06 April 2008

So You Want to Be a Writer...

I recently had the privilege of realizing how badly I want to be a full time writer. I am a full time teacher right now, and though I greatly enjoy teaching literature and grammar and writing skills to students who are only in my classes because the state mandates they take four years of English to graduate (a policy with which I wholeheartedly agree), my heart pumps ink through my veins, and my fingers ache to be resting lightly on my laptop keyboard each day.

I am a writer.

When the frustration at not being able to write gets particularly strong, I try to remind myself that other far greater authors held more than full time jobs and managed to scribble out best-selling books without complaint. I try to remind myself that, compared to many, I have a good writing schedule—I get weekends and holidays off, as well as summers. I try to remind myself that it could be a lot worse.

It doesn’t always work.

There is something in me that must write. Even when I’m standing in front of my students giving them lecture notes about a literary period of history, or the definition of a heretofore unknown vocabulary word, I feel my left hand itch a little bit, silently begging me to sit at my desk with a pad and black ink pen, and let it swirl and scratch the paper to create a world, a person, a story. In the seven-minute passing period between classes, I find myself taking notes to work on a story that afternoon, reminders to edit a certain scene a certain way, or creating a new character. I eat lunch in my classroom and use the time to write. And when I get home in the afternoons, I write.

But it just doesn’t seem like enough.

I discussed this feeling with my incredibly supportive, loving, and totally sexy husband, who told me he doesn’t care what I do as long as our bills get paid. (What a dreamboat!) So I’m exploring my options as a writer to see what I can do to write full time and still ensure our family financial needs are met. It won’t happen tomorrow or next week or maybe even this year, but with my husband’s support and, sometimes, prodding, I will be a full time writer.

And that’s what it comes down to for me. I am a writer, and while I’m happy pounding into the heads of teenagers that you use “who” for people and “that” for everything else (Ex: “Dana is the one who let me write this blog, and writing is the topic that I covered.”), I know I won’t be truly happy until I can say I’m a full time writer, be it freelance or otherwise. So I’m taking the necessary steps in my life to ensure that which is a dream right now becomes a reality in the foreseeable future.

That’s one of the advantages to being a writer: YOU ARE IN CHARGE! Yes, you may have obligations that fall outside the realm of writing (you know: showering, eating, feeding the cat), but when it comes to your writing career, you will always only get out of it what you put into it.

If you’re happy scribbling stories on the weekends or on vacations and submitting them to literary journals once a year, or relegating your writing life to reading The Writer magazine, by all means, be a hobby writer. But if you’re like me, you look at people around you as characters, and catch snippets of conversation in line at the grocery store, which then continues as a scene in your head in the car on the way home. If you’re like me, writing isn’t a hobby that will one day be “something I did when I was younger.” If you’re like me, you’re a writer, and you’re willing to do whatever it takes in your life to write.

Writing full time isn’t for everyone. Some people can’t (or shouldn’t) write full time because of their financial obligations, while others would find the lack of time constraint overwhelming to the point that they would be unable to be productive. Some people, though, would see being a full time writer as exactly the motivation needed to keep writing, to keep submitting, and to bring home a real paycheck based on the ideas that started as two names scribbled on a cocktail napkin during Girls’ Night Out.

Before you decide to take a black permanent marker and scrawl “I QUIT” across your boss’s forehead, there are a few things you may want to do to make sure you’re making the right decision.

Talk to your partner. If you are in a relationship, it’s important to keep your partner “in the loop,” particularly in a decision this big that would affect him or her. If you’re not in a relationship, but you do have a roommate (or two), you may want to mention to your roommate you’re considering a career change that may or may not affect your income. It would just be a courtesy.

Look at your finances. This may seem like an obvious step, but it’s definitely an important one! You can’t expect to write a story, submit it, and suddenly be a regular contributor to The New Yorker. Sadly, it doesn’t quite work that way. So before you raid the office supplies closet with that big box the new printer came in, make sure your budget can handle a sudden drop in income as you’re breaking into writing and finding your way.

Consider the “why”. Why do you want to write full time? Is it because you absolutely positively cannot imagine not writing all day because writing is that important to you, or did you have a bad week at work and just want to get out? The “why” is an important part of this decision. You don’t want to use writing as an excuse to get away from a difficult work situation. Something you should do is look at how you feel on a good day at work—do you still want to write full time, even when you come home from work loving your job?

Decide if you want a clean break, or if you want to shift into it gradually. Because of my situation, I am going to start doing freelance writing part time for a while, and work up to doing it full time. While I’m writing part time, I intend to keep teaching full time. A big part of the reason I’m doing this is because of our finances: I want to make sure I can make enough money writing to do it full time. By writing part time first, I can establish clips and a reputation, so when I make the switch to full time, I won’t be starting with nothing.

There is more to making the decision to write full time than the few points I’ve outlined here, but it’s a start. And it’s a decision that should not be made lightly. Yes, you would have the freedom of your own schedule, being your own boss, etc., but there is work involved, and you have to be prepared to work hard as you’re getting started.

Okay, so you’ve read my opinion on all this, and you’ve decided this is really something you want to do. Great. Now what?

Well, if there’s one thing writers are good at, it’s reading and researching, and that’s what you need to do! The Internet offers a variety of great resources for people who want to write full time, particularly as freelance writers. In fact, there are lots of great places to advertise your services or to seek freelance jobs.

http://freelancewrite.about.com/ offers a community of information including articles about freelance writing, forums to connect with other writers, and links to helpful products and books to help you along. It even has a list of sites to help you get a freelance job!

Lots of writers’ communities/forums have freelance writing sections to help answer your questions, find work, and expose scams. Not only that, joining a writers’ forum helps you network with other writers.

Whatever you decide, whatever else you do, and as cliché as it may be to say, make sure you stay true to yourself and your writing. Trust yourself. If you don’t feel right about it, don’t do it! You’ll be glad you didn’t.

And whether you decide to send a scanned photo of your butt to your boss in an email that reads “I QUIT” 700 times, or you decide to keep scribbling on the weekends and on holidays, the important thing is to keep writing!

Happy scribbling!

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