The Writing Life


A phone call yesterday afternoon with the news of a possible temp job next week or the week after roiled my struggling writer’s life.  I’m happy for the work and the regular paycheck.  However, it means the loss of a huge chunk of time I’ve devoted to writing, either fiction or, more recently, freelance articles on a daily basis.  I’ve been in this position before, of course.  I’ve survived and I’ve learned from the experience.  But that doesn’t make it any easier.

What does “the writing life” mean? It’s different for each writer, depending on an individual’s needs and interests. But there are certain elements that I believe every writer leading the writing life must have:

Time. I need time to write which is obvious. What isn’t so obvious to non-writers is that I also need time to think, to daydream, to open my imagination up in order to create, solve problems and play. Yes, play. Time to play with characters, with narrative structure, with dialogue, with figuring out if my protagonist could plausibly do what I want him to do. I haven’t yet asked a friend to act out a fight with me, but it takes time to visualize physical action and then find the absolute right words to describe it without turning purple. Ideally, large stretches of uninterrupted time, unstructured within the structure of a writing workday, produces my best work.

Solitude. I require it. Writers, true writers, love it when they’re working, I think. Solitude enhances my concentration, my focus. I am less likely to be distracted when I’m alone. Plus, there’s no one around who might think I’m crazy as I mutter to myself while I pace around my apartment. Or as I act out a physical fight — well, that might look a lot like Tai Chi but still…. Non-writers and extroverts do not get this at all, i.e. solitude can be a good thing.

Writing Tools that Work. You definitely cannot go wrong with low tech pen and paper. When I’m working on screenplays, I write the first draft out in longhand on a legal pad. Everything else I start, revise numerous times, edit, and finish on the computer now. My typewriter no longer functions (note to self: call that guy to repair it). But the one thing that can drive me into a rage is when MS Word decides it needs to close for no reason and I lose what I’ve most recently written. Will we ever have word processing software that doesn’t do that? I wonder if Adobe Acrobat is better. My computer has its quirks — she’s a late middle-aged diva — but I’ve tried to take good care of her so she will work for me. Printers are another issue, but so far, I’ve had fairly good luck with them. Only one has gone berserk on me and needed replacing. But dealing with equipment failures can eat up a lot of time better spent writing. (And I back up everything!)

Understanding, Supportive and Patient Friends and Family. The people in my life understand my commitment to my writing. The easiest way to explain it is that writing is my job, my vocation as well as my avocation. What can be harder for non-writers to understand are the sacrifices that I have made and continue to make — now, I don’t think of them as sacrifices but others do — such as a quieter social life, wearing the same wardrobe for decades, eating at home more, constantly mindful of my spending and so on. Writing is not a job one does from 9-5 and then forgets about it. Writing is a life, although I hesitate to call it a lifestyle, that’s probably a good term for it.

Money in the Bank. The lack of it or its dwindling compels me to forsake the writing life in order to pay the bills. Money, however, remains the one thing in life that a person cannot really go without. I enjoy eating, wearing clothes, having a roof over my head, being warm in winter and cool in summer, being able to travel to the post office, grocery store, etc. You know what I mean. So, in order to NOT have the distraction and worry about how the bills will be paid next month, having money in the bank is crucial to the writing life.

I cannot NOT write. I will carve time out of my days to write once I’ve settled into the job — if I get it — but my writing life will be smaller, slower, and no longer a full-time endeavor….

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