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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Guest Blogger, Alexis Leno:
Writing vs. The Day Job

Alexis Leno is the newest, and I think it's safe to say youngest, author among our guest bloggers this week. She has just recently published her debut novel, Shifting Fate. I am one of the full-time mothers she refers to in her post below, and I relate to the dilemma she presents. I hope you will enjoy the following essay by Alexis Leno, and join me in wishing Alexis all the best in her writing career!


Writing vs. The Day Job
Alexis Leno

I know that, for many of us, writing is not our main source of income. Akin to authors like Nicholas Sparks, we write AND work. And, I’m not just talking about those of us that physically go into work each day, but all of the full-time mothers out there and family caregivers. With all of these responsibilities, how do we find the time to sit down and practice our craft?

We make time. For me, there are those lonely hours at night where I can’t sleep that I find my computer calling to me. I am a full-time student, currently, and I generally spend my days setting time aside for actual homework. If I don’t, I will get distracted by the stories in my head and put off my other responsibilities.

For the past week, I have been on Spring Break and I am currently in the market looking for a full-time job. One of my offers is a really neat research opportunity. This week, I have been sitting in and watching them work their systems in an effort to become better acquainted with the work they are doing before I start. I never realized how exhausting it would be and how, at the end of the day, I wouldn’t feel like doing anything, not even writing. I just want to sit around and watch television, let the words go in one ear and out the other. My brain stops working.

So, I am asking those of you out there reading this: what do you do to find the time and get your brain working again? I found myself unable to sleep and wrote well into the night, but this is unrealistic. I can’t have two full-time jobs, writing and work. I will never sleep! My current solution is to just find the time each day, sit down and write some words. Any words will do.

Most authors recommend this, but have they ever had to juggle multiple responsibilities at once? Have they had to work, be a mother, a wife, and a writer? I find myself lucky to just be a student and a writer, but as I grow older, my responsibilities will grow. In all likelihood, the time I have to write will diminish. I am not writing for the fortune, but rather for the inherent need I have to get my stories out of my head on and the page.

The only thing I can say is that with my growing responsibilities will come greater knowledge in how the world works. This can only help my writing. I hope, that like others out there, I will continue to find the time to do what I love to do. I know that we all wish that writing were our full-time job. Even when it is, it isn’t.


Alexis Leno has just recently published her debut novel, Shifting Fate, now available on Amazon.com. She is currently working on the sequel to Shifting Fate and a Master's Degree in Software Engineering. Alexis enjoys reading, writing, and cooking. You can learn more about Alexis by following her on her blog.


Karen Cantwell said...

Wow, Alexis! First, let me tell you that I am in awe that you are writing a novel AND working on your Masters at the same time! Whew!

Writing vs. work. Oy. Like Cookie's Mom, I'm a full time mother as well as hand-holder to my husband's optometric practice. I have many irons in the proverbial fire and quite frankly, wing it ALL of the time! I gave up worrying about when I'd write, and just decided that I would do it whenever other things did not have to be done. I also find that if I tell someone a book will be out, I start making the time to get that work done. Recently, while finishing my newest novel, I've told my family - "You're on your own!" Luckily, my kids are teenagers now, so I can get away with that. :-)

Your books sound wonderful by the way. Best of luck!

Ryan Fitzgerald said...

Writing and having a number of jobs is never fun. Much like your experience just watching things get done, I never realized how exhausting clerical work could be until I did it. I'm only part time and I find that when I return home at the end of the day I have no energy to do anything other than sleep (haha, you don't energy for that) or watch television. As a consequence of my new job, I've been watching more television than usual.

Up until very recently, I've owned a company. So in addition to this part time clerical job (that tires me out faster than my old full-time bookstore cashier job), I've had a company to run and fiction to write. Said company is being dissolved very soon. I've already wrapped up business and now I'm just waiting until year end to do our final tax return and file dissolution papers. So that will leave me with part-time clerical work and writing.

But wait, there's more! I also promised a friend to finish a coding project for him. I've been working on that project since early last year. I hope to finish this year and that will free up my evenings (I manage to force a few hundred lines of code out every night) for more writing.

When do I write? Weekends. Weekend evenings, to be precise. My weekends are glorious because my brother is at work and I have the basement (the computer room, if you will) to myself and can let the entire world disappear behind ambient music or Quebec rock (if I can't understand it, I can't sing along in my head, which would be distracting), allowing my words to flow out into the pages. Of course, I can sometimes manage to get some writing done in the mornings before work, but it's never quite the same.

I can't imagine what it must be like without the ability to have that bit of peace, even if it's only a couple of hours a day a few days a week. It would drive me insane.

I make the time when I can, but it almost always feels like it's not enough. I'm looking forward to my week of holidays (the week of Good Friday), at which time I will pretend that I write for a living and spend the time I normally spend at work writing. It will be interesting to see how that turns out and what sorts of things I'll have to do to make the world disappear when it's still light out.

Andre Jute said...

"Idleness is the devil's ear cushion," was one of my granny's favorite sayings. Whenever she saw one of us just sitting, she say, "Where's your book? Or your drawing pad? Or your needlework?"

When I was in business, I spent a lot of the time on the company plane or in the back of a car. The moment I sat down, someone would slide my little Hermes typewriter (this was well before the first desktop computer, and even longer before the first laptop), onto my knees with paper already rolled in. As an even younger man, headhunted before I finished grad school, I went by plane to night school a 1000 miles away, a lot of commuting hours every week, and that is where I acquired the "Hermes on the Knees Habit".

Years later, when I was asked to write a book for other writers (WRITING A THRILLER, 25th Anniversary edition launching later this month), for the first time I read some books for writers. They were wretched, too arty-farty for polite words! Except for one, by the novelist John Braine. He described how he wrote 350 words a day while he commuted by train to a distant city. That rang a monstrously loud bell with me. Braine and I had something in common: we regarded writing in much the same way as breathing, something we did all the time, in whatever moments could be fitted into a busy day.

At the end of the day I was always surprised at how many pages I had. More, though it is very difficult to explain to other people, writing gives me energy, it doesn't drain me. I can't wait to get back to writing!

I would add though that there is nothing like a small child to ruin your writing day. If you're short of sleep, whatever you churn out will be awful. Fortunately, I married a saint, so when our child was small, I lost surprisingly few days through being sleepless. I'm always surprised when a woman with small children manages to produce a coherent book!

Anonymous said...

Thanks everyone for the comments! It's nice to hear from others that have the same issues.

Christopher Bunn said...

Sigh. You have touched on a particularly wistful subject. Getting older, with everything it entails (marriage, jobs, children, etc), seems to involve a certain amount of sacrifice in terms of dreams. I know I've given some up. When I was in grad school, I was going in four different directions: journalism, music, film, and writing. One of my professors said to me, rather sternly, you need to give up three for the sake of one. I didn't agree with her then, but I partially agree with her now.

If writing is your joy, then you'll just have to prioritize it, perhaps over social possibilities, going out with friends, whatever. Plan and maneuver in order to free up time for writing.

Oh me, oh my. I love my wife and kids, but gone forever are the days of writing for hours and hours on end. Sorry. That's probably not a super encouraging thing for you to hear...

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