It’s a Lifestyle
Awhile back I met with a writer who has a family and a great career, and has written a novel “on the side.” It’s been sitting in the drawer, but he’s decided he finally wants to figure out how to get that darn thing published.
In the course of our conversation I realized, as I was telling him all the things he needed to do, that I was really telling him that being a successful published author isn’t possible if you continue to look at it as “some little thing I do on the side.” It’s not just a hobby or a sideline.
It’s a lifestyle.
If you’re going to get an agent, get a publisher, and do all the work necessary to help that book sell while writing even more books, you’ll need to adopt an attitude and a frame of mind that says, “I’m a writer.” It permeates your life, even if your life is already full with a career and a family and whatever else you do.
Authors need to educate themselves about publishing (by reading agent blogs, following Twitter, reading books about the industry) because today, it requires that kind of savvy.
It also helps if you network with other writers, because it puts you in touch with others going through the same frustrations, people who understand what every little victory means in a way that a non-writer simply can’t.
There’s so much to learn about writing great books and crafting effective queries and marketing yourself via the Internet.
All of this takes incredible time and effort.
You can’t simply write a novel in your spare time, mail it off to a few editors, then go back to your life and let the publisher take it from there. I’m not sure if those days really existed, but if they did, they’re long gone. Getting published and helping your book to reach decent sales numbers requires a commitment. It may be the equivalent of a part-time job.
If you have a family, a job and other commitments in your life, consider carefully whether this is the direction you want to pursue. Do you want to make it a lifestyle?
If not, that’s okay. Maybe the life of “published author” isn’t for you; or maybe this simply isn’t the right season of your life. It’s your choice, but be sure you’re making your choices based on the facts.
And the fact is, the way to succeed as an author is to make it part of your daily life, part of who you are. It really does take that kind of mindset.
Q4U: Have you made “being a writer” a lifestyle? Do you agree that you need to? I’m especially interested in hearing from writers who have a publishing contract. Give us the view from your perspective.
Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent
>Not sure. I wrote a book because I needed the money, got it picked out of the slush pile and published, wrote 3 more that were also published. My editor said she got letters from readers asking for more. It's true, of course, that these weren't bestsellers, but then most books aren't anyway.
>I think good writing comes from a consuming passion – great writing comes from a passion that has consumed one’s life. As such, I have set out to pursue my writing as a full-time lifestyle – but alas, the world allows me to be consumed only on a part-time basis.
>I'm still pretty early on in this whole journey so take my comment for what it's worth. For me, I'm trying to make it a mindset but being at a stage where I have no commitments, no deadlines, nothing to put pressure on me to get writing, feels rather freeing. It allows me to let life happen and get my writing done when it's enjoyable. My life has been in a relative state of upheaval for a while and the writing, especially this week, has had to take a backseat. I know this is something that can't happen when under contract and on a deadline. Which is why I'm not sure that publication is something I'll pursue in the immediate future.
>I've written seven books, all fiction. After each tour ended, I would crawl under a rock with a box of chocolate covered cherries, feeling very sorry for myself. I'd suffered. I'd lost luggage in airports and endured signings where only my cousins showed up. Sometimes it took a year to recover from a tour.
I wasn't the only slacker. In the days before the Internet, self promotion wasn't clearly defined. Genre authors had the right idea, but their highbrow counterparts dismissed these efforts. In those days, a publisher kept midlisters around, waiting for a breakout book. In the late 1990s, I nearly lost a contract after my editor was fired and a new editor took a dislike to my sales figures. I wasn't the only victim, of course, but somehow I managed to stay in the game. I quickly learned that starred reviews wouldn't be enough to save my career. But I still wouldn't promote beyond a tour (which only took a month or so but left me limp and peevish, longing to return to a new fictional world).
Fast forward a few years. I have three books under contract; I also have a contract with a second publisher for a different sort of novel, but it's such a departure, I'm using a pen name. Years ago, I swore I'd never have a blog or a Facebook page, now I have both. I Tweet, though irregularly. Part of my advance is earmarked for a private publicist (who helped tremendously with my last book). When my new book is published (and no, I'm not expecting a tour), I will hit the road on my own and try to sell the pants off my book.
In the old days, I would have crawled under my little rock. Now, I'll Tweet, blog, and take pizza to book signings. This isn't the age for modesty or false-pride. It's a brave new publishing world, and I'm grateful to still be in the game. I came perilously close to losing everything; it behooves me to know what's happening in the industry and to kick my rock to the curb.
Yes, publishing has changed, and I've changed with it. But I will always live for those moments when I "fall into the page," as Stephen King once described. Writing can be addictive. If I lost my editor and my contracts, I'd keep on writing. Words aren't just words–they're oxygen.Author Marge Piercy said it best in her poem "For the Young Who Want to Write."
"You have to want it more than being loved."
>I think it makes the difference between a successful and unsuccessful author. It's all about setting priorities and making a commitment. And hey, being a writer is not such a bad lifestyle…
I've actually had people say, "I could write this." My comeback? "Try getting it published."
>I tell you what: my hat is off to those who can work full-time, raise a child(ren) AND write and publish and market/promo their books! It truly can be a full-time job. I'm one of the lucky ones whose child has grown and left for his own life, and I don't have to "work outside the home" any longer.
There's not a moment I'm not thinking about my books, and there's barely a moment when I'm not doing something or preparing to do something or trying out something or …etc… for my books so that they will be a success — all the while writing the next one.
Seven days a week. I forget (or simply don't) take many days off – and when I do, I'm still not really taking time off (blogging or twittering or facebooking or talking to readers or checking email or…)
As well as the novels, writing up essays or short stories or poetry for publishing to keep that going as well. Maybe an article or two in a local news/entertainment publication. All these things count as well towards who I am, my profession, my dream career as a writer.
I also volunteer/work as a co-editor/publisher of an online journal – that keeps me hopping in the business, too. It keeps me surrounded by writers and connected to writers/poets/artists.
