I’ve been meaning to write about the struggles of managing work and writing for a long time. I’ve written, or tried to write in a lot of different circumstances, and it is hard to say which, if any, has been the best option.
Obsessive teen living on a farm with not much else to do? Check.
Undergraduate student more interested in going out and having fun than either studies or writing but kind of managed both? Check, though one book’s first draft took over 6 years, because I really didn’t give it that much attention – just enough to be able to talk a good game!
First real job doing day/night rotation, 8 then 12 hour shifts? Check.
Dealing with emigration, change of country, work environment, culture? Check.
Time off to write full time? Check.
Back to work full-time, writing on weekends and evenings? Check.
I think I did best in terms of output as an obsessive teen. Pity the writing was… ah… less polished. And I wrote a couple of choose your own adventure books too, but never did anything with them, like, at all. Strange to look back on that, and think I didn’t even send one off to Steve Jackson. I doubt anything would have come of it, but you never know about the roads not taken.
Student life, I had ideas, lots of ideas. And talked about them. Frequently. But the writing was scattered, and focused into times when I had no distractions and very little money!
First job, well I had decent time off, got my first PC, and started ‘working on’ the first draft I had produced as a not-quite-eternal student. Thus was born the long era of my tinkering with a text and calling it editing. I really wish now I’d taken the time to study what editing truly means, and how to approach it. I still have the books that I bought then to help with the process, but either they didn’t have the right information in them, or, far more likely, I simply wasn’t receptive to the message. I chose to learn the wrong lessons. I never gained any distance from my writing, and could never accept help or criticism at that time. Missed opportunities aplenty in this era. Writing, though a constant dream from childhood, was not a priority, there was just too much else going on.
And then I left Scotland for the United States. Talk about too much going on! Two years flashed by as I adjusted to an entirely new life. There was another PC, this one with an internet connection, and yet more tinkering with the by now tired old manuscript, but no real commitment. That book had fossilized. So I enjoyed myself, lived and worked and went on vacations I could actually afford, moved to the burbs with the girl I married, and enjoyed the fruits of disposable income. New ideas always bubbled, I was always thinking of story ideas, plots, and characters. Among them, The Thief and The Demon. For a few years it was a page and a half of a word file, among many others.
After many years of fits and starts I decided to take time off to write. At first I just took time off. More missed opportunities, but I don’t regret it – I know that should I ever again have the opportunity to write full-time again I won’t feel the need to revel in the simple joy of not working! I spent time writing and ‘editing’, again with little idea of how to structure myself and the work, wasting time on superficial changes, still not understanding what I needed to do. Eventually I learned, got help, and produced The Thief and The Demon.
So now, working full-time and writing evenings and weekends. It is hard. I rue the time I let slip away when I had those years off. Given how much I am managing to achieve now, I can’t help but imagine how much more I would do with this discipline when free to write full-time. Or at least that’s what I hope, while a more honest part of me wonders that if I had more time I wouldn’t just ease off again. Like expenditure rising to match income, would my ability to waste time increase with the time made available? It is possible. So I am left at present feeling I am working two jobs simultaneously, which in short intense bursts of editing activity is doable, but I think long term would be wearing. I can’t wait to finish The Killer and The Dead for many reasons, but one of them is certainly to take a writing vacation and have more time for myself and my wife. But the next book needs to be written, and the one after that…
This is where I am now: actively learning how to juggle a new work/writing balance when I am committed to my writing career as much to my paying profession. I think I’ll adjust next year’s editing schedule to give me more time between passes, so this phase of novel writing feels less pressured. That way I can have time off that feels like an actual break, rather than an exercise in switching hats. There is an optimal balance to find, which I suspect differs for every writer, and I’m still working on finding mine.
Good luck to all of you on finding yours.