When most people hear that I work, they ask me where I work. I inevitably reply, “I work part-time at the financial aid office at OSU.” What I often forget to add is, “I’m also a fiction writer in my spare time.” The reason I bring this up is because I recently read this article on the Huffington Post (which you can check out here) in which she learns that her friends don’t see her as working because she writes full-time, and reasons why writing full-time should be considered working (some of those reasons I will reiterate here).
The thing is, writing is work. Hard work. Some people envision writers as sitting on their butts with a notebook, typewriter, or a laptop and watching a story unfold before our eyes. In their minds, we might as well be playing video games or watching Netflix for all the energy we’re expending.
The reality is far from that image. Here’s my process for writing a novel, for example: I outline the story, which usually takes a couple of weeks depending on how crazy my life is. Then I do my preliminary research, which is usually done when I’m not working at the office or doing schoolwork (so summers make a great time to do research because I’m not in classes, but sometimes I’m not lucky enough to be in summer when I do research). Then I start to write. And there’s nothing more daunting than the blank page at the beginning of a project. My novels are usually upwards of eighty-thousand words, so seeing that first blank page is terrifying. I have to force myself to get the first words onto a page and from there try to get into a groove.
Usually I’m doing schoolwork and working part-time while I’m writing, so I often save my writing during the evenings, and usually during the commercial breaks when I have something on TV I really want to watch. So how much I get done is dependent on time, how distracted I am, if anything else comes up in my life, and a million other things. With this sort of schedule, writing a novel can take anywhere between six months (which was the case with Snake) to almost two years (as was the case with Reborn City). I’m in the final chapters of Laura Horn, and I’ve been working on that for over a year, taking breaks for all of life’s crazy moments.
And that’s another thing: sometimes I have to take a break from writing in order to work on school or anything else going on in my life. When that happens, it usually takes longer to get words down on the page. As was the case with RC and is the case with LH.
And if I need to do some additional research? That takes a bite out of writing time too.
And after I finish a novel, it usually requires one to three more drafts before I’m ready to publish it. Even then I usually send it to someone (usually another author and a friend, though in the future I might be looking at professional beta reader/copy editor to help me with the technical stuff) to make sure I haven’t missed any plot holes or horrible typos. Then I design the interior and the cover, apply for a copyright, and set a release date.
And after the book comes out, there’s all the marketing to do. Heck, even before the book comes out, I’m advertising in every place I can so that as many people as possible will know about the book and maybe want to read it. I’m blogging, Facebooking, tweeting, updating business cards, e-mailing, slipping mentions of my new book into articles, updating my resume, telling people by word-of-mouth, and asking people who do end up buying the book that once they’re done, I’d really appreciate it if they’d write a review or do something else to let me know what they think. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to all the marketing I have to do in order to get word of my book out there.
Because let’s face it, I don’t have a team of advertising professionals. I’m self-published, so part of the territory is that I’m doing all my advertising on my own. It isn’t easy, but it’s something I take upon myself so that my book can sell well and people will read it.
Does that sound like sitting on my butt playing video games or watching Netflix? No, it’s work. We don’t have time cards or an office cube or water coolers, and very rarely anything like a regular paycheck. But yeah, we are working. It’s as grueling a job as working in the Sales Department or on an assembly line or going to a meeting with execs from another company. Our job just allows us the perks of setting our own hours and picking our own projects.
So I think from now I’ll be adding that writing is my other part-time job when people ask me where I work. And I hope people who read this article who aren’t writers will realize we’re not just relaxing in our living rooms or home offices (if we’re lucky enough to have those) playing solitaire or watching funny cat videos on our computers. We’re working, and we’re working hard.
Still don’t believe me? Then go ahead and write your own novel that’s halfway decent, and then tell me it’s not work. I’ll wait.
How do you feel about writing as work?
Has anyone ever mistook what you do for free time? How did you respond?