Sometimes I think I am working harder than I ever did in my life for what seems like so little monetary return (in relation to hours and sweat and worry and tears); however, I'd not trade it and go back to "regular old jobs and regular old life" ever ever ever . . . this is what I used to dream about, this writing life, while I slogged away at a desk for years.
I'd say to all those out there who tell me "Yeah, I'm going to write a novel and then I can quit my job, sit back and relax," or who tell me "Hey, what a nice HOBBY you have" (ARGH!), or "Once I publish my novel I can relax," to think again – this is not a (My) hobby – this is work and once you publish, it's not time to relax, but to work harder harder harder.
It's the best dang job in the world, though, if you truly love it.
>There was a time when I treated writing as a side affair, only writing when the mood struck me. It was not until I treated writing as a lifestyle (a commitment and career choice), beginning with the frightening statement of daring to say, "I am a writer," did my writing come to life.
My lifestyle as a writer involves making many sacrifices, including waking up between 3:00 and 4:00 a.m. to write before going to the eight-hour day job, Monday through Friday. My weekends are also saved for writing. I sleep even less these days since the launching of a new website, Four Days A Week, where we encourage and explore our passions, give voice to our wishes, and celebrate the joys that will always come from trying.
For me, doing what you love in life is worth the sweat and sacrifices. Yes, it’s a lifestyle worth living.
>I'd love to know more about- "reading books about the industry"
besides Michael Larson's How To write a Proposal. Please do tell Rachelle…
I am an artist-blogger-writer.
I have to write everyday for my blog and paint and the book idea is tied in so one thing feeds the other.
KATIE-I get up at 4 too and I LOVE it. We get the jump on everyone else IMHO.
I LOVE this blog. Thank you.
I read it at 4 am in the morning 🙂
>Lots of good posts with lots of differing writing-is-a-lifestyle versus oh-no-it's-not-a-lifestyle debate.
I like how Jim Rubart wrote about sacrifices–having to say no to certain things because he has said yes to being a writer.
To me that is what the writing life is all about: choices.
I've chosen to pursue writing. I've been published (both in magazines and one nonfiction book)but to accomplish those things I've chosen to not do a lot of other things I like to do. Some choices are small: I work out at home instead of the gym because I save time by not traveling back and forth. I don't stamp or do Creative Memories or any type of craft because, well, I'm craft-challenged. But, I also am striving to be a better writer, not to overcome my craft handicap. I walked away from my involvement in women's ministry because I said yes to writing.
I love the saying (loosely paraphrased) "Saying yes to one thing means saying no to a thousand other things."
My one thing I've said yes to is writing.
>Well, I can speak as a life-long (50* years) reader of Science Fiction. Although many prominent career writers flourished in that field, it was also a field that welcomed the working engineer, research scientist, etc. as an author of both short stories and novels.
These individuals have enriched the field. If the industry has changed so that only career professionals can now be published, the loss will be felt by the readership who will be deprived of the creative output of those writers whose "day job" is in some other profession.
And, ultimately, if publishing works less well for the reader than in days past, that is a bad thing and it does mean the system is broken or breaking.
Myself, I have one story I hope to tell, and by whatever means I hope it finds a receptive audience. I have a decades long day job as a computer guy, and no wish to change careers or find a "lifestyle". I just want to tell my story. If the world of publishing is not "down with that", then I've got some epithets not suitable for a family-friendly blog. There are, after all, other ways to seek an audience.
Bottom line, if the people in the industry will not or can not do business in such a way to help me achieve my goals, then rather than change those goals, I will seek alternatives to attempting to work with the industry.
Sorry for the harsh tone, it's aimed at the embedded assumptions of publishing practice. You, Rachelle, are "good people" and I'm not trying to shoot the messenger here.
>Yes, I agree that this isn't a hobby or pastime. As I have gotten more involved with my writing and the submission process, I have come to think of myself as a writer who has a dayjob to pay the bills. But the writing is what I enjoy (even as I sweat blood over it.) It is what I do, and what I am. It is what I live for. The rest is to make a living.
>As someone who is just getting started, and trying to decide if this is the life I'm called to, and if it's the right season – I agree that it is a lifestyle. The more I get in the writer-mode, the more of my brain it occupies. Writing threads into every part of my life with every experience adding a seam to the beast. I can't seem to escape it, nor do I find I want to. Beyond researching the business and connecting with other writers – words and phrases and experiences catch my attention, sometimes even in my sleep!
I apologize in advance for not posting this comment on the entry about market research, but I wanted to make sure you see it.
I respectfully disagree with your argument that market research/focus groups would not help publishing and that complaining is pointless. The publishing industry tends to be very insular and often shortsighted, and it thinks it knows what its customers want. Unfortunately, that's definitely not always the case.
For example, it seems to have the impression that books by and about people of color don't sell. (See the Liar fiasco or the Magic Under Glass uproar for more details.) Or ask Zetta Elliott, who was told over and over that no one would want to read about a black girl traveling back in time, no matter how good her story was, leading her to self-publish. This phenomenon is not limited to young adult literature, either; see Octavia Butler and Ursula LeGuin for just a couple examples. Apparently, pretty, skinny white people are the only characters worth writing about.
But if publishing did some actual research into its audience and the audience's respective interests, it would see this simply isn't true. (Let's set aside the fact that it's unethical to pretend only one segment of the population has a story worth telling.)
In this time of great change, the industry is going to have to pull its head out of the sand and really take a look at the world it supposedly reflects in the books it publishes if it wants to survive.
>I'm big into moderation, though I don't always apply it in my life. When I think of lifestyle, I think of the way a person lives. For me, living to write just doesn't seem any more right to me than saying my lifestyle is being a teacher. My life needs balance.
Does this mean I lack dedication? No way! I like the reference to writing being a part-time job. For me, writing would definitely fit that category. Still, I'd say it's a hobby. I do it for fun, and I want it to stay fun. I don't want to turn it into that job I go to everyday and thank God for my days off. It didn't start off that way, so why does it have to end like that?
