Almost all of the posts on this blog so far have been carefully constructed: I figured out what to write, wrote a first draft – possibly from an outline – and then I edited it. I knew what I was going to say beforehand or at least knew what I wanted to say from the beginning.
Today I wanted to try something a little different. I’m still trying to figure out what I want out of this blog beyond the clearly stated mission already posted. Do I want this to continue being very orderly and neat and planned and polished? Is that even a realistic expectation as I go forward with my plan to finish as many stories I’ve started over the years as possible this year? I don’t really think it is. And that’s okay.
I don’t really want to stop posting here. That wouldn’t be true to the point of the whole thing. But I also need to let go of this fantasy of the truly polished blog. Of perfect entries that are instantly shareable with infographics and research. I’ve been putting so much pressure on myself to produce work in a way that is just so and it has started to eat me alive.
My time away from this blog and writing in general made me feel really fucking dumb writing all these “how to” articles when I still hadn’t published anything, and so I had decided not to do that anymore. But then I found a new problem: what the hell am I going to write instead?
Obviously I’m going to be writing fiction. I want to be a fiction author. I didn’t set out to be a blogger, not in the beginning. That wasn’t the thing I thought of when I considered my dreams. There’s nothing wrong with being that style of writing, either, but my point is that when I wanted to be a writer, “blogging” hadn’t been invented yet. I had never even heard of the internet at all before. I’m not here to write a textbook or whatever, so there’s not really a point to me trying to write a bunch of polished posts like I am.
So where does that leave me? With my original mission: I’m here to report on what this life is like for those who wanna know the more complete story. I think might end up sharing fiction I write here, but that’s for another day.
Either way, that’s where I’m at right now. I may or may not stick to a posting schedule. I think I will try, just so it’s both better for you to know when to come back and also better for SEO reasons (*~algorithms~*) but I might throw in the occasional random post depending on what’s going on.
It’s the day after typing this up – casual or not, I gotta edit – and I’m feeling much better about this. I’m going to work up to “diversifying my portfolio” and “income streams” or whatever, but I’m okay with keeping it simple for now. I’m still really new at this. I’m still learning. That’s okay.
It has been a little under a month since I started to write full time. Or, more accurately, have attempted to write full time. Writing is a very thought-intensive job and after spending what felt like a lifetime of my brain slowly turning into mush, going back to a job where I had enough knowledge to sit down in the morning and keep working until I died has been a difficult adjustment.
I don’t say this to whine. I only want to represent this transition accurately. After all, that was the whole point of this blog.
Other things I’ve noticed are feeling like I have no idea what I’m doing, feeling like I’m not getting anything done, and the overwhelming feeling of calm when I remember what life used to be like.
No idea what I’m doing
I chose an awkward time to quit my day job. Just a week and three days before NaNoWriMo started gave me enough time to sit down, start to plan, and then realize that my next month was already spoken for: write 50,000 words for a novel. You can see this in my retrospective, too. The goal is to write the words. That’s it.
But for that first week, I tried to come up with a schedule for my day. These hours I would write my novel. Those hours I would write blog posts or short stories or edit one or the other. I tried to slip in an hour or two of interaction with the community or time to get my marketing strategy together. It felt official, but honestly none of it really sat right. I tried to put this schedule into practice, but it fell apart in about two hours.
It was the exhaustion mostly. But I also just didn’t really know exactly how I need to work yet. I based it off of what Stephen King wrote in his book On Writing and so it makes sense that it failed. It isn’t for me.
So I’ve been researching, trying to see what other writers do all day. I don’t think I’ll have the brain power to try most of the methods until NaNo is over, though.
Not getting anything done
Again the exhaustion has a big hand in this. I’ll sit down and write for about four hours (staring into space for about two or three of them) and then have to take a nap. Then I realize I’m hungry. Or I realize I hadn’t showered yet today (or for a few days). Then I go do all those things and realize it’s time to start on dinner.
For that first week before NaNo, I also took a look at all the other things I wanted to accomplish. The social media stuff I wanted to prepare, the educational content I wanted to watch or read, the contest I wanted to participate in, the personal essays I wanted to write for Medium, the business plan I wanted to write up for myself…the list goes on. There are so many tasks I want to do and it feels like there’s not enough time to do them.
However: I don’t despair. I plan.
Once NaNoWriMo is over, I will be crafting my future. Five years, one year, one quarter, one month, one week, and then keeping up with a daily plan. I already set goals for myself on a yearly/monthly/weekly/daily basis, but this will be a more structured way of looking at it, or a more detailed way to plan for a loose schedule – we’ll see. Either way, I will organize the fuck out of this problem, and hopefully that will work.
