The Choice Not To Write Full-Time

June 17, 2009

Most of my columns have focused on ways to make the transition from whatever you currently do into being a full-time writer. But what if you don’t WANT to be a full-time writer? I’m not talking about not writing full-time because you’re AFRAID to give up the day job, or are in a position where retaining the day job NOW will give you the freedom in three to five years to make the shift.

I’m talking about not WANTING to write full-time.

I compare it to the way I feel about cooking. I love to cook. It’s how I relax. I read cookbooks the way many people read novels. I enjoy some of the shows on the Food Network. I write articles about great restaurants. But every time there’s a competition on the Food Network, I turn the channel. I don’t enjoy those shows. It invades, erases, and removes my enjoyment from the process of cooking because it’s focused on the business of cooking. I’m not interested in the business of cooking. If I went into cooking as a profession, it wouldn’t be fun anymore. Cooking is what I do to decompress from writing. The creativity in cooking supports my writing, and cooking also allows me to relax. I have friends who knit for a living, providing garments for Broadway, film,and television. I play at knitting. I pick up the needles when I feel like it. I’m not committed enough to it to learn enough to get paid for it, and if I had to face those types of deadlines, again, I wouldn’t enjoy it.

For some people, writing is how they relax and decompress from whatever profession they’re in, and if they had to worry about the business end of it all every day, the way so many of the rest of us do, it wouldn’t be fun.

For the purpose of this piece, we are going to talk about three different types of writers, and for ease of writing and reading, I will use the pronoun “he” in the universal sense to cover all genders: The part-time writer, who loves to write, but doesn’t want it to be the way he makes his living; the transitional writer, who is in a line of work but wants to write full-time; and the wanna-be, who talks a lot about wanting to write, but keeps making excuses not to write.

What’s the difference between someone who chooses to write part-time and a wanna-be writer? Focus and passion. The part-time writer loves to write but is also passionate about his current profession, whatever that may be, whether it’s medicine or cooking or accounting or whatever. The part-time writer also has a passion for a good story, not only as a recipient, but as a story teller.

The part-time writer has made that choice out of strength, not fear.

Whenever you make a choice out of fear, it eventually comes back to bite you in the butt. The wanna-be writer who keeps using a job he hates as an excuse not to write because the wanna-be doesn’t really think he is good enough to be a full-time writer will continued to wallow in misery, because choices are made out of fear, not strength. The wanna-be will continue at a hated job until there’s enough self-sabotage to be fired, or until he’s fired when the company folds, or until the person dies. Note that the first two choices are passive, something done TO the worker. The only active choice is dying, and truly, that is the definition of “last resort.”

The part-time writer is excited to sit down at the page, even though it might not be every day. The part-time writer is more dedicated and more focused at each sitting, because the part-time writer wants to be there. The part-time writer is productive, because he knows there’s a limited time and comes to the page mentally prepared to work, without making excuses NOT to write during that time. It’s as important to the schedule as the weekly golf game or the hair cut or the grocery shopping trip. It is integrated into one’s life, and there’s a freedom in not having to count on it to pay the bills. At the same time, there’s a passion for the job that pays the bills. The part-time writer looks forward to getting up in the morning and going to work. Obviously, not every day is bliss, but there’s not that constant inner struggle and self-sabotage that wanna-bes face.

The transitional writer (who will get short shrift in this piece, I’m afraid) may or may not enjoy the current day job, but knows he wants to eventually write full-time. He approaches writing in a more disciplined fashion, treating writing as a second job until he’s in a position to make it his only job. For several years, he may be working full-time at his day job, and, as the writing takes off, put in as many hours on the writing as he does at the day job. Essentially, he’s carrying two full-time careers. But he wants it enough to make it worth it. I’ve done that; you’re tired most of the time. But, in the end, it’s worth it.

Initially, the part-time writer doesn’t have to worry about deadlines. Eventually, if the writer is good enough and actually sends pieces out that get published, he’ll have to make a slight adjustment. Now, he’s on someone else’s schedule, and other people depend on him to hold up his end of the bargain (the contract), so that they can do their jobs and earn their livings. If it’s a large project, the part-time writer either uses vacation time or schedules a sabbatical. Or, he moves into “transitional writer mode” for at least some of the time, treating the writing as a second job. If it’s a smaller project, he has to rearrange his schedule to get it done. The “doing” might not be as much fun as it was before, but the end result makes it worth it.

The part-time writer still takes classes and goes to conferences and networks with writers. However, because he understands the protocols of his own profession, the protocols in the writing profession aren’t quite as foreign. When he asks for advice and receives advice from a professional in the field, he graciously says, “Thank you” and decides on his own time what is useful to him and what isn’t. He doesn’t behave like the wanna-be, who stands there arguing with the pro, wasting everyone’s time and energy. The part-time writer enjoys exploring what the writing profession has to offer, because there’s not a lot of pressure involved, and therefore, not a lot of desperation. He can approach professional writers as a fellow professional in another field. There’s already common ground. There’s not a sense of “You’re published and I’m not, so you OWE me” that’s become so prevalent on forums and in conferences the last few years.

Will the part-time writer ever become a full-time writer? It’s possible. In many cases, it’s even probable. But when that time comes, it is a CHOICE. The part-time writer approaches the needs of the business with the same professional attitude he uses in his own work, but also has freedom because of his enjoyment of his current work. And that will help make whatever CHOICE he makes the right one.

–Devon Ellington publishes under a half a dozen names in both fiction and non-fiction. Visit her blog on the writing life, Ink in My Coffee.


One comment

  1. […] I’ve got some ideas on approaches to writing if you DON’T want to be a full-time writer, but still want to write, over on the SDR blog. […]

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