Publication is a goal I have, and I'm still learning the trade. Sometimes it seems I spend more time researching than writing. ha! Maybe researcher would be a better label than writer.
>Ugh…apologies for the typos in that last post. I hit send too soon.
>Before a writer is published they have the luxury of time and of choosing where to slot their writing in. Once they are contracted everything changes and teh writing shifts from a hobby to a part-time job absolutely because you are now being paid for your work and that brings a new level of commitment and expectations.
Before you are published, anything goes. Everyone is at a different point and their day jobs have different demands on their time. I am fortunate in that my day job is more than just a career, I own a company and even if I were to hit the NY times list, it's doubtful that the I'd match my current income, so it's a balancing act. For me, as much as I love writing, it's not a lifestyle, I can't afford for it to be. It's a wonderful hobby though, one that brings much satisfaction. Maybe one day that will change….we'll see.
>What a beautiful post and so true. Thank you!
>While I've not yet published a novel, I definitely consider my writing my "full time job" it is what I do and what I want to be. It's what I love. My part time job is what I do to help pay the bills.
I think if you're going to be a writer you have to WANT it with everything that is in you. Otherwise with all the other things 'real' life throws at us you will simple give up or burn out.
>Yes, writing both prolifically and well enough to be published demands a mind set that is devoted to the cause. It also requires a lifestyle that can accommodate the time required to create a book. But the beauty of the lifestyle is that it's flexible. We each design our own. It's just one more thing that makes me write-happy.
>When I first started this writing journey a couple of years ago, I could really relate to this guy. The last thing I had time for was a part-time job. But at some point, if you're serious about writing, you need to make a decision. And that decision will have consequences on everything else you do — as well as the people around you. Now that I'm a month away from publishing my first book, I can truly say that I'm a writer. I'm committed. This isn't just a hobby anymore. Yes, I still have a full-time job and actually now juggle more responsibilites than I did when I started writing, but writing is a choice. Even a lifestyle. There's no such thing as having one foot in the writing world. If you want to be published, it's all or nothing!
>I'm totally there, Rachelle. Though what the writing life would require from me was something of a surprise when I became published. I'm learning it all in hindsight it seems, after publication and while I await my next contract. Perhaps the next go-around, I'll be better armed and not so shocked to realize the doors I had opened by seeking publication. Honestly, though, I wouldn't give it up. Once you walk through those doors, you're a writer and you can't really become an un-writer after that. 🙂
>Daniel, excellent comment. It's so hard for me to say those words! Even after I got an agent, when people ask what I do, I still say "Stay at home mom/former journalist." I don't know why it's so hard. Bleh.
>One of the greatest turning points in my life as a writer was the day after a writers' conference when I introduced myself to someone in a coffee shop and said, "I'm a writer."
Not "I want to be a writer."
Not "I'm trying to be a writer."
Not "I'm an engineer and I write."
Those three words propelled me across a canyon of self-doubt. I no longer question whether I'm a writer. I frequently question what I've written, but never whether I should have written it.
Is it a mindset? Is it a lifestyle? Does the semantic distinction matter? Not really. If writing doesn't consume every bit of you it can get its hooks into, you aren't a writer.
Say it with me: "I AM a writer!"
>Wow Rachelle! There's rarely something I hear that I just never came close to pondering before. But I gotta admit, I've never thought about this.
I'm almost exactly like the person you describe…I do write regularly, but I have a pretty awesome career in software, I'm involved in my church and coaching my daughter's sports teams, and I also practice classic guitar.
Don't get me wrong. I would love to be published. But I guess what you're saying is, there's only so time in the day and if I ever "arrive" I'm going to have to kick something out…and I'm not completely convinced I want to!!! 🙂
>Yes, the writer's life takes dedication and lots of devoted time. It's important, though, to not see all of the activities and steps as just so many hoops you have to jump through.
I led a session on blogging at the recent Festival of Faith & Writing, and I told the writers in attendance that I started my blog rather grudgingly, because an editor who liked my book proposal told me to "build a platform" and keep in touch.
What I discovered, though, is that blogging isn't just one more time consuming thing I have to do to get my book published, it's a time consuming activity that helps me be a better writer. My blogging schedule pushes me to write many more words a week than I otherwise would—I'm able to practice putting words together, and to develop my voice. Blogging also gives me an opportunity to develop and try out my ideas, and to get feedback from others.
Three years ago I wanted to write up my proposal in a weekend and "see what happens." Today, as I'm finishing up the third or fourth version of my book proposal, I'm confident that the proposal is truly ready, and I am too.
>At this point, writing daily is a lifestyle. I have my scheduled time to write and it comes before the laundry, cooking and cleaning–but after my quiet time with God and the gym. (I can't think unless I work out first!)
I had to become very disciplined about this after my 2nd baby was born. She took two naps a day–three hours total–and that was the only writing time I had. I forced myself to sit at the computer and crack out 1500 words a day, no matter how exhausted or post-baby depressed I was. Now I feel like something's wrong if I'm not writing at 10 a.m.
One thing that's hard: giving up other things. I can't give up my family (though sometimes they've felt that I have…I wrote a blog post about my daughter complaining, "we haven't played together in YEARS!") or sleep (kudos to all of you who can do that, but I'm unbalanced and sick without my sleep) or God (duh).
So lots of fun stuff has gone by the wayside. Hard. But writing is worth it and I do take it seriously. That's why it irritated me when a lady I know told me, "Writing a novel? Oh, what a nice little hobby!" Rrrr….
>This seems like nothing but book lovers. I would consider myself quite the book lover and due to that its allowed me to have the utmost respect for writers. I will admit though…I dont understand why the price of books are always so sky high. I avoid that fortunately by using http://www.bigwords.com. They search all the online book retailers and rental sites for me. So its easy to find low prices. In fact they actually find them for me. So its effortless. Great site indeed.
