Daily Handbasket: You Want to Be a Writer, But Can You Be the Boss of You?

writer at work--istock photo

Writer at work or child at play?


Being a full-time writer sounds like a dream job, doesn’t it? No schedule, only a deadline or two. You get to be your own boss, make your own plans. The ideas flow, one right after the other. If they don’t come, you can take a hike, or read all day. What could be better?

It’s a dream job if you’re as self-disciplined as Nora Roberts, who writes a bestselling book in 45 days, or Joyce Carol Oates, who has written over 100 books, and is still going strong. My close writer friends, J.T. Ellison, and Carolyn Haines each write 2-3 books a year, along with blogs, interviews, and numerous short stories. Or it’s a dream job if it doesn’t have to pay your bills, and you can simply write when the muse whispers in your ear.

For the rest of us, it can feel a lot like being on summer vacation all the time.  You’re a kid on June 1st, and school doesn’t begin again until September. The summer seems to stretch out endlessly, with plenty of time both to play and to get work done. Recently–after fifty years of attending to my husband’s, children’s, and my own academic schedules–it came to me that academic summers are often only around 11 or 12 weeks long. When you’re seven years old, that’s more than 3.5% of your entire life. But if you’re forty, it’s only .6%. I’m going to go out on my very shaky math limb here and say that 3.5% of a forty-year-old’s life is about 17 months. Imagine having a 17 month stretch of time to play and plan and work! Big difference.

A lot of writing professionals end up holding onto that 3.5% mentality. I know I’m occasionally guilty of it. Sometimes my deadlines–whether self-imposed or publisher-imposed–feel as ephemeral as far-off September felt when I was seven. When you live in your head for a living, you come to think in romantic terms like endless summer. Fantasy. You’re an artist! Artists are allowed to dream. And dream. Right?

It’s tough to maintain that endless summer feeling if you really want to make progress as a professional. While you desperately need your excitable, childlike spirit to access the fantasy world from which the stories come, you also have to have an adult in your head to make sure the work gets done.

To have a happy life, it’s necessary for the child inside us and the adult inside to coexist. And it’s especially true for creatives. But the problem with kids is that they mostly just want to have fun. They may secretly want boundaries, but when you, as a parent, try to impose them, they complain. Or rebel. The kid inside of me is a rebel. She gives the adult a very hard time–and it’s hard to say no to her. She pouts and pleads and jokes around, and sometimes is a little lazy. Daydreaming is her thing. Typing out the stories even feels like work to her. Some days, she takes a lot of convincing.

There’s a reason that adults who leave their young children at home alone while they go off to work or party or just get the hell away for the day, or a few days, get thrown in jail. Children are not capable of taking care of themselves. They set the kitchen on fire, or leave the bathtub running, or only eat dry macaroni, or play in the cat box, and can’t change their own…well, you get the point.

If you want to be a writer, you can’t just daydream your way into the profession. Your adult has to guide you. She makes you put your butt in the chair, then rewards you appropriately when you do well, or buys you a latte and a chocolate bar or a nice glass of wine when the words are crap. The next day she puts you back in the chair to do it all again. Kids respond to routine because they need to know that they’re safe, and loved, and secure so they can daydream without being afraid that the monsters in their heads are going to devour them.

Maybe you don’t need to hear all this, but I suspect you do. I know I do. Repeatedly. Because I’m stubborn that way.

Ask yourself what you want. If the answer is that you want to be a professional anything, then remember who’s in charge of you.


June 20th Words
Journal: 121 words
Long fiction: 365 words
Short fiction: 0 words
Non-fiction: 0 words
Blogging: 766 words
Exercise: 1 mile with dogs, lots of grocery shopping


*Photo: iStock purchase


4 thoughts on “Daily Handbasket: You Want to Be a Writer, But Can You Be the Boss of You?”

  1. skyecaitlin says:

    What a darling picture, Laura! I, for one, needed to hear this, and of course, I can come up for far too many reasons why I haven’t been writing, and they would be true ( I think). I work full time with words, I read for pleasure and words make up the core of my existence. I could work less and I could read less, and then it’s me and that blank page, which after all these years, has me ready to flee in terror and take shelter. Any advice would greatly help.

    1. Laura Benedict says:

      1) Make a cup of your favorite warm beverage.
      2) Sit in the chair, and turn off the Internet. Music is optional.
      3) Remove critic’s hat.
      4) Have fun, remembering that you are writing for you. No one ever has to read it unless you choose for them to.
      4) What would you write if you could write whatever you wanted, not giving a fig what anyone cares about it? Write that.

      1. skyecaitlin says:

        Thank you sweet Laura, and you have given me great advice; I have about four works in progress ( they are all memoirs that I’m trying to fictionalize). I am familiar with your tastes in the supernatural and with hauntings, and my life has been filled with these occurrences. The stories need to be told, but the emotions of the time get in the way, as well as my former career as a writing arts prof. YIkES, two pitfalls. And the fact that my daily journal suddenly took on a life of its own. Sigh, I am the good Catholic girl who attracts all kinds of things ( unbidden or unwanted). I was the victim of a stalker long before the word became a trend.

  2. J.T. Ellison says:

    I love this to pieces.

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