For years before I sat down to write, I played at writing. I attended writing panels at Cons and wrote down everything the panelists said. I read writing blogs; I read On Writing; I gobbled up everything I could on the craft without actually doing any of it.
So, what changed?
In 2014, Dylan Birtolo said (declared, actually) that writers can’t be writers if they aren’t writing. If a writer isn’t getting their “butt in the chair” every day, then they can’t call themselves writers. His words hit like a cannonball to the chest. What the hell was I doing? More than ever, now I wanted to be a real writer. I had been challenged.
Now, I can’t write every day. So I took what Dylan said modified it a little bit. My disability requires days off, and sometimes it outright forces me to take time off. Thankfully, deadlines are a surefire way to keep this at bay. I have a steadfast work ethic that gets competitive with deadlines. Gotta be early. Gotta get it done.
Being A Writer Is About Having A Writer’s Priorities.
Being a writer is hard, not only because writing is hard, but because writers have to make sacrifices. We have to demand time away from our families, both family we share space with and far-flung family who plan a vacation on top of a Conference or Workshop you signed up for (and paid for) six months ago. I’ve had to explain to every single family member that I can’t see them for XYZ event because of work. They get it, which is great. I’m lucky. (PS: Make sure you go on some vacations and make time to see your family or eventually they’ll stop “getting it.”)
Writers have to give things up. When I started writing, I had to give up some serious time roleplaying online, which was my main hobby. Roleplaying online is its own full-time commitment, and if you’re not in-game, constantly reminding the community of your character’s existence, you can easily be left behind. Why? Because storylines don’t pause for you.
Other things go topsy-turvy, too. My husband got into painting seriously at the same time that I started writing seriously, so that worked out really well for our household, but not so great for our friendships. We saw less and less of our friends, and ended up scheduling get-togethers months in advance. Our tabletop Pathfinder or RIFTS sessions are the one time a month we get to see a big group of our buds.
My husband and I have worked out this thing where I try to get most of my writing done when he’s not at home. But it took us almost two years to get to a point where I could say, “I’m going to write for two hours,” and he wouldn’t interrupt me. It was something that was sure to spark a “talk.” But it’s good now. We’re good now.
My situation isn’t typical, this one is: I met a writer recently who’s got a demanding full-time gig, gets to the gym five times a week, is active in the community, and still managed to finish a novel by writing five days a week. Altogether, he worked 70+ hour weeks to get all that done. That’s the kind of dedication it takes, and he is fully committed to do it over again. Oh, and his spouse is supportive.
Writing is a J-O-B job. Not a hobby. It’s a lot of work, but you do it because you have a passion, a need, a drive to do it. Writers spend hours on their craft — more like years and decades. Most writers have full time jobs and families that they balance along with promoting books and going to conventions. So if you want to seriously shift your priorities, here’s some tips:
- Treat it with the same respect as you would treat walking into your dream job every day.
- Give yourself enough time to complete what you need to complete for the day.
- But set an overage limit, especially if you live with people you love. Partners/Spouses/Kids like to know when their loved one will be available again.
- Talk about your writing seriously, and you’ll start to think about it seriously. It’s not “Just this little story I’m working on,” it’s “I’m working on this short story.” Talk about your writing with respect and people will treat your time with respect.
- I keep saying RESPECT, but writers rarely respect what they’re doing in the beginning because sometimes it takes a few publications (or a few dozen) before a writer starts thinking they’re Worth Something …. Let me tell you a secret: You are working on something you love and getting it done. You are taking time to live your dream. Right now, and every day you write, you are worth everything.
- Oh. And read. Every day. Charles Payseur, who does Quick Sip Reviews reads and reviews short stories every day. In December, a story of his about Paul Bunyan and Johnny Appleseed made me cry. This May, I read two stories of his that I didn’t want to end. In fact, I kept scrolling, hoping for more, but they were over. I was mad, I wanted more, needed more. They were so good, so so good. Some of the best short fiction I have ever read. He was able to do that because he reads a lot every day.
While you may have to give things up to be a writer, the payoff is worth it. My self-care takes the majority of my day, and writing/reading the rest. Now that my husband and I have our art/writing schedules fine-tuned enough, we’ve eased back into a social life. Our friends are champs and never gave up on us. But we never gave up on them either, we still went to birthday and Halloween Parties, cookouts and housewarmings. We just got a little busy (adults get busy).
I’ve made a lot of new writer friends, and (now that I have Stella), I’ve met even more great people at the Conferences and Workshops I’ve been to. These are people I would have never met if I hadn’t listened to Dylan and shifted my priorities. And Dylan, it’s been worth every word, every comma, every up, every down, every heartbreak, and every time I’ve been able to celebrate a friend’s success.
PS: The people that love you will stand by you in this. That’s how we were able to keep our friends, our family, our marriage in tact. Throw love into your writing, but also at everyone else in your life. There’s enough to go around.