Great question. It's fun to read everyone's perspective. I believe writing is a lifestyle. I recently got my first contract(as you know:)) after writing and studying the craft for 20 years. I'm still struggling to find balance. I compare it to a marriage. Sometimes one spouse gives a 100% and the other can't or sometimes it's 25% and the others 75%. With my full-time day job as a counselor I give it everything I have. Some days are easier than others. Some days I'm able to write more than other days depending how intense the day job was and you just keep working away. I've found my biggest motivator to be that I love what I'm doing. Can't ask for more than that in my opinion. this writing life is one you have to be very mindful of and if you're writing for a publisher there are committments to be kept. Each individual has to decide how much they want it and are they excited to do the hard stuff.
>@Marcia – To approach as a real job and a lifestyle, I definitely had to consciously give some things up. I told the two Girl Scout troops I help with, for example, that I would continue to do paperwork/money stuff, but no longer take responsibility for any programming. I say "no" to most new volunteer jobs that come along. My house is definitely dirtier, and our meals somewhat less from-scratchish than they used to be. My husband has picked up some of my slack, but he works full-time so we've just learned to make do. The hardest part is that I do spend less time with my kids. My 4-year-old said to me the other day, "I don't want you to be a writer, Mommy. I want you to be a servant." After I stopped laughing (and being a little impressed that he could articulate his feelings that way), I did feel a little sad that my writing does take me away from him much more than I was away from my older children when they were his age.
@Katie – The fact that you get up at 4 a.m., have a child and a full-time job as a TEACHER nonetheless leaves me awe-inspired (and exhausted on your behalf). Most teachers impress me, but I'm extra-impressed by your dedication. Wow.
@Arabella – YES. I definitely go through very productive periods, churning out chapters, getting several articles published in one week, updating my blogs every few days. And then there are weeks like this one where every word feels like pulling teeth. I just tell myself it will turn around if I keep at it. That kind of plodding along during dry/not-so-fun spells is part of the writer lifestyle, I guess.
>Definitely. Writing is an occupation. It is a job. A hard one, because you do it for a long time (usually) before you get paid for it. If you want to see anything happen with your writing, you have to immerse yourself in the craft, studying hard to educate yourself. You have to be thick-skinned and not afraid of encountering plenty of people who don't fall all over your dear poetic words like you do. (Love may be blind, but agents and editors are not.) And then you have to write..and write…and write…
>So why is it that it's so hard for some of us to adopt that title? "I'm a writer."
It sounds so simple, yet it's such a hard thing to say to people.
When I say it, people always look at me like what they've actually heard me say is "I'm going to be running for President in 2012" or "I'm a yellow-bellied snarfblatt."
… their expressions tell me they think I'm either reaching too high, or am ridiculous.
Fear of judgment. Am I the only writer that carries that little gem in my back pocket??
>It does need to be a lifestyle. When I wrote my book, my husband worked two jobs (I'm a stay-at-home mom) and I would send the kid out to a sitter twice a week and write all day. Then I got published. Now life has changed again because now writing is a full-time job. I now write 3 full days a week and sometimes evenings just to get the next book out. But thankfully my publishing company is easy-going in that they understand that family comes first. I haven't worked in 7 years, and now I am!
>I am not an author under contract. But I have definitely made writing a lifestyle. Even sold our house and hit the road, in fact. Gave up so many "things" for many more experiences. It's a bit, scary. True. And sometimes I'm white-knuckled about leaving what was comfortable for me, security a steady job, for my passion. But I've never been happier. And I guess whether I get published or not, happiness is a great goal no matter what. Thanks so much for this post. This comes on a day when I'm truly wondering why I've made the leap. Thanks for reminding me:)
>It's more than a lifestyle, it's who I am. I've written on holiday's, with the flu, after weddings and funerals, on vacation, on the beach in Hawaii (which my husband found amusing), in the car while I wait at the kids lessons and so on…
I have a tiny notebook with me at all times and I've been known to take down a quick thought no matter if I'm in the middle of paying for groceries, on a ride at Disneyland, or while listening to the pastor at church.
I write. My husband knew what he signed up for so he doesn't complain. Much. 😉
>For 8 years, I made writing something I did on the side. I did it after I spent the whole day with the kids, laundry, housework, bills, and errands.
I spent most of that time frustrated because I wasn't getting anywhere.
Then, early January of this year, I decided to make it a lifestyle. I came up with a book idea, wrote up a proposal, and one month later, signed with the first agent I queried.
Yes, the writing has to be a lifestyle. Absolutely.
>Life style may vary, depending on how many writer's conferences and promotional activities one considers necessary. "Life-style" has some flexibility.
But the mind-set is a necessity. One has legal commitments that must be met,deadlines and copy edits, and such.
The mind-set enables one to fulfill those commitments – even when dealing with upheaval or pain or grief.
My comparison between writers and actors is because just as most actors don’t spend their days acting and instead take up other jobs to pay the bills, most authors don’t have publishing contracts or if they do they have low book sales and are forced to take up other jobs to pay the bills. I meant no comparison to what jobs a person might take up. While the publishing industry likes to turn its attention to the bestselling authors because they pay the bills, the fact is that the vast majority of us must either have a separate career or rely on the income from our spouse’s job in order to allow us to pursue writing. It’s that reality that we must deal with.
>I started today, actually. I took the summer off from teaching because I will be at a few conferences, but also because I want to finish my novel and a few short stories. I want to dedicate a quarter of this year to writing and see what comes of it.
I want it to be my lifestyle. I am tired of dreaming of being an author and never doing anything about it. So I am taking that initiative and devoting my time to it.
So I'm glad this post came up today in my RSS reader because I just published one that said that no one should wish me luck. That didn't matter. They should wish me motivation and stubbornness because those are the true traits of a successful author.
>Before I made that commitment to a writer's lifestyle, I was what I'd call a "closet writer". I wrote everyday, but I was somehow embarrassed or afraid to tell others that I wanted to be an author. Fear of failure maybe? It wasn't until I "came out of the writer's closet" and started saying that I was working toward publication–outloud–that I actually started moving that direction. You can't do it, unless you believe it. Act like an author and eventually you will become one.
