I had a dream. An idea for a novel burst into my mind one night and it would not let me go. I had not written a story in over a decade and considered myself long past the point where being a writer was an option for a career choice. I was an artisan jeweler and gemologist. I published articles, but they were non-fiction pieces about jewelry making, stones, or antique jewelry. However, the siren song of a novel was an earworm. It sang to me in my sleep. It consumed my thoughts during the day. Finally, I could bear it no longer. I started to write it down.
I haven’t stopped writing since.
When we start out as writers, we consider it a hobby. We do it in our free time, enjoy the process of creation, and hope that others appreciate our efforts. Then we gain encouragement and start to consider becoming a writer as a profession. What might that life be like? We dream of sleeping in late, typing on our computer in our bathrobe, and being able to travel to book signings with adoring fans. A life that is the path less taken. The question becomes, how do we function as writers day to day? What changes to we need to make in order to transition from a day job where you work for an employer to become a successful, self-employed writer?
A Dedicated Workspace
Many writers benefit from having a specific area set aside in their homes that is set up as their workplace. Perhaps a spare bedroom is set up as an office complete with a desk, computer and research materials or perhaps simply an unused corner of a larger room. When you set up a dedicated workspace in your home for writing, it tells the other members of your family that this space is off-limits for other tasks.
My first workspace was a modest table in my bedroom. The table held a desktop computer, a fax machine, and an area for writing in notebooks. Inexpensive wire cubes served as my organizer to create vertical storage. Years later, when my husband and I were able to afford our house, I left my little table behind and gained one of the smaller rooms of our new home as my own studio workspace. I did not have a large budget to spend, so I bought a cheap particle board desk to hold my desktop computer and a folding table where I clamped a board from the lumber yard to become my jewelry workbench. Eventually, I added a used jeweler’s bench so I could forge metals, hang a flexshaft and gain more space for my ever growing pile of specialized jeweler’s tools.
I’m shifting gears once more and changing the room again. I put in a modern glass L shaped desk for my computer, notebooks, and drawing supplies and removed the old table and board. My studio now allows my writing to take more precedence in my work flow and the jewelry making is secondary. The desk has a more professional and mature look, making the room a true office space, and I feel that removing much of the clutter of my jewelry supplies from sight will be an aid to my production of articles, short stories, and novels. I will not be embarrassed to bring a guest in here now and have a comfortable chair to offer them to sit in or use the chair myself for reading.
One of the main habits I use as an artisan and writer is to set up a work schedule for myself. Otherwise it is easy to fall into the habit of puttering in your home. It is important to set up certain times in the day to write and then make sure you are seated in your dedicated workspace and writing at that time. Your family and friends need to learn that this is your work time and that you need to be able to work in peace without interruptions just as if you were going to a physical office outside your home. If you set up a schedule and post it on the refrigerator or perhaps a joint google calendar that everyone in your family is aware of, it will be easier to arrange for this necessary time to get your work done. For physical interruptions, being able to close an office door can be helpful. When it is the phone that is the problem, using caller ID and voice mail to screen calls can keep your down time to a minimum. I will always take a call from my husband during the day, telemarketers not so often.
I have found that once I set up my working space in a spare room and had the ability to close the door, I was able to gain the quiet time I needed to work. Since I have an artisan jewelry business in addition to my writing, I divide my time between my two jobs. I generally work on articles for magazines, ghost writing, blog posts, and other non-fiction works in the morning. My afternoons are spent at my jeweler’s bench making stock or managing the tasks of my home such as cleaning or shopping. Night time is when I feel the most creative and that time is reserved for short story and novel writing. My weekends are often spent away from home at conventions, festivals, and renfairs were I sell my jewelry, however I am not away every weekend and do schedule in time to be with my husband and have fun. Sometimes I feel that I work more hours than if I had a regular nine to five job away from home, but I do have the ability to take off on a whim and go to the beach or go shopping mid-week when I do not have to deal with crowds. I often work in my slippers and my co-worker is my faithful dog. I am responsible for my own destiny and I embrace the freedom that this gives me. It is a trade-off, relative security for personal responsibility, but one that I value.
While working at home is now more common, you will still find people will believe you are “available” because you are home. Family and friends will ask you for favors during the day because they do not perceive what you are doing is a real job. Learn to say no in a firm, but polite manner. Remind them that what you do is as real job as the one that they do and that you need time to work. Once a few royalties or paychecks come in, this perception that you are “playing at home” will diminish. I also find that because I am away at venues on weekends to sell my jewelry as later I will be at book festivals to promote my books, I tend to miss out on family and friend’s social gatherings more than most people. When I mention that I work on the weekend, I often receive a groan of sympathy, as if this were a heavy burden. To me it is not a burden at all, but it does involve some acceptance of sacrifice on my part.
In this age of technology where we are all interconnected via our smartphones, tablets, and computers, it is easy to allow this information submergence to cut into your writing time. For me, the most insidious distraction is the internet. Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and forums are all interesting reads. My ebooks are just a finger touch away. I might innocently start to read a forum or two and the next thing I know I’ve lost several hours of prime work time. I’ve developed several strategies to combat this issue.
In my office, I have learned to use a timer system. I work without turning to the internet except for direct research of an article for a certain amount of time that I’ve set. Once the buzzer goes off, I’m allowed a short period of time to look at Facebook or forums as a reward. I also limit the pulling of email to three times a day. Once in the morning, in the early evening and late at night. Another thing that I will do is to leave my office behind. I pick up my Alphasmart Neo or my NEC MobilePro which has no internet access along with my writing journal for research notes and go to the library, my local Starbucks or the park to write. I set a writing goal for the day and do not come home until I’ve met it. I am only human. I do succumb to the distractions of the internet more than I should, but I do find that these methods help a great deal.
Make Time To Socialize
The work of a writer is somewhat lonely. It is important to reach out via networking, both for marketing your work and for making friends to enrich your life. I belong two groups. The first is Nanowrimo and the other is The Greater Los Angeles Writer’s Society.
Nanowrimo is filled with wannabe writers, but there are many accomplished writers that have come up through the system that still participate in the event or now offer to mentor young writers. Through Nanowrimo I’ve learned many basic writing tips, about new software and tools for writing, and gained encouragement to continue forward with my writing goals. While most of the activities with Nanowrimo is in November, there are enough events scattered through the year to keep you active.
The Greater Los Angeles Writer’s Society or GLAWS is a group of professional writers, most of whom are published, and it is a place to meet writers or to attend lectures and workshops. Our members come from all over the state of California and beyond. GLAWS also offers writing critique groups to help you improve your writing.
I find that the information I gain from each group is different. The professionals are more old-school both in how they market their books and in the tools that they use. The Wrimos are more contemporary with their methods and writing tools, more focused on the joy of writing than on making a living with their words. Between the two I find that there is a delightful balance of information.
This Is Your Life
The life of a writer can be a solitary experience and it is not for everyone. You need to have self-discipline and a sense of self-reliance to be successful. You must live in a constant balancing act between putting the words on the page and getting out of your office to meet with the local community. It is likely you will work longer hours than your friends with “normal” jobs and you will face rejection and low pay for many years until you create a catalog of titles to sell. Is it all worth it? Speaking as someone who has been self-employed for most of her life, I believe that it is. I enjoy a lifestyle of freedom that many people only dream about. I can schedule a day off to go to the beach with no one looking over my shoulder to ask why I am not in my office. I travel, meet interesting people with wildly varied viewpoints, and yes, I do work in my slippers on occasion. The dream is now a reality that I have created. It is life as a writer and artist.
Will you live it too?