me getting a good night’s sleep after a hard night’s work.

2. I won’t apologize for reading, or anything else that feeds my brain. In fact, when I’m done with this post, I’m probably going to go downstairs and curl up with Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette’s A Companion to Wolves. Because that? Is work. It gets me thinking about the story I want to write, and it keeps me aware of what’s going on in my field. If I read nonfiction, same deal. Even TV and movie-watching, in moderation, fit this bill. As long as I’m being mentally active about it, not just a mindless slug — as long as I’m turning it around and applying it to the words I produce — it’s a necessary part of the job. Not me slacking off.

3. I won’t apologize for “being lame.” By this I mean something very specific. It happens less at the moment, because I haven’t really launched Project Get A Social Life yet, but this happened all the time in Boston and Bloomington: it’s Friday or Saturday night, and I have the option to go do something social, but I decide to stay home and write. Sometimes because I have a deadline I have to meet — but sometimes just because I feel like it. I have a story I want to be writing. And then I feel like I should apologize because there’s something wrong with wanting to work. You know what? There isn’t. I have a job I love. And if it’s on a roll, I’m glad to hop on board, even if it means passing up something “more fun.”

Those are all the ones I can think of at the moment, but there may be more. In fact, I welcome additions in comments. From writer-friends especially, but frankly, any of you who find yourselves in a non-traditional relationship with your working schedule. What kinds of things do you not apologize for?

0 Responses to “the full-time writerly life, pt. 1”

  1. pameladean

    I’m still working on this. But ideally, do not apologize for all the things that don’t get done around the house, just because you are there to do them. That’s not what you’re there FOR, though many of them can make useful variations from sitting at a keyboard until your forehead bleeds.


    • Marie Brennan

      Heh — good one, though probably something I should discuss with my husband . . . .

    • thepix

      I can’t agree with you more. This is a tough line to walk. My husband tries to not get bugged but I know that it’s hard for him when the laundry piles up. Then he does it and I feel guilty. But you’re right. That’s not why I’m there. 🙂

  2. cucumberseed

    Well spoken. One day, I may be able to join you, but it seems increasingly unlikely as financial matters worsen.

  3. raisinfish

    The one I have a problem with is “I won’t feel bad for not writing an eight hour day.” I still teach to pay the bills, but when I’m between semesters I write full time. And my brain will do 2-4 hours a day of good solid writing, and then it quits. And it’s done. And nothing I can do will bring it back.

    And for me as a writer, that’s enough to get more than enough done to sustain a career. I write fast. And I put more of my brain and energy into that 2-4 hour shift than I did any eight hour shift I’ve worked in my life, so I don’t know what possesses me to feel so bad about it.

    • Marie Brennan

      I think the trick with the 8-hr day is to convince yourself that that’s not all going to be made up of putting words on the page. Outlining, revising, thinking — that’s all work, too, and should be counted in.

      Or just to focus on what you’ve already said: if you can get your work done more efficiently, then why in the name of all that is holy should you feel bad about it?

  4. gwynnega

    One of my favorites from when I worked at home a lot: I don’t apologize for working in my pajamas.

    • Marie Brennan

      Heh. I’ve seen many people advise “getting dressed for work” even if you work at home, but I wonder if the people for whom that’s important used to have office jobs. The closest I’ve come to having to dress for work was two semesters of teaching my own courses, where I went a bit more formal than I did when assistant-teaching intro to archaeology. So I don’t think I’m mentally programmed for that cue the way other people might be.

  5. mrissa

    One I sometimes have trouble with is that just because I could theoretically be more portable than someone with a day job, it doesn’t mean that I have to be, or that it will work well if I am. Sure, my cousin who manages a clothing store can’t take the clothing store to the grands’ with her to be spending time with them and working at the same time. But to a substantial extent, neither can I. If I’m spending quality time with my grandparents, I’m not working, and if I’m working, it’s not very high-quality time spent together. And there will be substantial pressure — much of it internal — to shift from “you can work at your grandparents'” to “you’ve already been working for an hour, can’t you do more of that at home as long as you’re here?” My grands’ house is just an example; the idea that I can work while doing something else and therefore should act as though that’s going to be the case is a seductive one.

  6. lowellboyslash

    I’m not a full-time writer, obviously, but I don’t apologize for (or try not to apologize for) not having time for things that are only going to waste my energy.

    Also, in a genre where it’s sometimes easy to feel uncultured or underread: I don’t apologize for liking the things I like. For example: Wanted was a fairly awful, completely beautiful, highly entertaining movie. I do not apologize for seeing it. It had Weavers of Doom!

    • Marie Brennan

      <lol> Wanted didn’t manage to enchant me, but I know what you mean. Ditto on the first point — which is a good point about time-management in general.

  7. squirrel_monkey

    Excellent advice, and also useful to those of us who are not full-time writers. Especially #3 — can’t count how many times that happened, and finally I decided to stop feeling bad about it.

    • Marie Brennan

      You have a very creepy icon, you know that? 🙂

      There really is a tendency to denigrate work as something one should wish to avoid at all times. Full-time or not, we writers — and many people in other fields — should embrace the fact that we actually enjoy what we do.

  8. wldhrsjen3

    Oh, I really like this post and I’m so glad I read it today. Thank you.

  9. thepix

    I find the hardest thing now that I’m full time is the feeling that I need to volenteer at my kid’s school everytime something comes up. I was a homeschool mom for six years and it’s tough to let go. I try to tell myself that if I love them I’ll accomplish my goals and show them that they can make their dreams come true if they work hard enough. Hope I can pull it off. 😉

  10. akashiver

    Frankly I apologize for too much. The academic/creative writing balance is one I still haven’t been able to strike, given that I’m not willing to take the plunge and turn writing into a full time career like you have.

    That said, there are some things I won’t apologize for, though this is more related to academic than non-academic work in my mind right now, thanks in part to some “you must feel pressure!” emails from my committee.

    I guess #1 is having a social life. I am willing to work crazy hours to meet deadlines and I am willing to put the time in to get my work done, but I refuse to let academia/grad school be my entire life. I want to be able to stop work sometimes, dammit. I can and will hang with friends, go on holiday, watch TV and read non-academic books, even if I “shouldn’t.” I figure that if I can’t be an academic and have a life outside of academia, there’s no point in being an academic.

    But the creative writing is still a problem. In part that’s because I find it hard to make both academic and creative writing goals. I’ve done so in the past and I know I can do so again, but the truth is I find it hard to construct and write an intense academic argument and then sit down and write fiction in my “free” time. It’s a difficult balance in the regular year; throw in a third ball to juggle like, say, a job search, or an additional article, or a family crisis, and my creative writing is usually the first thing that gets cut, instead of the last. I hope this doesn’t prevent me from being a writer, because, ironically, being able to write was one of the things that attracted me to academia in the first place.

    • Marie Brennan

      There may well be times when #1 on the list of things not to apologize for is “not being able to manage it right now.”

      I mean, you’re dissertating. Which eats anybody’s head. And while on the one hand it’s valuable to figure out how to keep fiction in your life come hell, high water, and committee meetings, sometimes your sanity benefits from saying, y’know what, I’ll come back to it in a little while.

      I guess it depends on whether you can see a light at the end of the tunnel. If you know that in six more months or a year, you genuinely will be in a better place to get creative work done, then letting down time trump fiction productivity may be the right way to go. But if you know you’re going to be busy for a long time, then you don’t want to put that dream on hold indefinitely.

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