(aka Kimberley Troutte)
>"even when we're not writing or reading about writing or learning, we're still processing our lives in a writer-esque fashion and through the lens of a writer's mind."
Philangelus – I couldn't agree more. As a SAHM to a 4-year-old, and one already in Elem., these years have been spent observing and mentally filing. Blogging has helped to keep me in the mindset, not to mention (somewhat) lucid. One more year and both my boys will be in full-day school. I hope to have my novel in first draft form by then.
As you said Rachelle, the right season of life – I feel my Winter beginning to thaw.
>Rachelle, a great post, and completely true.
>Timothy, making a comparison between day jobs for actors and day jobs for writers doesn't quite work. The reason actors wait tables instead of getting "real" jobs is because unfortunately, getting an acting gig often requires an actor to *quit* the day job. Acting really stinks in its side effects on those who pursue it full time. Take it from one who saw many friends go through it in NYC, years ago.
I also knew at least one person who chose the world's oldest profession in order to have the flexibility necessary to go on auditions. Sadly, this did give her a HUGE advantage over the other wannabe actors, as she made much more money with less time commitment. Her choice always struck me as a terrible but logical result of the insidious psychological effect of "selling" one's physical person in auditions. Acting can be a destructive lifestyle, and I feel compassion for those who are driven to pursue it.
We should be very thankful that writing is a much healthier artistic obsession. I can think of many historical examples of actresses working as prostitutes, but it's not a common day job for writers. 😉
>Amen, preach it SISTER! I don't have a contract (((yet))) but I'm uber-grateful to have an uber-awesome agent, which is absolutely the result of an uber-intense lifestyle. In addition to a job. And being a wife. And a mama. But I wouldn't trade a second (or word) of it for the world. Indeed, it has to MEAN the world to you to give what it takes to write.
>Rachelle, I like your marathon analogy. I have a full-time job and a toddler; I can't devote as much time to writing as I'd like. But even when I can't write, it's still on my mind.
>One of the toughest challenges for me having just been published is giving up things I've loved.
I don't play golf much any more. I've had to cut back on times I spend with friends. Getting together for coffee just to chat has become rare. TV watching has dropped.
But until there are more hours in the day, if God has called you into being a writer, you have make sacrifices.
Your lifestyle has to change.
>In "The Forest For The Trees," Betsy Lerner writes that writers have a different way of looking at the world in that they're partially living their lives and partially observing themselves living their lives. This gives us an intense perspective on ourselves because we're constantly analyzing ourselves, but at the same time it insulates us from fully feeling our own feelings.
I'd never heard writers explained that way before, but in that sense, writing is more than a lifestyle but something of a neurosis. 🙂 In other words, even when we're not writing or reading about writing or learning, we're still processing our lives in a writer-esque fashion and through the lens of a writer's mind.
>Good morning, Rachelle;
Although I've written for years, it was just a hobby. Last year, I earned my first paycheck by writing. So, on the space on my tax form where it asks your career title I wrote "freelance writer." Something about declaring myself to the IRS made it seem more real. I have a long way to go, but I am no longer an "aspiring" writer, I am an "emerging" writer and most of that is about mindset.
I can’t speak concerning all pastors, but I grew up in a pastor’s home. Dad didn’t write books; he had a job as a fire chief at a factory an hour away from the church. It would have been easy for him to be a Sunday only pastor, since he had so much to do during the week, but the church always came before the job. He preached two sermons on Sunday and taught two Bible study lessons. He sometimes preached on Wednesday night. There were two associational meetings each month and sometimes more. Sometimes that meant driving an hour to get home from work, then driving an hour or more to get to the meeting, only to drive another hour to get home again. For state and national associational meetings, he would take vacation or comp time. He visited church members when they were in the hospital. When there was a funeral, he would take time away from the job to preach it. I’m not sure if the church paid enough to pay for his monthly gas bill, but the church came first.
I know of another pastor. He was an underpaid fulltime pastor, but for many years he wrote quarterlies for our associational publishing house. That was part of his ministry, yes, but there is no question in my mind that his church came first. He attended the same meetings that we attended and his church was larger than ours. It is my belief that if God calls a man to pastor a church and that man does not give that church the full attention that it deserves, God will not bless that man and if he is not careful, God will remove him and put someone else in his place. Keep in mind we’re talking about an entity that Jesus refers to as his bride. That should tell us something about the priority God puts on the church.
I can only assume that the well known writing pastors place the same priority on their churches. If they do not, they are not fit to be pastoring and if they aren’t fit to be pastoring they shouldn’t be writing books on the subject.
We may not all be pastors, but we need to keep the main thing the main thing. If our writing helps us to do that, great, but I believe that most of us will find that there are things that ought to have a higher priority in our lives than our writing. We need to be out there living our lives, taking care of our families, doing the work of our churches and being active in our communities. While that may push writing into a back seat, if we will do that, we will also have something worth writing about.
>@Katie Ganshert: seriously, 4 a.m. to write along with a young child and a full-time job? You have now reached hero status in my mind. You will succeed, if for no other reason, simply because you're so dedicated.
I have a question for anybody, though. Do you find yourselves going through periods of heavy dedication and focus, and then days or even weeks in which you feel like your writing life is drifting w/o focus? Please tell me I'm not the only one!
>It's definitely a lifestyle. And more like a full-time job. I salute the published authors who have a full-time job, other than writing, and a family. I honestly don't know how they do it.
I don't have another job and if I did, I'm not sure how I'd meet any deadlines. Writing is hard work and I didn't realize how hard. I thought I could get published and write when I want to, but it doesn't work that way.
For me, it's a 8:30 to 2:30 daily job. And once you're published, you don't rest on your laurels. My first content edit almost did me in. My editor was right on and the book is better now. Making the changes and putting it back together so the reader doesn't realize you changed anything, now that's a job. But the next one was much easier and I didn't pull any hair out over it. Not because there were fewer changes, but because I had experience.
