Equipping Writers for Success
The Writing Life
The Writing Life
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What Did You Want to Be?
by Moira Allen
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Knowing that I wanted to be a writer and actually writing, however, were not necessarily the same thing (as I'm sure many of you have discovered as well). Fast forward about seven years, and you'll find me entering a writing contest with a story about a young woman who wants to be a writer but... never manages to find time to write. (It didn't win.)
Fast forward another (mumble, mumble) years, and... well, I think I can say without hesitation that I did manage to become a writer! Yay! However... Along the way, I have joined the ranks of thousands upon thousands of writers (quite possibly including you) who set out to do one thing and became quite good at doing another.
Many, if not most, of us set out to do a particular thing: To be novelists. As C.S. Lewis said, we set out to write the books we wanted to read. Many of us had a novel firmly in mind from an early age (and may still have that same novel firmly in mind today). And if there's one comment that would make me rich if I had a nickel for every time I've heard it, it's the wistful sigh of the writer who says, "And then maybe I'll start working on my novel..."
The phrase is almost always uttered with a sigh. You can hear the sigh even through e-mail. It's implicit in the "one day/someday" and especially in the "maybe." It's lurking in the words "start working..." It's a sigh that tells the speaker, and the listener, that "someday" has still not arrived. If I had a nickel for every writer who said, "Today I'm starting on my novel," I'd be poor as the proverbial church mouse.
Now, I've sighed that same sigh myself, and I imagine I'm going to go on sighing it for a bit longer. (That's one of the problems with "someday," by the way -- it's always only just a bit farther off. Just around the corner, you know... Any day now...) I don't want to go into all the whys and the wherefores as to why "someday" hasn't happened yet. We all have our reasons. Some of them are good, some of them not so much.
Part of the problem, however, is not simply our reasons for not having gotten to that novel yet. It's not just our schedule, or our finances, or our fears. Part of the problem lies in the nature of the sigh itself -- in how we look at the idea of "writing the novel." It occurs to me that many writers speak, longingly and sighingly, of "writing that novel" in the same way that one might speak of, say, taking a cruise to the Bahamas, or spending a year abroad, or buying a yacht. "Someday," we sigh, "I'm going to take that cruise... that dream vacation..."
We speak of "writing that novel" the way we speak of any other dreamed-of, but unattainable, luxury. In a way, I think, we regard it almost as a frivolity. It's lovely to dream of, but it has no place in the down-to-earth, gritty reality of earning a living and managing our day-to-day lives. When one is a young writer, one imagines having all the time in the world to achieve one's dreams. As one grows older, one becomes aware of how quickly that time gets allocated to other requirements.
Ironically, this seems especially true for those who actually did manage to become "writers" -- because (also ironically) this can become a bit of a trap. Many of us recognized that we had skill as writers, and that writing was a far more interesting way of making a living than, say, becoming a bank teller. Over the past few decades, pundits have urged us to "follow your dreams" and "do what you love" -- and since we loved writing, what could be more wonderful than making a career of it? The people I hear sighing the most over that "someday" novel are not those who have never picked up a pen in the first place. They are writers. Busy writers. Swamped writers. Writers for whom any form of writing that doesn't actually pay the bills is as much a dream and a luxury as that Bahamas cruise.
And there's the problem. As long as "writing that novel" stays in the "luxury" category in our minds -- the category of things we dream about but never really believe we'll attain -- it will remain a dream. How can we make the dream a reality?
One solution, perhaps, is to do exactly what one would do if one wanted to make that Bahamas cruise a reality: budget for it. If you decided that you really did intend to take that cruise, you'd start saving for it. You'd figure out just what you needed to make that cruise happen, and then you'd develop a plan. Perhaps you'd trim a little here and save a little there. Perhaps you'd give up two or three small vacations to reallocate resources to that big vacation. You'd find a way.
If your goal is not a cruise but a novel, what might you need to do to "budget" for that novel? For most of us, the key issues are money and time. If you're writing to pay the bills, taking a "novel break" may not seem feasible -- unless you find a way to literally budget the finances to buy the time you need. If your scarcest commodity is time itself, you may need to look at ways to reallocate your "time" budget to make that novel possible.
A third element that you may need to "budget" is, oddly enough, your creativity. Creativity is not an unlimited resource. It is directly related to your own energy. If you've spent the entire day burning energy and creativity in "doing what you love for a living," you've probably already discovered that when evening comes around, you don't have much of either left to spend on "luxury" items such as writing that novel. It's almost impossible to write all day for money and then turn around and write for "fun."
Hence, one solution to actually getting to your novel one day is to write less. If money is an issue, find a job that doesn't require that precious creative resource -- be a bank teller if that's what it takes. By the end of the day, your creative side will be screaming for an outlet -- and imagine what might happen if the only outlet available were, in fact, your novel?
Finally, whether you're budgeting for a cruise or a novel, you're well aware that you're not going to reach your goal tomorrow. But it's also almost impossible to "budget" for something if you don't have a specific date in mind -- i.e., "July 2017" rather than "someday." July 2017 will actually arrive. "Someday" never will.
Moira Allen is the editor of Writing-World.com, and has written nearly 400 articles, serving as a columnist and regular contributor for such publications as The Writer, Entrepreneur, Writer's Digest, and Byline. An award-winning writer, Allen is the author of eight books, including Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer, The Writer's Guide to Queries, Pitches and Proposals, and Writing to Win: The Colossal Guide to Writing Contests. In addition to Writing-World.com, Allen hosts VictorianVoices.net, a growing archive of articles from Victorian periodicals, and The Pet Loss Support Page, a resource for grieving pet owners. She lives in Maryland with her husband and the obligatory writer's cat. She can be contacted at editors "at" writing-world.com.