Thursday, April 5, 2012

Want writing to be your career? Then treat it as such!

Those who know me well know this: I suck at multi-tasking. Ditto for time management.

Needless to say, I don't get much writing done when the semester shifts into high gear and I'm engrossed in conferencing with students, grading papers, and other teaching-related tasks. As a friend once described it, teaching expends a lot of "psychic energy," and she wasn't talking about fortune tellers. Not just because of the time-consumption, but concentration. I have difficulty focusing on or handling more than one project at a time. Conversely, when I'm engrossed in a novel or under the gun of a writing deadline, my teaching suffers.

It was worse when I had three 4-credit sections, four days a week (50 minutes per session). How would I find time to write? I wondered. And then one day it hit me: I have to make time, not find it. Even if for 10 minutes per day.

But it wasn't just making time to write. I had to make an even greater commitment in that I had to treat writing as a job-- one that paid, came with responsibilities and consequences, a schedule, and accountability. More still, it was a business. If I really wanted to make a living solely as a writer (and it was becoming more evident that I did), then I was going to have to start owning that definite chief aim by giving it the respect it deserved.

And thus, I made the decision: for the time-being, I was going to have two full-time jobs--teaching, and writing.

I've occasionally used the metaphor of teaching as my spouse, and writing as my lover. And many times it did (does?) feel like I was cheating on my spouse, betraying my students, consuming me with guilt, because I couldn't deny that I wanted to spend more and more time with my lover. But teaching was still the main breadwinner. It paid my bills, gave me stability, health insurance and other benefits. How could I walk away from that security? I've lived without health insurance. It's not fun. I was afraid to go back to that. I was afraid to go back to a lot of spaghetti dinners and buying clothes at thrift stores. I was afraid to live like a grad student again.

But was I really happy in this marriage?

And thus, I made the plan: I would gradually tip the scales in the favor of writing. It took years to happen. First, I went to a 2-day schedule (100-minute sessions) per week. Then, following my ebook success, I took an even bigger risk and reduced my courseload (I was still able to retain my benefits). And then, finally, I decided to completely jump off the cliff: resign from my teaching position.

Scary? Hell, yeah. But it's time.

I realize I have an advantage to being single and childless. Given my suckage for multi-tasking and time management, I can't imagine how writers with children (especially moms) and jobs find the balance. How dare I tell them to make time for their writing! And yet, here I am, telling you. If you have a burning desire to make a career as a writer -- as an author -- then put it in motion. Make a plan. Tip the scales. Treat writing as the job that already pays the big bucks, and watch what happens.


Soma Chakrabarti said...

Elisa: I loved your analogy. Spouse and lover. Couldn't have agreed more ;). BTW, it's so nice to have your blog back. I hope that you love writing it just like we love reading it. Much regards, Soma

Elisa said...

Thank you, Soma! It's nice to be back, although I must say, the time away from it was good, too.


Erica E said...

Elisa, I love this post! You have a wonderful way with words and this analogy is perfect! I am an aspiring writer and trust me my job (accounting) feels like a terrible marriage! Keep up the good work, all of your books have been amazing and so inspirational. You made a great decision in the career shift.