My first book ships to members of the Heartsong Presents book club today! Even though writing is more of a job than I realized, I still love it and am so blessed to be doing what I love.
>I learned about the 'writing lifestyle' when I was being published the first time around. To be honest, it's the biggest reason for the long gap in my writing career.
There have been periods, after having a child (twice), moving to a new city and state for ministry, etc., that I knew I wouldn't be able to do what was required as a writer, so I took that season off. Those seasons ran together and added up to more time than I expected, but I figured it was better to have a gap than to do the writing lifestyle poorly.
Sometimes life seems plenty busy without the writing aspect of things, but I'm ready to give it all another go. It's affirming now to have project(s) under consideration with publishers. I'm proceeding knowing what will be required and doing my best to be prepared to fulfill the requirements.
>I've always viewed my writing as an investment in the future. When a person invests in the stock market, they can't take their money out a year later and expect to have a big profit. In order to gain, they need to leave their money in for many years and add to it, as well.
It's the same with writing. You need to spend time, usually years, learning the craft, going to conferences, getting to know others in the industry before your writing pays off. And once you get published, your time in the writing world will increase.
I'm a weight loss evangelist 🙂 and I've often thought (and preached!) the same thing: it's a lifestyle. Sure, you can write some, you can drop 20 pounds–but if it isn't about your life, how you live, day in and day out choices you choose to make this true for the long haul–then it's just about now.
A big step for me was admitting out loud "I'm a writer." That's an amazingly tough thing to do, or at least it was for me, and some two or three years later, it still takes a mental breath, but I do it. Because that's what I am: a writer. Does that mean I'm always diligent? Heck no! I'm a writer!! But it's a big part of who and what I am, what my life is.
>It's been my lifestyle for the past five years. It's hard work, sometimes very disappointing but it is a business and like the other businesses I've been involved in, I take it seriously. Even if it means flying across the country to a conference to meet with other writers, blogging several times a week and setting and meeting writing goals.
>For me, the writing "lifestyle" is just as much mental as physical. Maybe moreso. I tend to create blog posts and book chapters in my head while I'm driving to my real job, mowing the lawn, in the shower, etc. Then, when I actually sit down in front of the computer to put my words on "paper", it goes a lot faster. With two kids, a full time job, my own business and a writing career just beginning, I have to be as efficient as I can.
>being treasurer of my church council, on the principal advisory committee at my son's school, planning my high school reunion, and all of the other things I do, something has to give.
But…this is what I feel a lot of aspiring writers don't understand. Above are concrete examples of totally optional activities that so many are choosing ahead of writing, yet they expect to write. Writing around the edges of your life just doesn't work if you want to make the kind of leaps in craft you must make to become a pro and ultimately publish even once, never mind continually. Most people who are into a lot of activities conclude it's the writing that has to give, and they don't seem to get that this isn't totally under their control, and a matter of mindset and chosen lifestyle. Yes, the writing itself can occur anytime of day or night, but when you consider how hard it is to simply balance career and family, and you must balance career and family AND writing in all its aspects — that's probably realistically ALL that the vast majority of people can handle. Many don't realize the radical things some professional writers give up in order to write (hobbies, TV and social life being three big ones), and most all of us give up at least one very significant thing. If someone examines their life and decides writing comes last and is the first thing that "gives," nothing at all wrong with that. It's as valid as any choice. But then you must face that it really is a sometime hobby (as opposed to a serious hobby)for you. Sometimes we need to take ourselves seriously enough to say No to those other things people have always expected us to do, even in the church; taking ourselves seriously is the first step to helping others do so. As for those pastors and other visible Christians who write: Look at their acknowledgments pages and see how many people they thank for keeping their churches and families afloat while they burned the midnight oil. I question whether they write "on the side" even when you look at the big picture–they write as a significant arm of their ministry. And when it's time to write and the deadline is there, that book is the only thing.
>Thank you for posting this. I've been preparing to take on this lifestyle for so long, now it feels like there's a gap in my life. I'm just waiting to fill it.
>Maintaining some sort of balance between multiple lifestyles (work and writing for example) is so difficult. Balance implies an ongoing process of addition and subtraction to all of the various areas, a constant awareness of, not only the current "weight difference," but also of which direction the various sides of the scale are moving.
I was blessed to have two co-writing projects fall into my lap a few years ago. These have led to other opportunities which have made it (barely) possible for me to write for a living. I am now happily imbalanced.
>I agree with commenter above that it's a mindset rather than a lifestyle. I have a full-time job and even when I was working on contracted children's books I had to write them "on the side" and couldn't really change my life that much (unfortunately there's no way I would be able to get up at 4 am etc). But I think I have a much more committed mindset than friends of mine who have been "working on a screenplay" forever etc. I think about my novel every day, constantly jot notes about it, and write when I can (usually on weekends).
>I don’t know how true it is because I’ve never been there, but I’ve heard that around Hollywood every waitress you meet is really an actor and she is just waiting tables to pay the rent. I suppose it happens in all art fields including publishing, but I’m not sure that anyone has done a study that shows that the actor who waits tables between jobs is any better or more likely to succeed than the waitress who reads for parts because she enjoys doing a little acting on the side. I would guess there is a tradeoff. One puts more effort into finding a job while the other is less stressed and performs better when she has a job.
But I would like to suggest that there is another type of person, the career wannabe. The career wannabe visits all the agents’ blogs, attends the writers’ conferences, goes to the critique group meetings, writes a manuscript and may send out a few queries. But what he wants more than a publishing contract is the fellowship that comes from doing all those things. Aside from that one manuscript that he has spent the last several years “perfecting,” the career wannabe doesn’t write. He doesn’t need to write because that one manuscript provides him with the membership card into the writing community.
