Vision: A Resource for Writers
Lazette Gifford, Editor
Vision@sff.net
Holly Lisle's Vision

Walking The Double Path 

By Justin Stanchfield

©2002, Justin Stanchfield

Writing isn't for everyone.

Such a simple statement, so innocent in appearance. Of course writing isn't for everyone, odd as that may seem to those of us infected with the writing bug. Our friends and families, even complete strangers may listen politely, nodding now and then as we discuss the shadowy world of the writer, but they can never truly understand it. They don't feel the same fires, are not consumed by the need to dwell within the boundaries of our imaginations. Even the ones who say how much they would like to write, that they have ‘this idea for a book,' can't understand what we do. They don't fathom the highs and lows, are not compelled by the driving forces behind our purpose. Wanting to be a writer and actually writing are not the same thing. In fact, they are miles apart.

Writing requires determination. And guts. And tenacity. It requires a hide like a rhino's covering a heart open for all the world to see. And it requires time. Time to write,  to hone your craft, and to lick your wounds when the manuscript comes back. Time to try again and again and again until you finally climb the hundred walls each of us must scale on our roads to being published. But time, sadly, is the one luxury most writers seem never to have enough of, especially when you have to work an outside job.

It's nearly every writer's dream to one day support themselves from their writing-- to give up the grind of their day jobs and become a full-time author. The idea of writing when you want, as much as you want, and the sheer freedom to pursue your dreams on a daily basis, can be one of the strongest motivators any of us will ever know. But what if you already enjoy your profession? What if your day job is as much a part of your life as your writing? Must you give up one for the other? Is it possible, after all, to serve two masters?

Yes.

I have two jobs, writing and ranching. (In fact, I have more than two. Sometimes I take on so many part time jobs I feel like I've been roped arms and legs between four bull elephants and am being stretched until I break.) Both jobs are challenging, difficult, often maddening. Neither pays particularly well, and both take their toll on me, mind, body and soul. But I wouldn't trade either. Ask me which I would give up if I had to, my day job or my writing, and I can only shrug. Which would I rather lose, my right eye or my left? Both are part of who I am. They define me. My day job keeps my writing alive. My writing keeps my day job from killing my soul. Yin and yang, black and white, either meaningless without the other.

But that isn't to say it's always easy.

The key to maintaining both your job and your writing is the same for those who write full time: self-discipline. Quitting your day job to become a writer is, after all, no different from starting any business. A successful writer sits down at his keyboard for a set amount of time every day, forcing himself to work even when he would rather be doing something else. Being a writer is not a license to do nothing. Writing requires commitment and it requires time, and you damn well better give both if you expect to reach your dreams. Pick a time of day as convenient as possible and then stick to your schedule. Write every day. Make it as real a job to yourself as possible. Writing is hard work, and the sooner you come to grips with that, the sooner you can convince yourself it is a legitimate part of your life, and not simply a hobby or a pipe-dream. Whether you write eight hours a day, or one hour stolen from your evening, treat it with respect.

Another subject that needs to be approached from the start is how your writing time will affect your family and friends. To a certain degree, a full-time writer will have an easier time convincing their loved ones that they do indeed write for a living, that it is their job whether it is lucrative or not. For writers who choose to keep their day job, convincing others of the seriousness of their writing can be an uphill battle. Many people, including spouses, partners and parents, will (at best) falsely assume your writing is a trivial pastime, a pleasant distraction or a momentary phase. Nip this in the bud! Let everyone know you are serious about your craft, and more importantly, that your writing time is your own. When you are working at your keyboard you are as off-limits to other matters as if you were at your nine-to-five. Draw a line and stand behind it. Serve notice: you don't "want to be" a writer. You are a writer.

Are there any benefits to working two jobs? Despite all the hassles, yes. For one thing, a writer with an outside job doesn't suffer as much isolation as full-time authors. Writing is a lonely business. We often spend more time with imaginary people than we do with the flesh and blood variety. And the people you do deal with -- editors, publishers, agents, even other writers -- you seldom meet face-to-face. Writing requires a high degree of solitude, a willingness to shut ourselves off from the flow of humanity while we work. The isolation can lead to depression, even suicide. But those writers with outside jobs have an automatic safety valve. They see new people everyday, have a chance to interact in social situations and maintain a world-view away from the narrow, scattered community of writers. This alone can enhance your fiction, giving you fresh situations and a wider palette of characters. Another side effect of working two jobs is that the hours spent away from your keyboard will make the time spent actually writing more alluring. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and sometimes, when the words refuse to flow, any edge you can find is a bonus. If you are forcibly separated from your work-in-progress most of the day you will often be all the more ready when, finally, you do sit down to it.

One last caution: Of all the people who might discourage you from keeping your outside job, sadly, you may find your fellow writers among them. Not all, certainly, but some. A strong prejudice exists that unless you write full time you are not a professional. Keeping a day job is seen as a safety blanket, an excuse not to make the tough choices. Is it? I can't decide that for you. Neither can anyone else. You, and you alone, have to make that decision when the time comes, whether the pleasure and benefits you derive from your career are worth the toll it may take on your writing. Follow your instincts. Trust yourself. Whether you choose to eventually write full time or continue walking the double path is up to you. But then, would you have it any other way?