I want to talk about a dirty little word a lot of writers don’t discuss in public too often. That word? Work.
I don’t mean the writing. I mean the day job. Like it or not, there are a lot of us published novelist out there that still have a day job. We yearn for the day we can ditch it, and just concentrate on the words that float through our minds and come on as stories on the screens in front of us. For a lot of writer, I dare say a majority, that day probably will never come. That’s just the reality. But even knowing that reality, we all still have the dream, the hope. You’ll notice I didn’t write “For a lot of us.” I’m holding onto the hope, and refuse to believe it won’t happen.
But I’m also very aware that without the day job, I ain’t got a roof over my head, or food on my table, or clothes on my back. So I go in every day and try to do my best.
My guess is, other writers do the same. But in public we don’t talk about the day job a lot. We prefer the illusion that we are writers, and writers only. Sure a few of us discuss it. Dusty’s a lawyer, and until tomorrow Duane Swiercynski’s still the editor at the City Paper in Philly. (A HUGE congrats to Duane for making the leap to full time writer!) But most of us keep that part of our lives is better kept to ourselves.
It’s Duane’s decision to devote himself full time to writing that got me thinking about this. I think I read somewhere that he said he wanted to focus on writing. And that’s exactly the point. With the fulltime job – which, don’t get me wrong, I’m very thankful for and we all need at some point – it is so difficult to focus.
There it is again. Focus.
I work in Hollywood. Or, to be more specific, not really Hollywood but a couple miles to the south. The company I work for is located in the middle of the Miracle Mile very near the La Brea Tar Pits. You know, the place where they dig up the mammoth and saber tooth tiger bones? If I press my face against my office window and look to the right, I can actually see the tar pits.
My job? I’m an executive producer at E! Entertainment Television specializing in on air graphics. I know…what does that have to do with writing? I mean, I’m in Hollywood after all, shouldn’t I have a job that takes advantage of my writing skills? My answer to that is no. I purposely got involved in a part of the industry that didn’t require me to write to much. I was afraid of burning out during the day and being unable to write at night. I achieved that, but there are other draw backs as you’ll see in a moment.
But my job does sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? There are many people in my line of work who would love to have my position. I know that. I know I’m lucky.
But a couple things you need to know about a job like mine. Mainly it’s effect on my focus as a writer. During the day I’m pulled in a million different directions, I have projects that come in and need to be done in an hour, and projects that will take several weeks all happening at the same time. It’s not untypical for me to be supervising 15 to 20 projects at one time. If I call in sick, or take a day off, I get phone calls. If I go to a writing conference I get phone calls. That’s a lot of work and a lot of stress and many times very brain tiring. In other words, a great destroyer of focus.
I’ve written else where – maybe even here – that my routine is to get up at 5 am and start writing by 6. What I didn’t say is that I have to stop by 8 and go to work for 10 hours. And even if I have the energy to write in the evenings, my focus is often lacking. My brain is numb. I’ll force myself sometimes, sure, but my productivity is about half that of what it is in the mornings. So basically I have to squeeze a novel out of two-hour sessions during the week, and a few extra on the weekends.
It’s hard to keep the narrative flow when the task is cut up in this way. It’s hard to pick up 22 hours later in the middle of a chase scene or an argument or even a flashback. But I prefer doing any one of those to starting a new chapter. If I’m at a chapter break I’ll try to write a few paragraphs to get things going. That way when I sit down at my laptop the next morning, I’ll at least have some sense of where I am.
In the end it all comes together. That’s what the rewrite is all about. I’m able to smooth things out and make everything work, thank God.
My friend likens me to one of those Chinese acrobats that keep the plates spinning. And it’s probably an apt description about all aspects of my life. The trick is to keep them from falling. They’ve gotten close sometimes, but so far I’ve been able to keep them going.
I’m not complaining. Not at all. The job thing is just the reality of being an author that many people don’t talk about, and I probably won’t talk much about again, either. But it was on my mind, because of my happiness for Duane, and yes a tinge of friendly jealousy.
And a hope…that someday, hopefully sooner than later, I’ll be able to do what he did. The day I’ll be able to focus only on my writing. Until then, I’ll chant the author mantra, “I will get there. I will get there. I will get there.”
I don’t want anyone to fess up their jobs, but how about a count of hands of people who know what I mean…
BONUS: I’m running a sweepstakes on my personal blog for an advance copy of THE DECEIVED. Details here.
Happy Valentine’s Day to everyone. Be safe out there!