>This is what is so hard about it. I'm a lawyer and while law school was something of a leap of faith–i.e., working hard towards something that you don't "have" yet, spending lots of time and money, etc,–it was so much more of a sure thing. In other words, I went to a top law school and was almost certain to get a job after graduating. But with writing, you can work that hard and have nothing happen. I think other people's perceptions play into that, too. When I was in school, they were impressed and took it seriously. But until your published, I think people see it as a hobby. So it's a big fight against perception and trying not to internalize that.
Thanks for the post.
>I've thought more about this, and I think being a writer is a "lifestyle" in much the same way that training for a marathon is a lifestyle. It might be a hobby or passion to run a marathon. (It's only a career for a very few people.) But that doesn't matter. If you're training for a marathon, then it has to become a lifestyle in the sense that every single day you're making choices that affect your ability to train. You'll think about your eating choices and sleeping habits, and making sure you have time to go running or work out at the gym. Regardless of whether you have a job that takes up 60 hours a week, or a family that depends on you, you still maintain the "lifestyle" of the marathon runner – or you'll never be able to run that race.
>A lifestyle, indeed. I'm not a published writer, but I'm committed to the choice to make writing part of my life, despite other commitments. Aside from reading agent blogs, twittering, and reading books on the craft, I love that you encourage networking with other writers in this post. It's from other writers that I've learned that no two paths to being a published writer are alike, but that every path is an uphill battle at times. You must be committed to writing to make it up those mountains.
>Yes, it is a lifestyle, and one which you need to clearly communicate to your family and get them on board with. It can't be a private ambition.
My family understands that evenings are for me to crawl in my hole without interruption. Most Saturdays my husband takes the kids for five or six hours so I can have longer periods of writing. Housework sometimes suffers as I try to keep up with industry news.
There is so much to learn and after all my primary responsibilities, very little time to do it. It takes balance and sacrifice on both sides, and if it's going to work, both sides must agree to the terms. My husband rocks!
The downside of being, as you say, savvy about the business is that I am keenly aware of how difficult it is to succeed in this business. I am constantly trying to balance the realism with optimism. Sometimes ignorance really is bliss.
>Richard, loved your answer, especially your last line!
Yep. It's a lifestyle and it will continue to be. When I'm writing my kids know mommy is working and not to interrupt. And of course they always abide by this. 😉
>Yes, it's a lifestyle, and it takes hold of you, especially once you're published. Right now I'm multi-tasking, working to market my current book, preparing to publicize the one that will be out in a few months, and awaiting rewrites on the final book. Then will come the next one, and the cycle starts all over.
Why do it? Because I've discovered that I'm not a retired gentleman of leisure. I'm a writer…and I like it.
>Interesting post. There have been many writers who 'had a day job', but they almost looked at the job as the hobby.
Many years ago I had to decide if I wanted to Be A Poet or just write poetry. I fully understood what committing myself to being A Poet meant and I decided against it. In the wee hours of the night, I still question that decision. Poetry might not have supported a family, but probably would have been better for my soul. I might even have been a better person for being a poet. Ah, well!
Approaching retirement, I do not expect/need to make a living writing, but I still want my novels to be as good as possible and hopefully published.
>I couldn't agree more! I do think I've made it a lifestyle, although I've taken a slight leave of absence from the actually writing part this last month because of other life stuff getting in the way… but I can do that because I'm still unpublished:-) I've long told my family that I have 2 jobs… one full-time that pays the money, one part-time that I don't get paid for yet but hope to someday. I'm so very blessed to have a husband who gets that and supports me a ton, but still lovingly points out when I'm completely out of balance.
>Rachelle, I think you've hit on one of the most difficult aspects of pursuing a career as a writer.
The mindset! Prior to publication, I, too, woke up before my family and wrote for an hour each day. My joy was taking care of my family. My job was working 9 to 5 as a PR writer, but writing was my passion.
After publication, when I was able to quit my day-job, the battle was no longer MY mindset but the difficulty for extended family and friends to realize that I really did WORK at a JOB even though I stayed at home. A writer has to set boundaries or well-meaning folks will siphon away all that precious writing time, even if you are a published writer.
>I do agree, but will add that as much or even more than a lifestyle, it's a mindset.
To me, lifestyle implies we're all in the same boat in real life, which we're not. Some people write in the morning before work, some after kids go to school, some just on weekends. It's not at the top of everyone's list if that list includes supporting a family with a current job.
But it is foremost in all of our hearts and minds. We're writing when we're not, composing queries when riding the bus or train, having plot revelations while stirring spaghetti sauce, jotting down notes on conflict at a little league game.
I also find that the writers I know are very different from me — their lives don't mirror mine at all– except in the fact that we are committed to publishing our work. That is what brings us together and leads to nods of understanding. To me, that's head and heart.
>no. i agree completely. i think most would be authors have no idea how to market themselves though and expect the public to flock to this fabulous new book…and i just doesnt happen.
>And I don't mean to sound as whiny as I suspect that did. I realize it takes a lot of work to make a go of this; it's just very frustrating sometimes, standing at the bottom of the mountain….
>Good thoughts, Rachelle. What I've noticed as I've concentrated on my fiction writing career is that I'm not spending as much time with my family. (Sad face)Between working full time as a newspaper editor (long days), being treasurer of my church council, on the principal advisory committee at my son's school, planning my high school reunion, and all of the other things I do, something has to give. I get up early to write and stay up late to write. I'm not complaining, just realizing that there is a price to pay for everything. And unfortunately, sometimes my family (who is incredibly supportive) pays that price. I'm trying to strike a better balance but it isn't easy.
>Oh, I’ve got to disagree with this on so many levels. I can see your point about the man who wrote a book and hasn’t touched it since, but that man isn’t me. I’ve been a writer from an early age. When I was a kid, I would occasionally write articles for the newsletter that went out to the twenty plus churches in our local association. While I was in college, I was once elected to be the editor of a newsletter that went out primarily to the churches of our state association. Then it was websites and then it was blogs. And then I eventually sat down and wrote a book, then another and another and—you get the picture. Of course, I’ve educated myself in what the publishing industry is all about. I’ve gotten to know other authors and publishing industry professionals. I’ve done most of the stuff you’ve mentioned. But after all of that, I have come to the conclusion that we must learn to treat this as a hobby, not a career, if for no other reason than we need a reason not to feel guilty if we put it aside for a while and do the important stuff or just to take out time to smell the roses.
