The Price of a Career

Have you made sacrifices for your career? Lost friends? Not spent as much time with loved ones as you might have liked? Taken less vacations? Become more sedentary than is good for your health?

Writing is a solitary profession. No one understands the cost involved or why we spend hours hunched over the computer. No one warned us about the time we’d spend setting up book events, creating book trailers, preparing workshops, answering fan mail, writing blogs, and updating our websites. Even my maid remarked recently, “You spend a lot of time at home.”

I tried to explain how this is my job. It requires hours of hard work like any other small business. As far as accepting social invitations, I’m guarded of my time because it’s so precious, and I never seem to have enough minutes in the day. I guess this makes me more of an “All work and no play” type of gal, but we writers feel guilty when we’re not at the computer, right? And when I really want to play, I go to Disney World or on a cruise. Every other time is work time, and lunches with friends or an occasional mah jong game become breaks from the daily grind. Other writers understand this compulsion. They’re just as eager to return to work after time away from home, whether it’s writing or marketing their various projects. Or am I the only nutcase out there?

How do you deal with people who figure you’re home all day so you should be available to chat on the phone for a half hour or go out for an impromptu coffee date or pick up their purchase for them at a store twenty minutes away? Do you say yes to everyone, because you’re too nice to refuse, come up with an excuse, or say you’re working? Have you been tempted to retire from writing so you can have a life of leisure and hang out with your friends all day? So you can leave the desk behind and “have fun” instead with your spouse who relies on your companionship? What has your career cost you? 


13 thoughts on “The Price of a Career

  1. I’m a very solitary creature so writing fits nicely. I’m not much of a socializer beyond a few outings with a small circle of friends.

    It does cost me misunderstanding. Non-writers have no grasp of the amount of hours work involved in just one novel. And so I get asked to do this, and do that, because surely, I’ve got plenty of time to take on those tasks.

    Last year I didn’t say no very well and wound up completely exhausted, run down and leached of creativity (not to mention minimal word count last year). Starting in December, I whittled down my participation in a bunch of things to just one or two things.

    Now I am more at peace, can get more rest and have already written 50,000 words into my next manuscript.

    I want 2011 to be the year of verifiable production, not the year of “I wish I’d a”

  2. It sounds as though you are on the right track, BK. It’s hard when our friends don’t understand the amount of work involved in being a writer. Sometimes I put in 12 hour days, doing my writing quota and then writing blogs, reading loops, etc. Being a novelist is totally time consuming and requires a great deal of self-discipline.

  3. Hi Nancy,
    Thanks for the post. Holding down a day job and trying to get my second book written within a short deadline is really hard. So much harder than I thought it would be. Family and friends have a hard time figuring out why it takes up so much time. But I have to admit I love what I do. I just can’t get this balance thing down yet.

  4. Since I love what I do I’ve never thought about the sacrifice aspect of it. It’s hard work and does involve being a “small business.” That’s how I view it. Of course, when I take a vacation with Mrs. B, I still manage to rise early and tap out some pages, and am always thinking, at every relaxing turn, “What if…”

  5. Well when my maid tells me I spend too much time at home I tell her to shut up! My personal chef just thinks I’m weird and as for my two butlers, they are writers themselves actually so they can totally relate.

    We have tough lives as writers, people just don’t understand!

  6. I’m relieved to be able to work from home and set my own schedule, so that aspect hasn’t been a sacrifice. I do miss the structure and enforced schedule of a “day job.” Maybe if I had to report to the publisher’s office, sit down at a cubicle and work eight hours a day, I’d be more productive!

  7. Six little words.

    “I’ll have to check my calendar.”

    And I’m fortunate to also have seven more.

    “I’ll have to check with my wife.”

    Sometimes ignorance is bliss.

  8. Daniel, I like the “I’ll have to check my calendar” remark. Jillian, it’s even harder when you work full time. Then you have to fit in family time with working at the computer. James, we’re always thinking “What If” or holding conversations with our characters in our heads. It’s the nature of being a writer. Taylor, my footmen are the writers in my manor household. Kathryn, if we went to work at a real office, people might actually believe we had a job as writers!

  9. Having a day job does indeed cramp the style of the sophisticated writer…but it beats living under a bridge and starving.

    In a similar vein my wife has homeschooled our two younger sons for for the past 8 years. When people learn that they study at home they usually assume they sleep late, study when they want, and get long recesses. Little do they know that for most homeschoolers the academic year never ends and when mom and dad are your teachers there’s never a functional no-homework excuse.

  10. There’s an old expression that goes something like “if you want something done, given to someone who’s busy.” I like being busy. Crazy busy. As I’ve posted here in the past, writing full time truly did not work for me. I’m too much of an extrovert for the solitary life of a writer.

    As for sacrifices, I look at them more as compromises and value assessments. On any given day, will I really get so much done that it’s worth wasting a hike on a beautiful afternoon? For me, the answer is almost always no. Between the day and night jobs, I work about 12 hours a day as it is. I try never to take away from family time.

    Thing is, if I’m not working 12+ hours a day, I don’t feel like I’m being productive.

    Still, choices have to be made. You’ll note, for example, that I have not been as attentive a blog-tender as I used to be. That’s because I can’t just jot something down and leave it alone. I have to write it, then read it, make edits, read it again, and then edit it again. Simple posts like this one eat up 10 or 15 minutes. My Friday blog typically takes me two hours to write.

    As for saying no to people, I’ve always been pretty good at that. (Except that time I agreed to judge the Edgar Awards. Yikes!)

    John Gilstrap

  11. Great post Nancy. Since I am home there are some people who think I am therefore a ready made babysitter or errand runner for the real people with jobs:) I find balancing motherhood duties with my career as a writer a challenge. I end up putting kids first and writing second, sometimes to my own detriment.

  12. Clare, our kids always came first when they were home, but we’re empty nesters now. Because my husband is retired, people think I am, too. It’s hard to explain what being a professional writer entails.

    As for beautiful weather, I’ll take walks outside for pleasure and exercise or an afternoon out for lunch…but then it’s back to the computer. Tomorrow afternoon is a mah jong game, because I’m trying to cultivate non-writer friends so I can keep a foot in the real world. But that means I have to get the page quota done in the morning. As John said, choices have to be made.

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