Someone asked me recently if I always knew I wanted to be a writer. My answer: “Always. I was going to make millions of dollars as an author, and I would never need a regular job.” I assumed that something magical would happen in college, and by the time everyone else was finishing internships and putting out job applications, I would be retiring to my bedroom with stacks of college-ruled notebook paper (yes, I prefer to write longhand), where I would churn out bestsellers eight hours a day.
Ha. It’s been years since I’ve been so delusional.
The tough thing about freelancing—or even tougher, doing something for which I have a passion but may never get paid—is making the time for it. That whole writing for eight hours a day thing was shot when I needed to actually make an income. Fresh out of high school, I figured that bookstores would be the perfect venue for me to work through college, and then I would turn around and sell my own books there.
Not only did I not get a job at a bookstore, but the job I did get was the last one on Earth I ever wanted: working for my parents’ small business. My job description had more to do with dealing with people (an introvert’s nightmare) and accounting than writing, although I did eventually become an in-house editor and writer for the company newsletter. I did what I had to do to keep from being a starving artist, and I wrote when I could. Sometimes that meant finding inspiration and writing every spare minute. Other times, I just didn’t feel like writing, couldn’t get motivated, so I didn’t. When I returned from my first maternity leave five years ago, I traded my forty-plus-hour work week and sporadic writing for a shorter work week and a load of responsibilities that left me with less time to write than ever.
Recently, I decided I’d had it. I’m not quite sure what made me fed up enough with myself to change–maybe the dissatisfaction of looking back on an afternoon when I had time to write but piddled around the house, made a shopping list, and spent too long looking at my budget instead. I realized that no one’s going to publish a book that’s not finished. No one will even know about it because I won’t send it out until I feel that it’s the best it can possibly be. And it won’t attain that level of perfection until I actually sit down and work on it. So I sat down and worked on it. Whereas most days I’m lucky to read through a few pages (and maybe fix a typo or three), I actually sat down and read more than two chapters aloud, added a scene, cut a bunch of extraneous fat. . . and I still had time to read the mail and clean up the stuff my kids dumped all over the place when we walked in the door.
It was somewhat of an epiphany (forgive me for being so dense) when I realized that, for someone who wants desperately to write and no longer works full-time, I have no excuse for not writing. Oh, I do plenty of writer things–volunteering for a literary mag and editing among them–but what about that career as a novelist I dreamed about? One of my problems is that I don’t know how to say no, so I fill my schedule with things that I may or may not need to do. And I do have my children to consider, but they nap every day. Why don’t I use those precious minutes to write?
I am not the first writer in the world with this issue. Stephen King, before he published Carrie, was a high school English teacher who typed something ridiculous like two thousand words every night after his wife and kids went to bed. Madeleine L’Engle, after having initial publishing success, went through a decade of rejection, during which she felt useless as a writer and contributor to the family budget. She almost gave up. Almost.
The last thing I want is to look back on my life and see that I gave up. Do I expect to be Stephen King or Madeleine L’Engle? Of course not. I just want to have no regrets. I don’t want to say, Well, fitness was important enough for me to get up early and exercise five days a week, but I just couldn’t ever find extra time to write. I never dreamed of being a workout nut; I dreamed about being an author. No more excuses, no more feeling sorry for myself. I am going to write, to show that I care enough to be serious, and then maybe I will actually be taken seriously. Maybe if I work hard enough, as if there’s actually someone out there who is paying me to do it, I will write something worth paying for. Maybe if someone says, “I’d really like to read the rest of your manuscript,” I’ll feel like I did my best and be proud of what I have to hand over.
Decision made. Mind-set changed. I’m the one in my way, and I’m stepping aside.