There are a great many people who are very skilled at their hobbies. Some amateur golfers can play right along side the professional golfers. Some computer programmers who develop software on the side produce software that rivals that of professionally developed software. The same is true of writers. In fact, when we look at some of the published Christian authors out there, several of them are pastors first and writing is just something they do on the side. Saying that writing is a hobby doesn’t lessen our dedication, it simply puts it in proper perspective so we don’t kill ourselves with it.
>I hate to say this, but as an aspiring writer, I found this incredibly discouraging. I do have a job (how else do people eat? I keep hearing it's impossible to make a living from writing, too), and a family, and a few things I like to do and people I like to talk to who are not part of the writing world (which I like to think gives life some balance), and certain minimum sleep requirements if I am not to become a highway hazard.
If it's going to be a part-time job, it's going to have to be a pretty small part.
>Great advice, and oh, so true! I've found that when I'm working under a deadline, my writing does dominate my life. I spend waking hours, getting up at the crack of dawn, on my computer writing. I spend my evenings after my day job writing, and sometimes I may have to take a few vacation days off from my day job to get my book done. Then doing content and copyedits can take time. Once book is released, then you have to market them and let people know on Twitter, Facebook, your blog, etc. It's a lot of work, but it's something that I have to do. I enjoy seeing my book on a shelf, but it takes a lot of effort on the author's part before you see it in the bookstores!
>Great post, Rachelle. The writing life is a huge committment. I squeeze my writing time around homeschooling a large family of 5 kids. And it's not just the writing time that I struggle to find, but time for everything else involved in the writing life: line-edits from my editor, judging a contest, keeping up with a blog, speaking at a writer's group, etc.
But because I love writing so much, all the work is so worth it!
>I wake up at 4 in the morning. Some people think I'm insane when I tell them that. They don't understand why. "You wake up to…write??" They don't get it. Especially since I'm not published. What they really don't get is when I tell them that it's one of my favorite parts of the day.
Then I go to work. Teach and maintain 25 ten and eleven year olds who get more and more off the wall the closer the end of the year approaches.
I also have a young son at home, and hopefully more kids on the way.
It definitely must be a lifestyle if I'm going to accomplish my goals. I'm giving it 110%. Hopefully that pays off someday.
>In the years that I spent initially writing and trying to find a publisher for my book, it was definitely a side thing. I'd go for a month or two without doing anything.
But since first meeting with an acquisitions editor who expressed a real interest in my work, it has definitely become a lifestyle. And since last fall, when I signed a contract, it has become a true part-time job (I am a stay-at-home mom and haven't worked full-time in 10 years). In addition to now having actual deadlines from my publisher, I also blog regularly and write for various publications (I write nonfiction so building a platform is as much a part of my work as writing). I have a set schedule and various child care arrangements, both formal and informal, to make the writing possible. I still struggle with the fact that I'm working 20-plus hours a week and earn next to nothing (occasionally get paid for an article, got a small advance). But writing is definitely at the heart of both my family's and my schedule. And I'm happier for it.
>The writer lifestyle took me by surprise when I finally settled into it last year (by accident). What started as writing down a couple of scenes that were knocking around in my head turned into a full-blown Writer Life…
I'll come back when / if I get published and let you know if it's worth it – ha!
>It is definitely a lifestyle and a commitment. I think it's important to organize your life and find the time where writing can be your main focus. I'm still struggling with this because life gets in the way but I know my writing time is essential for me to take myself seriously as a writer and become successful at it.
>it absolutely has to be a lifestyle.
not that it has to dominate your life, or that you put it in front of your family, but it has to be something you're constantly working towards.
and i agree you need to spend the time researching the industry if you ever plan on being a part of it.
>I think if you have to juggle a career AND family AND writing, you have to realize that things are not going to move as fast as you might like. But with patience and dedication, anything is possible.
For me, I had to make the "lifestyle" decision once I realized that just goofing around with the writing wasn't sufficient for me … I wanted to do it all the time. The only way to support that kind of crazy habit was to get serious about it and call it a career, which was mostly just owning up to the extent that writing had taken over my life.
I have another part-time volunteer job, but I'm lucky to not have to juggle a full-time career with the writing. I already feel like I don't have as much time to write as I'd like.
>Before, I used to call myself a writer. I hardly ever wrote. Then I went through a year of unemployment (up to like, yesterday, because I just started a job) and I found I needed to work on my writing. So I did. I have one novel in the editing stages and I'm working on the next. It's very freeing!
I sometimes don't do work, but then I feel horrible. I know I need to write every day. So since I started that job I mentioned (which this week I'm working 9-4), I get up at 6am to write and edit. That's my second job. I have to write, I have to edit, or else it won't be worth anything.
I wish I didn't have to get a job. I enjoyed my year of unemployment! Haha. I'm scared of what will happen when I do have kids and other responsibilities… we'll see, I suppose. There are always ways around things.
>I absolutely agree that being a writer is a lifestyle, even before you reach the point where you're contacting agents. You need to spend a lot of time writing, then revising, and your first book probably isn't good enough, so you'll want to write another one. Then you'll probably want to spend some time (and money) at writer's conferences and online meeting other writers and in crit groups. When you are ready to get an agent, you'll have more revisions, query tracking, then if your book is picked up you'll have to do a lot of your own publicity. It's definitely not just a side project.
That being said, with good time management and a true love of writing, you can tackle a career and a family as well as your writing goals. Though you might not get much sleep 🙂
>I'm so glad you said part-time job.
I'm certain there's a way to do this without wasting as much time online as I have. But if I hadn't read everything I've read online, I wouldn't have discovered how badly I want this lifestyle.