When I was a bright, bushy-tailed youth and told people I wanted to be a writer, I often heard the unhelpful but well-intentioned advice, “You know, you can work and write on the side.”
I never figured out why people thought they needed to tell me this. Of course I knew I wasn’t getting that money tree as a graduation gift, or that getting paid to write would be about as easy as marrying the Prince of Wales.
I figured that in their own way, people had my best interests at heart, but that was not the advice that I needed to hear.
So to those who are trying to write while living and to this new wave of graduates and anyone else, let me reframe that cruddy piece of advice into something more useful.
Writing takes sacrifice.
If you truly want to write daily and create something, you have to make sacrifices.
You have to sacrifice reading time, time spent watching your favorite TV show, or time spent sleeping in. You might sacrifice going out with friends on a Saturday night or meeting them for Sunday brunch.
At some point you may sacrifice cleaning your house, and a friend comes to visit and they start to wonder if you’re okay, if maybe you need “help”. Or you sacrifice going over your finances, and oops, you missed a bill.
You will sacrifice time with loved ones, which means they will make that sacrifice as well. Be sure to show them appreciation for it.
If you’re like me, you’ll sacrifice your health by drinking too much coffee and eating too many M&M’s.
In some people’s eyes, you might sacrifice your coolness factor, because the more you spend time writing, the less time you spend out in the world, having adventures.
I’m sorry, but it’s like this. In order to write, you have to give something else up.
I learned this after years of working while “writing” on the side, and I put that in quotes, because I was doing anything but writing.
There were things I learned the hard way. I learned that after a day of a thousand interruptions and phone calls and disgruntled people and office politics and a commute, the desire to chill the fuck out and do nothing else was overpowering.
I realized that “working while writing on the side” really meant “working while keeping my sanity duct-taped together and writing on a day that sucks less than the day before it”.
I learned the hard way that I had to give some things up, that I had to say “no” while asserting my writing time.
I learned that making this sacrifice is scary. Once a day, I work for about an hour on my fiction, and I feel guilty for doing it, because a jackal voice tells me the time could be better spent. I think about how I’m not getting paid for it, how it’s one less hour working on my business, and all the steps ahead of me to get published and whether I have any of that in me.
Every single one of those hours is filled with gratitude and fulfillment but also doubt and uncertainty as I wonder whether the sacrifice will pay off at all.
What is that sacrifice worth? It’s worth knowing that when I’m old that this is the one thing I won’t regret, because In spite of all these sacrifices, I can’t not do it.
Reframing this notion, this notion of doing other things while writing, really challenged the role that writing played in my life. I realized that (like most things in life) that this effort wasn’t going to be handed to me in a tidy package. In other words, it’s not going to come easy.
There was always going to be conflict, the edges of life rubbing up against each other. I couldn’t wait for someone to give me permission to do my work; I had to give myself permission.
So far 2015 has been my most productive year, but it required this sacrifice. It required giving a few things up: sleep, reading time, Facebook time, television time, time with loved ones, paid work, housework, and going over my finances.
You will have to find out for yourself if you can make that sacrifice. You don’t have to give up the same things I did, and you can choose how much you can give up without it all falling apart. But if you want to make progress, you will be asked to give up something.
I promise you it will be worth it. You will look back in a few months and see how far you came. It will feel grand. You will feel like you’re doing something, like you’re getting somewhere. You won’t feel like a fraud when you call yourself a writer.
You will get closer and closer to that thing you’re striving for – a draft of your first book or a regular posting schedule or something resembling your authentic voice – and you won’t feel like you’re making a sacrifice anymore, because you will feel so good that you will look forward to your writing time. And if you’re really crazy, you’ll wondered why you bothered doing anything else.