Monday, May 21, 2007

Time To Work

"It must be wonderful to have the time to sit around all day writing mysteries."

When I hear this comment, I always offer up a soft internal sigh. Yes, I think, it must indeed be wonderful to have that much time. I'll let you know when I find out.

Like so many other writers of fiction, I make my living doing something else. Not that there aren’t fiction writers whose primary income derives from their novels, it's just that there are a very large number of us who need to do something else to meet the rent. This holds true for writers in all genres. Some of us teach, some of us practice law or medicine. There are any number of writer/whatever combinations.

Me? I'm a word processor. Oh, come on now, no baffled looks. You've heard of word processors. Tucked away in the corner of law firms all across the country, we toil through the day making edits and reformatting documents. We teach newly minted lawyers how to mark up documents so others can understand what the lawyer is trying to communicate. We listen silently while octogenarians who have never turned on a computer, tell us that reformatting the 50 page document and adding 60 pages of inserts won't take us long at all. We are the ones who, eyes squinting and brains spinning, try to decipher handwriting that could be either ancient Sumerian or English. No one –not even the lawyer who wrote it – can tell us.

Now maybe you're thinking: oh how terrible that must be for you. Possibly you're thinking: oh stop whining. (In either case, you're sweet to be interested.) Let me assure you – things could be a lot worse. The fact is, the folks in at my office love that I write. They display a genuine pride in having me in their firm. They support me 100%. I'm given extra time off to promote the book. When I do events in the City, they turn out in force. They read the books and they like them. (Well they tell me they do. And, when you think about it, not liking the book but tell me, as I slave at my word processing duties, that they do is very good hearted of them, so I place that in the supportive category.) If I have to have a "a day job" (which I do because the trust fund I am certain fate meant for me was misplaced at birth) then I'm happy to be at a job where I'm loved.

That support is important. Like all of us who work at one thing to pay the bills and write, my days can get pretty long: eight hours of the job, three hours of writing, two hours of commuting, plus that fact that for the first hour of the day I'm pretty useless. AND, I'm one of the ones who isn't raising a family. I have one writer friend who is a single mom, works, and still finds time to turn out books. I am in awe of this woman.

When I first thought of this topic, I wondered if the post might seem a little self-pitying: oh poor me if only I had more time. Then I thought it might be too self-congratulatory: look at us we do so much with so little time. (I also thought: what if no one reads this, but I always think that so it doesn't count.) Then, two days ago, once I decided that I could get the tone just right, an interviewer asked me: "So, what do you do for a living?"

Suddenly, there was a voice in my head that was completely offended at the presumption that I did not "sit around all day writing mysteries" (even as I am truly grateful for my job). I'd tell you all about that, but the fact is - I've run out of time.


Mark Terry said...

I'm a fulltime writer, but, as I'm sure most of the MI authors here would nod their heads in agreement, most of that does not come from my novels--yet.

I am reminded that we ALL have the same amount of time--24 hours a day--but some choose to spend it on things like watching TV or sleeping 10 hours a day or stopping by the bar for 2 hours after work or...

One of the things that strikes me the older I get (I'm only 43, but some days...) is that energy can be finite.

So I applaud your schedule. I did that for quite a long time, too, before turning to writing full time. I'm not sure I have more time now (still 24 hours a day), but I have no commute (thank god) and I suppose I have time for things like TV... or going to the bar for 2 hours... :)

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Great post, Chuck! I also work at a law firm that is very proud and supportive of my writing. When I was mentioned in the NY Times, the office manager posted it on the firm bulletin board. And when The Curse of the Holy Pail was launched, most of the party-goers were from the law firm, including attorneys. And at Christmas time, I must have signed 20+ books at the firm that people had bought as gifts. With all the flack given law firms (and much of it deserved), it's nice to see the two of us in nurturing day jobs.

And as much as I'd like to stay home and write (and I would LOVE to), I believe the day job helps me to be more productive and keeps me grounded. Because my writing time is so limited, I schedule it better and am more focused when I write. I sometimes worry that without the time crunch, I might become a sloppy writer. But I'd love to give it a try!

Mark Combes said...

It's all a matter of priorities isn't it? You find time because you want to find time. Well, most of the time...

Writing is a solitary activity, but being a published author is a very communal activity. It's nice to have the support from friends and family when it's time to come out from behind the desk.

Nina Wright said...

I enjoyed your post, Chuck, and the comments that followed. For years I was a working actor who took survival jobs to pay the bills while I studied, auditioned, and performed. I almost always made more money doing non-theatre work. Yet I never defined myself by what I did to pay my bills. I was an actor and damn proud to be one.

Now I'm even prouder to say I'm a novelist although I'm still working survival jobs to make that possible.

I look at it this way: The day job we end up taking to support our passions is not who we are. We choose to walk through life as writers, and once we're published, we walk a little taller.