I admire the people who give it all up to go and become writers, take a part-time job in a position that won’t go anywhere and work on that novel for years and years. Some of the most successful writers (Rowling, for example), took this gamble and won the lottery. But for every one, there’s probably a million failure stories we haven’t heard about. You know, the people who find that they’ve spent the most important years of their lives chasing a dream that doesn’t seem to be coming to fruition.
So some of us take the ‘safer’ route: pursuing another career. For a lot of you, this may sound like blasphemy. A lot of writers say they write because they ‘can’t imagine themselves doing anything else.’ Other professions will boast the same reason. I often wonder how valid that is. If you were born in a time prior to the novels as we know them today, could you have been happy doing something else? Probably. The fact is, there are elements of different professions which we are each drawn to, each of which are not usually exclusive to just that profession. If you’re willing to believe this, than maybe you’ll find some insight in this post.
….Otherwise, you’ll probably just be mad at me. Hell, you might already be.
You’ve been warned.
Now that that’s done, my advice for pursuing writing and a career:
1. Write about your career. When interesting things happen in the workplace, incorporate them into a short story later. If you’re going to school to become some type of professional, work what you’re learning into your writing. If done right, it will cause the reader to learn while being entertained (a wonderful thing, from a reader’s point of view) and you will probably have a better grasp on the material yourself. If you’re in an office space, take note of the way people interact with each other. Every quirky, overbearing, rude, awkward, and workaholic person you meet can be your next shining character.
2. Devote a few years to writing seriously. Building confidence is the main reason for this, and it can be established for people in many different stages. If you are just starting out, your writing probably sucks (unless you’re a prodigy, in which case disregard this whole post and go churn out that bestseller. I know you can do it!). Devoting a couple years in which your writing is #1 priority can give you a chance to hone your skills from shitty to acceptable. You’ll be proud of your progress and be more inclined to continue once you start working towards your other career.
On the other hand, if you’ve already been writing for a while and consider yourself good, it can feel like you’ve hit a wall if you haven’t been published. You’ll have less time to write with your career and it will start feeling like a lost-cause because, no matter how good you are, becoming a success just doesn’t seem to be happening. If you are in a position where you think you are good enough to be published, or near to it, you owe yourself a couple years to make that happen. Write short story after short story and submit to magazines. Clean up that novel and get in touch with agents. If you can get something published, even if just a few short stories, it will give you the validation needed to stay motivated when you start your career. In other words, you won’t start feeling like writing is a waste of time when you choose to do it over other potentially productive things (like studying an extra hour, or putting in overtime to kiss the boss’ ass). Someone other than yourself, your family, and your friends found real value in your skills, and that just doesn’t happen by chance (well, not completely).
3. Make a schedule. Simple, right? But very important. Your time is about to be like precious real estate. Planning to write whenever the chance comes up just won’t cut it anymore. You may be the type of person who needs a mental break between two thought-intensive tasks (i.e., your career and your writing), but if you don’t, I would suggest having your writing be right before or after your daytime responsibilities. Work from 9-5? Then write from 7-9, or 5-7. Seeing as how the 9-5 is dead these days, you may be looking more at a 8-8. In that case, write 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes at night. Bracketing like this will ensure that you are still in a productive, working mood (well, most of the time), instead of having time to relax and convince yourself that you can make up for it tomorrow. If you have a life-suck career (doctor, doctor…did someone say doctor?) then you will have to learn to write in the cracks. Got a break between surgeries? Instead of reading the paper, write another page.
4. Balance is an illusion. Realize that at times you will be a better <> and a bad writer, and at other times it will be vice versa. In other words, don’t get discouraged if your career is seriously impeding on your writing at times, and don’t let slacking at work stop you from pushing through a particular bought of literary motivation. Being perfectly balanced at all times just might not be feasible, or realistic.
5. Be sure about your other career. I know earlier I said that ‘writing is all I can do’ is partly bullshit, but that doesn’t mean go out and do something you hate. You may fail as a writer (in terms of being financially stable). That’s just the cold, hard truth. If you do fail, can you see yourself being happy advancing in the career path you are on? Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying you should ever quit writing, if it’s what you truly love to do. But if you don’t become financially successful at it, you’ll need to do something to sustain yourself. That could either be something that makes you happy and engages you, or it can be something in which you’re miserable and just wish to ‘get by.’
I used to think that having another career meant abandoning my writing. That by picking a more traditional path, I was throwing in the literary towel. And that success could only be achieved by jumping in head first and leaving everything else behind. This works for some people, but the majority will be left frustrated and unsure of the direction in which they have taken their lives.
In reality, this post might be me in denial. I’ve recently decided to become a doctor and these thoughts are how I cope with the decision, since my first love is writing. What do you think? Am I kidding myself? Or would Michael Crichton be proud? Give me your thoughts.