When You Write “For a Living”

As some of you may know, I write “advertorials” for a local monthly magazine. What started out five years ago as four to six articles per month peaked at thirty-four and has settled out at a relatively stable twenty(ish). When I used to work full-time at a bookstore, I always wondered what it would be like to get paid for writing. I’d hoped I’d be able to write at my desk in the back of the store, but (like so many independent bookstores) we were working with a skeleton crew, and I usually handled all our regular orders, our special orders, the daily orders and shipping to & from Sandia National Labs, as well as taking my turn working on the floor and as a greeter. I ended up squeezing my writing into the late nights and the weekends, wishing I had my mornings free to write when I feel the most clear-headed.

I wish I could say that writing for a paycheck is better or worse than writing while working a different job, but the truth is…it’s just different. Sure, I spend some of the time that I would have spent working on “my” writing working on articles about chiropractors and dentists instead…but I’ve also learned the importance of giving myself deadlines, of treating writing like a committment instead of waiting on the whims of a muse, and of seizing a moment whenever you can find one. Working from home with a flexible schedule is better for my personal writing life, but sharing that home with small children is arguably worse (for the writing part, not the personal part)!

Justin Cronin told the Houston Chronicle that he treated writing “The Passage” like a job. He went into his office at nine and left at three (better hours than my last “real” job!). Have you had a job where you could also write or one that fed your creativity? Do you find that it’s helpful to mimic some of the aspects of “work” in your creative life?

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8 Responses to When You Write “For a Living”

  1. I write physician bluegrass fiction. If it weren’t for my weekend gig as semi-pro musician I’m certain my book, “The Mandolin Case,” would have never made it to print.

    After all, who’d want to hear about the differential diagnosis of retroperitoneal lymphadenopathy when you can read about playing music all night long with folks who drink moonshine whiskey?

    Dr. B

    • Hi Dr. B.

      So your “day job” and your “weekend gigs” both feed your fiction…right? My “previous life” as a graduate student in Classics is a big part of my novel, although that’s about the only thing I share with my protagonist in this draft.

      I also think it’s interesting the other interests writers pursue and how often they’re a contrast to the verbal nature of writing. Joyce Carol Oates is a runner, you’re a bluegrass musician, and I’m a (seriously amateur) knitter.

  2. drtombibey says:

    Exactly right! You can only write what you know and all I know is medicine and music.

    My wife knows everything else. She’s also a serious knitter, and can weave and spin too.

    Dr. B

  3. I never had a job that let me write until writing was my job. ^_^ When you’re a huge hit and under contract to write eight more books, are you going to quit your advetardicals?

    • Will I quit when I’m a mega-success? Hmmmm….not the question to ask on a night when I’m scheduled to write my 2nd and 3rd “back to school” dental articles this month. (Although secretly it’s kinda fun to rise to the challenge of making them each different)

  4. My jobs have always involved technical writing, and for a while I thought it had destroyed every creative brain cell I had. Now I’m actively focusing on writing fiction, but it’s still easier for me to come up with nonfiction ideas than stories.

  5. I find that there’s not as much distance between marketing writing and fiction as you might think 😉 Hopefully, other than an addiction to ellipses (but wait…there’s more!), I hope it hasn’t set me back too far. Do you ever pitch your non-fiction ideas anywhere, or are they in a file for later?

    • I’ve sold several articles but have many more ideas waiting to be developed. My blog takes up more time than I thought it would when I started it, so I use that to satisfy my nonfiction urges. I’m working on a novel now, and enjoying the research for it more than the actual writing. Sometimes I think I should have kept my old job…(I like ellipses, too. 🙂 )

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