When I tell people I write full time for a living, they usually come back with a variation of the same response–it must be amazing to be able to do that.
And it is.
Writing full time–and being able to support myself and my family while doing so–is something I dreamed of since I was twenty (lets not talk about how many years ago that was!). But I never thought I’d actually achieve the dream, so I never really thought about how I’d cope if I ever got there.
I should have, because achieving the dream is not without its problems. When I first quit work, I really struggled to keep writing momentum going and without the support of my mates and fellow writers (basically the Lulus and the Dames) I might have sunk. So in an effort to save others from the mistakes I made, here’s the biggest three problems I struck, and what I did to get around them.
Okay, so all writers struggle with this. Most of us have job, and whether that job is being a full time mom or working outside of home in one form or another doesn’t matter. What matters is that our writing time is generally minimal. And yet, we all manage to find ways around this. For me, working split shifts and weekends, it became a case of getting up an hour earlier to write, then writing whatever I had the chance over the weekends. I did that every single day for at least ten years, and I achieved a huge amount of writing in that time.
Because I was disciplined.
But the moment I became a full time writer, that same discipline went out the window. I wasn’t working any more. I had all this spare time, and I suddenly didn’t know what to do with myself. It actually felt wrong to be spending so much extra time writing. Surely, after all those years of long hours, no weekends, missing major holidays and, worst of all, working Christmas and Easter, I should be spending more time with my family?
You know what the problem was? I said it in the paragraph above. I wasn’t working any more.
See, I didn’t consider writing my job. I’d quit my job. Writing was something I needed to do, something I wanted to do.
It took a lot of months to get my head around the fact that before, I had two jobs, not one. Writing was work, both then and now. If I really wanted to succeed, then I’d better start treating it like the job it now was. Which meant, regular hours and writing every damn day.
Basically, being as disciplined as I was before I quit my other job.
Problem 2–Family, friends and treating it seriously
I don’t know about your family, but mine never really took my writing seriously. In the early years, it was considered ‘my hobby’ and was not something anyone ever thought would amount to anything (including me, most of the time). So, they never really considered it an inconvenience to interrupt my writing sessions for whatever reason. This became less of a problem when I was married, mainly because I was lucky. My husband was into computers and games, so he indulged his passion, I indulged mine, and all was good. Even our daughter grew up knowing that when I was in the ‘zone’, only blood , flood and fire should interrupt me. I was lucky–a lot of writers aren’t.
But really, whose fault is that?
In the early years of my writing, it was totally mine. My family treated my writing as a hobby simply because I did. I might have been serious in my attempt to be published, but I didn’t voice that. I let myself be interrupted. I didn’t treat my writing as a job, I didn’t give it any degree of importance. So if I didn’t, why the hell would any one else?
Of course, you’d think this would be less of a problem when you’ve actually sold your books, but really, it’s not. Why? Because writers work from home, and it’s amazing how many people think that (a) writing isn’t really work, and (b) that you can just sit at the computer any old time and spew forth words. How many times has a non-writing friend said something like, “oh, you can do that anytime….blah, blah, blah..” Yep, we’ve all heard it.
And the only the way to stop it is to treat your writing as seriously as any other job. Sooner or later, even the thickest friend or relative will get the idea.
When we’re unpublished, we all have the same bright and shiny goal. Most of us also have other minor goals, like writing so many words a week, or writing so many books in a year, but it’s always the beacon of publication that draws us on through the doubts and the rejections.
But the goal setting shouldn’t stop once you reached publication. In fact, I think they become more important than ever. And I’m not just talking about the goals we can control–like writing so many words or books in a year–but rather, the ones we can’t.
Long term goals–however impossible they might seem–make us strive harder. They give us direction and something to aim for. When I sold my very first book to ImaJinn, I didn’t really have any long terms goals. They were all short term–write more books, sell more books. But after a while it felt like I was floundering–I’d achieved my goal of being published, but I needed more. So I decided my new goal was to see my novels on a bookstore shelf here in Australia. It was something I was never going to achieve with ImaJinn, so that meant I had to write something New York just couldn’t refuse. When I finally sold the first Riley to Bantam, my goal was simply to make a bestseller list–any list, any position, I wasn’t fussy. When I achieved that, my new goal became making the New York Times extended, then the NYTimes top 15 (as it was back then), and so on. Right now, my goal is to find time to write a new UF series that’s bubbling away in the back of my brain–an almost impossible task given my deadline schedule over the next year or so. But you know what? I don’t care. I’m going to find the time somehow–write faster, write longer, what ever it takes–and try.
And that’s the thing with goals –they can give you something to aim for, or drive you on through the tough days–you know, those days when the words won’t come or when everything feels like crap and you‘re totally sure the whole world will hate your book. Having that goal–however impossible it might seem–gives us writers something to hang on to and shoot for.
And that’s just as important when you’re published as it is when you’re unpublished.