Monday, August 22, 2016

Full-time, part-time, or no time, by Kell Andrews

Back in March, I resumed working full-time after a number of years working part-time. And yes, my writing output has suffered. In my day job I'm a content producer (which is the same thing as a writer, if a writer were allowed to write job descriptions). And it's hard to write during the day, come home to take care of my kids, and then write more. 

Most of my writing friends have day jobs -- it's a function of publishing economics. One of my well published friends holds onto her day job for security and reminds herself that Anthony Trollope was a full-time postmaster. If he could do it, so can she (and many others).

Even so, many of us dream of being full-time writers -- that writing cabin in the woods, or by a rocky shore. Long walks to gather thoughts wafting in the air, then long writing sessions with a laptop and a mug of coffee. Cats, definitely cats, unless dogs or the quiet of solitude.

But that's not how writing full-time usually feels. It feels like a job -- a very uncertain job, with pressure to perform effortlessly and no sure paycheck from year to year. And while it's hard to match a disciplined full-time writer for creative output, there's still plenty of time in a full-time writer's schedule for procrastination and anxious hand-wringing. It's not the life for everyone -- many writers need days with more edges to them. (Also steady paychecks and benefits. Some of us need those too.)

It's the edges -- those other things we do -- that shape our relationship with writing. A teacher who writes looks forward to summer for drafting (see Joanna Roddy's excellent post). A stay-at-home parent who writes looks forward to the school year for the time alone with a manuscript. A writer who works full-time at another job saves up vacation time for writing retreats, and a writer who writes full-time wants time away from computer.

The truth is that I wrote most of my first novel while working full-time when my oldest daughter was a baby. Somehow I fit writing in. I could do it now if I find a way.

The other truth is that when I worked part-time, my life was mostly child-shaped. And once my children were both in school and a I had a few hours when they were at school and I wasn't at my part-time job, I was productive as a writer only some of the time. Other times I wasted those precious hours -- not just on laundry and errands, but pure procrastination. Often I cloaked that procrastination as the administrative and water cooler aspects of being an author -- marketing, socializing, networking, writing things like this blog post. But that didn't put a manuscript on the page.

Writing can expand to fill the time available, even when that time is mere cracks between other responsibilities. Now I have cracks, not chasms, and I need to remember how to fill them with words. 

Full-time, part-time, no time? What's your schedule? What's your ideal? 


  1. Full time writer and procrastination is a big problem. Also my chronic exhaustion/fatigue sometimes keeps me non-functioning until the afternoon which eats into my writing time and sometimes has me up late at night (one I was up til 5 a.m. finishing a project) which I shouldn't do at all. Anyway we all need to find a balance and yes writing as a freelancer for others as well as myself does become stressful. You feel like a hamster on the wheel except you hardly ever get off. But writing, I still love you darling. No go sit in the corner a bit while I watch me some Netflix. Sorry books, I need a reading breather too. *Smooch*

  2. I'm a full-time writer, no other job, no kids. But the vast majority of my income comes from work for hire, usually nonfiction. That takes up most of my time, so if I also want to work on my own projects, I still have to fit them in those cracks. And when I have free time, it is easier and so tempting to relax instead. Deadlines are a big motivator, and so is a guaranteed income. I guess no one said the writing life was easy. Well, except for TV shows, such as Murder She Wrote, and Castle, where he has a fancy penthouse apartment in New York but never seems to do any actual work.

    1. I really must investigate the life of a writer in a TV show. (I used to love Murder She Wrote--thanks for the nostalgic blast from the past.)

  3. "A stay-at-home parent who writes looks forward to the school year for the time alone with a manuscript."

    That's me to a tee.

    I love this post, and the reminder that each one of us is working hard to find the right way forward for our writing.

  4. This is a fantastic post, Kell! I'm a stay at home mom, who writes for hire, is doing an MFA in writing, and whose children are crazy busy. I've had to learn to write under any circumstances. I've had to make myself get up obscenely early in the morning to do my time because at night I'm so insanely tired I can't write a word. Life is such a balancing act!
    Best of luck in finding time for your writing and life now that you're back writing full time!

  5. Great post, Kell. It's good to remember that the work gets done in the midst of life, not in some ideal place outside of it. Thanks for the shout-out too!


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!