My Journey as a Professional Writer, Part 1: Time

I’m now a professional writer. I say “now” because I’ve only recently started thinking of myself as one, even though I’ve been getting paid to write for several months now. Before this recent shift in my perceptions, I thought of myself as an “aspiring writer” or a “pizza delivery guy who writes on the side.”

No longer. Now, at the very least, I’m a “professional writer who delivers pizza on the side.”

(Even though I’m still earning a higher percentage of my income from the pizza place than I am from my writing jobs.)

Because I am now seeing myself as a professional writer, first and foremost, I’ve decided I need to make some adjustments. I’ve already been changing many things in my life to focus more on writing than ever before, but most of the changes have been things I didn’t necessarily plan or decide consciously. From now on, the changes will be more deliberate.

Which brings me to this blog post.

Those of you who regularly read this blog know that it is fairly random and disorganized. I started the blog as the first draft of “Manifestation,” before I even knew that story would grow into a full novel. I later started posting “Storytime Mondays” stories as free fiction, but I’ve more-or-less run out of “good” fiction to post (the other old stories on my computer I’m too embarrassed to share with anyone). I also post blog posts, but at random and with no real focus or purpose.

I need focus and purpose, if I’m going to succeed as a professional writer. As such, I’ve decided to set a blog schedule and force myself to stick to it. The schedule will be Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday, primarily because those are the days I have the most time available to devote to this. I’m even going to set up a nifty reminder in Google calendar so I don’t forget (and you can feel free to nag me if I miss a day).

In addition to a schedule, I think the blog needs a bit more focus and a focused topic. This part is easy: the blog has already been focused on writing, from the stories I write to the posts about my revision process. But to keep it even more focused, I’m going to assign myself more specific topics. “My Journey as a Professional Writer” is one such topic. Any posts with that title are going to be my attempts to share what I’ve learned. I know a lot about writing. I’m no master, and there are tons out there who know more, but I know a lot. I have a degree in the Writing Arts from Rowan University, I’ve had poems and short stories published, and I’ve learned a lot through professional ghostwriting (even though I haven’t been at that last one long and I know I have a LOT to learn still). I don’t by any means think my advice is more valuable than that of published authors and professionals who have been doing this twenty years or more, but I know that I’ve learned a lot by age 33 and through my years in college.

So I’m going to share what I learn, by posting here about lessons I’ve been through, troubles I’ve had, successes and how I achieved them, and failures and what they taught me. I’m hoping that by sharing my experiences, I can help others find new ways to think about their own writing and their careers. I’m also hoping to learn from others; I have a lot left to learn, and any comments and suggestions people post here will help me, hopefully in the same way I can help others. With any luck, I’ll keep learning more as I continue my new career path, and maybe I’ll learn things that others will benefit by hearing.

So with that in mind, here is the first big lesson I’ve learned about being a professional writer: Time.

I don’t have a lot of free time. I never hang out with friends (literally every friendship I have right now is on Twitter, even counting people I know in real life since I haven’t seen them face to face in months). I work long hours, then I come home and work more jobs from home, and somewhere in there I find time to continue revising my novel. All of that takes time, and I’m learning more and more that time is a decision.

There was a time in my life when I’d come home, watch TV for an hour or two, play some video games, and write “when I found the time.” I always KNEW I should “make time” to write every day, but knowing I need to make time is like knowing I need to watch what I eat; knowing is only half the battle (G. I. Joeeeeeee!).

Notice i said “only” half the battle. Flint and Duke never told us what the other half was. I had to figure that out on my own.

It’s “decisions.”

Every decision I make is a decision not to do something else. Turning on the TV is a decision not to write. Playing a video game is a decision not to work on something that pays. Even writing this blog post is a decision not to revise my novel (though I’ve already decided, I AM doing that right after this). I have to make these decisions every day, and I’ve only recently started thinking about them in a more deliberate manner.

Am I saying “Don’t waste time with TV, video games, and going out?” NO! I’m saying, doing such things is a decision.

Getting out to see friends, relaxing, playing games, and having fun are ALL important things in life. If you’ve ever played “The Sims”, you know that the “Fun” and “Social” meters are just as important as everything else. But you CAN make deliberate decisions about how you’ll manage such things so they don’t interfere in your writing or your career.

Last night I played a video game, Civilization V, for about an hour. I wasn’t being lazy. I wasn’t slacking off. I wasn’t neglecting my revisions. I was tired, stressed, and grumpy after working a ten hour shift delivering pizza. I decided, deliberately, that I needed a fun, distracting activity to help me relax and get into a better mood. I worked on revisions after the game, and the work was better because I was in a better frame of mind.

I made a decision to write this blog post tonight. I knew I’d be trading time I could be revising, but I decided it’s worth it. I want to start a more structured dialogue on this blog, give people more reason to come back, give people more reason to leave comments, and increase my traffic. Short term, this has the benefit of sharing information and hopefully learning from others. Long term, I increase my readership and gain a bigger potential customer base for my book, once it’s published.

Looked at in that way, the time spent working on this blog post is an investment.

I make other investments. I write part time for the Rowan University Admissions Blog. This writing is for a paycheck, though it’s not (and never will be) enough to sustain me full time. It is, however, helping me a LOT with paying my grad school tuition. Thus, time spent writing there, while giving me less time to write elsewhere, is an investment in my future.

I freelance, including proofreading, editing, and ghostwriting work. I’m not currently making enough there to let me quit my pizza delivery job, and I’m actually making a deliberate choice not to pursue certain high-paying jobs because they take more time than I’m willing to invest. If I take on a job that eats up most of my free time for a week, I’ve traded that time (which I could have spent on revisions) for the pay that helps me cover the costs of tuition and student loans. I’m willing to trade that time, but there are limits. Some job offers that I could pursue involve taking 1-3 months to ghostwrite a novel. I’m not willing to put my own novel on hold for up to three months while I get paid to write someone else’s. So I choose the jobs I’ll pursue based on the balance between the pay I’ll earn, and the time it will cost me, time I know I could otherwise be devoting to “Manifestation.”

Lots of factors will influence how you spend your time. There are things I’m willing to sacrifice to get time to work on my novel. Sometimes I don’t go out to the movies because that’s three hours I could be revising. Sometimes I turn down a shift at work because I have writing I need to do. Sometimes the pay is more important, but other times the investment in “Manifestation” and its future have to come first.

Because I’m not just writing for fun anymore. I’m writing for success.

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