About a year and a half ago I left my full-time position in corporate America to take a twenty-hour-per-week position at a small business. My reasoning was that having more time away from work would make me a better writer.
Imagine my surprise when I discovered that I was right…and wrong.
Yes, I did become a better writer. But not necessarily because of my time away from work. I am convinced that I became a better and saner writer because of my time spent at work.
Let me explain.
Writing is one of the most fascinating, inspiring, lonely, exhausting endeavors known to humankind. At least, I think it is. All those extra hours meant I could ruminate myself into any number of diagnoses detailed in the DSM IV.
Thanks to my day job, I have managed to avoid any (formal) diagnoses.
Reason Number One My Job Makes Me A Better (Saner) Writer:
It gives me a break from staring at the same four walls and a reason to, you know, get out of my pajamas and shower!
This is particularly helpful when I’m stuck on some plot point. The clock striking noon is a blessing. It means I have to step away from my laptop and go into the world where I interact with people, REAL people. To quote a famous TV commercial, “Oh, what a relief it is!”
Added benefits? Well, first there is the whole paycheck issue. But also I often discover when I return home from work (where I have spent time not focusing on my writing conundrum) that I have subconsciously solved the plot problem! Plus, you know, I’ve showered and I smell a whole lot better…
Reason Number Two My Job Makes Me A Better (Saner) Writer:
It teaches me self-discipline.
As an employee in a small business I need to have the self-discipline to stay on task without direct supervision, and I do this with ease every day. But in my writing life? Yeah, that is a much harder concept to embrace. Why? Because those mornings that I’ve carved out for writing could easily feel like they belong to me. If I wanted to fart around on Facebook or Twitter or have a delightful brunch with other writer friends, who would stop me? I don’t have a boss looking over my shoulder.
Or do I?
Of course I do! My agent, my editors, my publisher, and my readers may not be in the same room with me while I’m doing the butt-in-the-chair time, but they are absolutely expecting me to meet my deadlines and produce that next book.
So I approach my writing time in the same manner as my day job. Each morning I pour a cup of coffee, punch in mentally as I walk downstairs to my writing studio, assess the tasks at hand by re-reading the last chapter or two where I left off, and then…I get to work.
That’s right, I work. Because writing is my job, and I am on the clock.
This realization, more than anything, has helped me grow from hobby writer to professional writer and yeah, when I think of my writing time in that manner, it does make it pretty impossible to justify a CWTV Binge of Vampire Diaries.
Reason Number Three My Job Makes Me A Better (Saner) Writer:
Because my real job title is Project Manager.
At any given moment in my day job I answer the phone, reschedule patients, check insurance benefits, assist the doctor, perform patient modalities, and greet unexpected walk-in patients. Sometimes all these tasks hit at exactly the same moment, and I have to don my real job title of Project Manager and simplify an overwhelming situation by applying one easy rule: people first, paper second.
This is true of writing as well…sort of.
Think about it. A writer must write first drafts, revise subsequent drafts, post blogs, attend writing-related events, tweet pithy tweets, update Facebook profiles and pages, speak at conferences, and network with publishing professionals. The demands put on the writer in the modern age are endless and overwhelming. If we attempt to do them all at once, in no time our creative lives begin to feel a lot like we’re spinning a hundred plates in the air all at once.
Now, we may get to take the occasional bow. We may even be lulled into the false belief that our ability to spin those plates is what make us writers.
But we’d be wrong.
Writing is what makes us writers.
Sure, those spinning plates, aka all the activities mentioned above are great. But after a while trying to do them all is bound to make us dizzy, exhausted, and unable to do anything well. Before we know it, we’re far behind our writing schedules and it’s going to take a miracle to meet our deadlines.
Bad news. Bad, bad news.
A successful writer is one who is also a good Project Manager, able to apply one simple rule: writing first, spinning plates second. Or, to make it clearer: FINISH THE BOOK.
Reason Number Four My Job Makes Me A Better (Saner) Writer:
It forces me to perfect the fine art of cooperation.
Cooperation is a must in a small business. There is no bank of cubicles to disappear into when conflict rears its ugly head, no legion of other co-workers to hang with in an attempt to avoid that person, no HR department with formal arbitration procedures. It’s just you and your co-worker, sharing a desk space, working through it. All of it.
I happen to think this is a very good thing. It promotes growth and compromise and perfects the fine art of cooperation.
And yes, this is also a skill that benefits writers.
Yeah, yeah, I know. You’re alone in your living room, nose deep in your laptop. It certainly feels like you’re doing all this by yourself much of the time. But if your book is to find its ways into a world beyond the names on your Christmas card list, you’re going to be working with others. Literary agents, publishers, substantive editors, line editors, copy editors, production managers, cover designers, publicists, reviewers, blog tour organizers… Do I really need to go on or is your living room feeling a little crowded now?
Now, in this day and age, most of my interactions have taken place via email or phone, but it doesn’t matter whether these relationships are built remotely or in person. The fact is, I am building relationships.
Important, career-sustaining relationships.
My job at a small business has taught me to approach these relationships as I would any professional relationships. With respect for their opinions, their time, and their talents. It is crucial that I set aside any defensiveness and let them help me make my book as strong and marketable as it can be.
Let me repeat that because it’s important:
It is crucial that I set aside any defensiveness and let them help me make my book as strong and marketable as it can be.
That means I listen to their feedback. That I am willing to look at my baby, ahem, my book with greater distance than I ever have before. That I admit to myself that I have a lot to learn. And then, I learn, learn, and learn some more.
In other words, I strive to perfect the fine art of cooperation.
Oh man, I have a ton of other examples about how my job at a small business has helped my writing career, but guess what? It’s time for me to get ready for work! One thing I know for sure though—I will be a better, saner writer when I get home tonight.