The Mistake I Was Making as a Writer

Have you been making it too?

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

Writers, have you ever had a week when you failed to meet your self-made goals? The kind of week when, yes, unexpected events did come up, but nevertheless, you didn’t handle your business as well as you would have liked?

I can relate. Last week was that kind of week for me. It was the first Sunday-Saturday calendar week of 2021 in which I didn’t publish at least 5 times. Granted, it was an unusual week. I got an opening to get my first COVID vaccine shot. A friend came to town. We had an urgent situation at my part-time job that I had to act on quickly.

Despite all those distractions, I don’t feel like I gave writing the attention it deserved. This morning I decided to break out my journal notebook and look into my mindset. I’m reporting my findings in case they can help other writers.

I’m extremely lucky with respect to my job situation. I have a part-time job at a law firm right down the street from the building where I live. From 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday-Friday I do case research work there, and it pays well enough that I have the rest of my week free to focus on writing.

When I first started writing professionally, it took me about 50 hours a week to come up with 5 solid articles. As my writing muscle has developed, I’ve reduced the time to about 30 hours. Since I write at home and my job is not even a block away, I have plenty of time to balance both of those with as much of a social life as COVID regulations allow.

Last Monday, I got off work, changed clothes, and went to meet my friend who was in town at The Silly Goose, a pizza and cocktail lounge a few blocks away. He was already there, and as I arrived he asked me, “How was work?”

“Not bad at all,” I replied. “It seemed like the time really flew by today.”

“Yeah, I bet,” he snickered. Then he told the guy sitting a socially-distanced 6 feet down the bar, “It must be nice to only work 4 hours a day. Most of us have to work 8 or 10.”

That comment bothered me, especially since my friend is not one of the 8-or-10 hour a day workers. He collects unemployment. However, there was an additional reason it bothered me, one that I did not fully comprehend until later in the week.

Saturday night I turned on my Memphis Grizzlies. Ja Morant put on his usual performance, fearlessly driving toward the basket, ending the move with one of his signature dunks that’ll make the sports channel highlight reels. Ja loves what he does and his city has embraced him. He even has a baby animal named after him at the zoo, Ja Raffe. (Can you guess what kind of animal it is?)

As I watched, I thought to myself, Ja is at work right now. I had never thought of it that way before, but he was. I get financial compensation for reading and summarizing cases. Ja gets paid for putting balls through a metal rim and a net. He gets paid a lot more than I do, but he goes to work, just as I go to work. He has a job, just as I have a job.

That’s when I realized my mistake.

I don’t have a job. I have two jobs. One is the law firm. The other is writing.

Why is it hard to think of writing as the “work” I do? Why do I not identify it as a “job” to the extent that I do my other job? Some thoughts:

  • I go to another location to do my law firm job. I don’t have to leave my apartment to write. I don’t even have to put on pants!
  • I have set hours at my law firm job. I am expected to be there from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., 5 days a week. My writing job’s hours are whenever I feel like it.
  • My pay is a set amount at my law firm job. My writing job’s pay depends on how many people read what I produce.
  • At the law firm, I have a boss, the head of the firm. He decides what I work on and is the reason I get a paycheck. With writing, I decide what I work on — but the readers decide whether I get a paycheck.
  • If money were no object, I’d most likely put in my two weeks’ notice at the law firm and reclaim those hours for myself. I would not stop writing, though. If anything I’d do it more.

So, yes, the law firm job fits into the traditional box of what “work” is. Writing does not. Not thinking of my writing as work, though, was my mistake. It caused me to not take that work as seriously as I should have last week.

When my friend laughed at me for only working 4 hours last Monday, I should have jumped in and said, “No, that’s incorrect. I got up at 4:45 this morning and wrote and worked on writing-related tasks for 4 hours. So I actually did put in a full 8-hour workday.”

When someone asks me, “What do you do for a living?” I need to say that I have two jobs. Not only that, but I need to mention the writing job first. I love the law firm job, but it’s a place where I trade labor for cash. Writing, on the other hand, is my identity.

I wanted to share these thoughts since this is a community of writers. If you consider yourself a writing professional, and a week goes by when you don’t have the progress you would like, ask yourself

  • Do you think of writing as your “work” as strongly and seriously as you would if you commuted to an office, had a boss and coworkers, and had scheduled hours and a set paycheck?
  • Even if you have another job that takes up more of your time, when someone asks “What do you do?”, do you identify as a writer first and foremost?

I’m going to make these mental adjustments and see if they keep me on my game. If you find yourself in a similar place, I invite you to do the same and let me know in the comments how it worked out for you.

Let’s keep in touch! Feel free to sign up for my newsletter. Here’s a recent article of mine about finding your unique voice as a writer:

I write about writing, ideas, creativity, intuition, spirituality, life lessons. Ex-college teacher Twitter: @paulryburn

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