So, a some weeks ago I sat in the audience at a writing salon (i.e. a few writers who’d already been to the pub beforehand then staggered to a bookstore and talked about writing) and listened to a discussion of how people work.
More specifically, how writers divide their time between the writing life and the rest of life: family, friends, the day job that pays the bills and buys the food that we, regrettably, cannot do without. I was fascinated to hear that each of these folk felt that being part-time writers was the best option: apart from earning dinner, beer, and electricity money, it made them appreciate their writing time a hell of a lot more than if they were free to be full-time.
It was an interesting thought but it brought home to me, yet again, that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to being a writer.
I’ve tried the part-time writing life ? that’s how I started out ? and while I did produce a fair whack of work, I never felt satisfied with the time I was able to put to my craft. Whenever I had to go off to the day job (and I held several while I was in the early stages of my career) I resented it bitterly, felt torn away from doing something I loved; something that made me feel, for want of a better word, alive. It took me away from my stories, from a place I wanted to inhabit ? and every time I had to return, to worm my way back into that world I’d left, I found it unforgiving. It took so long to reacquaint myself with the other place that I felt I lost precious minutes in remembering what that fictional landscape looked like. The fact of the matter is that if I’m in the zone of the story, I am revolting to be around: I don’t want to pay attention to anyone or anything. I am inside a bubble, I am aimed at a goal, and woe betide anyone who stands in the way.
Fortunately for the world and all those in it, I’m in my third year as a full-time writer now (a position I can hold only through the patience, generosity, and extreme tolerance of my beloved Significant Other), and my productivity is considerably improved, as is my temper. I’ve got a routine and habits that enable me to pick up where I left off with minimal decompression required. That may simply be a side-effect of treating this as a professional space for so long. I would not be the writer I am if I was still holding down a day job.
Every writer is different. What works for one person may not work for another. Try new habits and processes by all means, experiment to find what is best for you, but don’t ever think that just because another writer swears by one technique that it is the thing you must do.
Are there things you do need to do? Things that are simply not negotiable? Yes:
And learn. Learn constantly no matter who you are or how long you’ve been writing, no matter the degree of success you attain. It doesn’t need to be formal classroom learning; it might be as simple as a weekly write club or coffee and cake with fellow scribblers to discuss writing craft and any problems you’re encountering, or techniques you’ve discovered and declared to be awesome. It may be going along to masterclasses the local writers centre or festival holds from time to time (case in point: I’m attending Karen Joy Fowler’s Brisbane Writers Festival masterclass, as are a LOT of already published writers with growing reputations). Even if it just reminds you of the things you’ve forgotten you know, it serves a valuable function in keeping your mind ticking over, hopefully helping you write new stuff that isn’t just a rehash of the old stuff (“Oh, look, another book where a loser-boy finds a magical realm where he can escape all his self-created problems” *raspbery noises*).
What works for one person may not work for another. It doesn’t make you somehow less of a writer. Writing techniques and habits are not cow-print onesies that fit everyone; they are bespoke outfits discovered through the process of trying them on and discarding the ones that are too tight or too loose or too beige or plaid.