I have an online friend, who sometimes, quite often even, asks me how the writing is going. I have to say it is a bitter-sweet question because most of the time the answer is rather negative – I haven’t had the time again, I had chores, I had errands to run, we were out, etc., etc. There have been so-so answers, too: Not bad, I’m working on this short story right now. Sure, I’ll send it to you for a read, I’d love to get some feedback.
Basically, his question gives me another nudge to have something to show or at least tell about. I am really grateful to him for this because he’s also an artist, a musician, and I know he’s working most of the time and he’s also struggling. I imagine it’s not easy to make a living out of it. Somewhat like with writing – if you’re not a huge name with a few bestsellers or a bestselling series then you probably struggle. But does that mean you quit? Erm, NO! Because you’re not (or at least shouldn’t be) defined by how much money you make but by what you do and do you love doing it. I believe there was something on Kristen Lamb’s blog or it might have been on Marcy Kennedy’s, about the fact that if you do a class or a whole degree in creative writing and/or publishing you’ve probably been told on several occasions that you won’t be making big money out of either one. I did the Creative Writing and Publishing MA and I know I have been. And I believe that is a key fact because even if this has been hammered into our heads for a year or more, we never really feel any incline to give it up and change majors. When all you’ve ever really wanted, deep down, whether you always knew it or you’ve only just found out, is to write, then nothing else matters. Once you discover that fundamental truth about yourself, it’s all you are.
And here comes the hard part for me and, I guess, for a lot of other writers who are just starting out and the world is always getting in their way. My problem with weak self-discipline is my own problem, but there’s still this invisible barrier we all have to charge. The thin line between thinking you’re a writer and saying it. When people ask me what I do, currently I say I’m looking for a job. And that’s the truth even if not all of it. When they ask me what am I looking for it gets complicated. Because it’s hard to explain to people with ongoing careers that you’re still figuring stuff out and you need something to get you going just so that at some point you can leave that on the back burner and focus on your writing without having this feeling that you’re being a bum hovering over your head. I guess this is the way I can summarise my own experience so far.
Coming to terms with the fact that you’re bound to be a bum for a while has a two-fold effect.
One, you start fretting about every little thing you do with your time and because you need to have the feeling you’re being useful, efficient and generally not an utter waste of space. So you fill your day with menial tasks just so that at the end of the day you have a lot of checked items on your to-do list. Let me tell you something I learned from experience – this is bullshit! In the morning, you make a big bullshit list with all kinds of stuff, including tidying up and doing the dishes or the likes. If you only have the two things – sit your ass down and write, and read something useful for a change – then you’re thinking “Hell, I can remember those, I mean, it’s pretty obvious, right. But I need to get the other stuff out of the way first…” And thus you fall into this deep sweaty pit of your own making and all day long you’re trying to dig yourself out of it. Once you finally do, it’s already dinner time (at least) and after dinner this “aaah, fuck it, I’ve done quite a few things today, I won’t have those on my list tomorrow so I’ll get to the important stuff then”-mindset settles in and that’s it for a whole day. This can go on for awhile.
The second part of this new-found freedom of being almost a professional bum is this: You have aaaaall the time in the world and you don’t need to fit your daily word count in-between getting home from work/classes/interviews and making dinner or in-between laundry loads. Laundry’s still there, but you also have the time before and after, so meanwhile you can do the other bits of work around the house and later focus on the real work. You can also fit in time for working out, watching TV, and going out with friends and it wouldn’t be time stolen away from your writing time. Well, if you keep everything in moderation, of course, but that also takes practice.
So once you’ve made your peace with being a bum you can actually start being a writer (again). Once you get over the whole unemployment issue, you can start benefiting from it and working towards being the “professional” writer Kristen Lamb talks about. Because making money is not everything. We are artist, therefore bound to struggle with one thing or another. I’d rather it be lack of money than lack of words.