It’s taken me a long, long, long time—did I say it took me a long time?—to claim that writing is one of my ‘jobs’. Yes, I spend more of my time doing fundraising consulting for social justice nonprofits. Yes, that’s how I make almost all of my money (like 99.5% of it). Yes, I enjoy my ‘day job’, but I’m also committed to nurturing my writing and spending the time I need to spend on it to make it the best it can be.
I’ve made an explicit choice NOT to attend a Creative Writing MFA program. Not because I don’t think they’re good or important—I think they are great resources for writers’ artistic and professional development, and most of the writers I tend to spend time around are in or have graduated from MFA programs. My choice was more practical, the reasons being: 1) After having been in the work-world for nearly two decades now, I’m really not fond of the idea of being broke and / or crushed under loads of debt again; and 2) I am prioritizing starting a family with my husband right now, and for this process I would like to be in a relatively healthy, low-stress mode, and being in school AND working AND writing AND trying to be a mother does not sound like a low-stress life to me!
So, one could argue that I am prioritizing my personal life, my mental sanity, and my financial security over my artistic development and my career as a writer. Will I regret it later? Maybe. But I will know that that was the choice I made, and I also know that if and when I have a child, I don’t think that anything else will really matter to me. Not to mention that being a mother will bring a million more stories and perspectives into my consciousness that I don’t have access to right now.
All that said, I have just this week realized what I need to do to really push my writing forward, to be able to prioritize my time and energy for writing, and to push back the other things (mostly my ‘day job’ as a fundraising consultant, which I love, by the way) that get in the way: I have to think of writing as my job. One of two jobs, yes, but a job nonetheless.
When I think about my writing as a job—one that doesn’t yet pay me much money, granted, or win me much fame or publicity, yet—my whole attitude and energy towards it shifts. For example, I reserve Fridays for writing. I’ve learned in the past year since I left my full-time day job that if I don’t set aside AT LEAST one day to write, I won’t write. I need that at least a full day to let go of all the consulting stuff and just focus on my writing. I may check my work email on that day, but I will NOT schedule appointments or meetings. It’s been tough to do, but I’m really starting to maintain my boundaries on this one.
Because if my writing was a ‘job’ the way my consulting work is a paid job—for which I am accountable to other people to get things done, produce documents, send emails, make phone calls, etc.—then I would spend the hours needed to do that job well. I used to resist this idea of writing as one of my jobs. I wanted it to feel creative, fulfilling, joyful and somewhat spontaneous—in other words, like a hobby. I was in a bit of denial about how hard it would be, how much I would need to struggle with my own internal barriers to writing, let alone the difficulties in finding time to write or finding places to get my work published. I didn’t want to make it feel like ‘work’.
But somehow, in a very organic and natural way, over the course of the last year, writing has become one of my jobs. My work gets published (not my fiction, granted, but my non-fiction has). I have two pieces coming out in two separate publications over the next several months (see my About page for more details). I maintain two blogs and a Twitter feed to promote them and my writing, through which I virtually ‘met’ a fellow writer who recently asked me to write a review of her book when it’s released this summer. My last published article (for which I did get paid, thank you) came out just last month.
And there are the unanticipated appreciations from others that keep me going and inspire me to continue on this sometimes frustrating writing path. Like the email I got the other day from a fellow fundraiser whom I recently told about my writing. He wrote, “I have been telling alot of people about the consultant from the Bay area who said, ‘I would take the job, but want to devote time to my creative writing’. Your words are ringing in my head as an important lesson about prioritizing creativity. Thank you so much for reminding me, by example, that creativity takes time.”
So yes, I am a working writer. I’m learning how to claim that ‘title’ and know that it’s true. And, I must say, I think I’m a pretty damn good writer, too.