That overwhelming calm
I am one of those people who watch ASMR videos before I go to sleep at night. I had one that I absolutely loved, but she had a very distinct accent – one that matched my boss’s accent. It was fine for a little while, but eventually he started to pile more and more stress on me and it got to the point where just hearing his voice made me go into panic mode. This bled over into those ASMR videos, and I had to stop watching them. After I quit, I feel like those videos calmed me all the more. I would hear that accent, start to go into panic mode, and then remember that I will never have to answer to that man again.
Another interesting thing: everyone likes to say “never make a hobby your job because then you don’t have any hobbies,” but I have had a different experience so far. I felt a pressure every morning to get up before work and write. On the weekends, I needed to write. On the holidays, on my vacation time, on my sick days, I needed to write write write. Every spare moment I had, I needed to work toward my lifelong goal of being a writer. That meant I was working two jobs, essentially. When I took a day off I felt guilty, like I was throwing away a dream, so I could never truly relax. There was always something that I could be doing to get the fuck away from my office job.
But then I quit the office job. Writing is my full time gig now. I’m not making money yet, so there’s some pressure to produce something to get me there, but I also have 40 hours a week to do that in, instead of like 15 (if I wanted to retain my sanity). I can take real lunch breaks now. I can sleep in. That also means I can go on a weekend trip (whenever the world decides to stop ending) and not feel like I have to bring my work with me in order to squeeze a few more words out.
Yeah, I need to find another hobby, but I had like six of them lined up that I felt bad never pursuing anyway, so I can just go down the list.
I don’t have to choose between writing and bathing. Or writing and exercising. Or writing and taking the time to cook a healthy meal for me and my spouse. I can do all of these things and more now. I’m finally free.
There will come a time where I will have a LOT of work to do (hopefully), but for now it’s calm. And when I do get that work, it will be mine. I’ll get to choose what I do and who I do it for and how long I take to do it. That will be my prerogative, and I’m okay with that.
I’ve written a retrospective, but no posts about my experiences. This is what I had originally intended for this blog, I just haven’t felt like anything I’ve done or been through was worth mentioning yet. I’ve started to reflect on what’s changed, however, and I wanted to talk a little bit about the overall shift of attitude and habits between hobby and professional writing. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t earned a dime yet, but I have committed to writing in a “professional manner,” so there’s still at least a subtle difference.
When you’re writing as a hobby, there’s zero pressure to do well. Don’t like a story you’re writing? Toss it. Don’t want to finish it? Don’t. Is editing the bane of your existence? Forget about it. There’s no reason to agonize over tone or flow, and if you write something that’s not great but still okay, that’s fine. No one is going to read it anyway.
The shift that happens when you try to write professionally, is that you have an obligation to keep going. Don’t like a story you’re writing? Figure out why and fix it. Don’t want to finish it? Too bad. Is editing the bane of your existence? Deal with it. “Git gud,” as the kids say.
This isn’t to say that I’m not enjoying this. On the contrary, I feel that it lends the credibility I needed for my new addiction profession. I no longer feel like a child now that I’m paying attention to schedules and I’m actively reading about writing. I’m setting goals and objectives, planning out my learning and doing all of the career ownership I never did in any other job I’ve had before. I enjoy this and take it more seriously than anything else in my life, and it feels…purposeful. Liberating. It’s why I’m doing the retrospectives and keeping tabs on metrics. I’m my own boss, yes, said with all the puffed up pride as the next guy. But I’m also acting as my own manager.
I’m sitting in my new writing spot as I type this. My “writing spot” has moved multiple times over the past couple of months, indicative of the changes I’ve gone through. There’s a lot more pressure now, but it feels good. When I write something terrible, my first thought is still “oh god, why?” but that’s followed closely by “How can I make this better?” and “Editing this will be great practice for me.” It’s a strange shift, going from a fixed-mindset to a growth-mindset. I’ll have to write more on that as well.
We are getting closer and closer to the day when I’ll be able to actually quit and write full-time, though I’m not counting this as my “be a full-time writer” goal until I’m actually making money from it. I also don’t have delusions that I’m going to write the next Big Thing that earns me millions, but I suspect that I might be able to make enough each month to cover the gap between what my partner makes and what we need to both make rent and eat out a time or two.
This gets me to the part where I write a little more about the lessons I’ve learned in this process.
Lessons Learned Thus Far
Letting a piece rest
When you cook meat, you always want to let it sit at room temperature to rest for a little while. This allows all the juices to redistribute, otherwise when you carve it, you’re just going to have a wet cutting board and dry meat. When you finish a draft, what I’m learning is you want to let the story rest, lest you cut into it for editing and…your story juice gets…you know what? Terrible metaphor. I find that it gives me space and clarity. It sounds a little less like my own writing and it makes it easier to tear apart. The longer a piece rests, the easier it is to edit, but you don’t always get that luxury. Letting it rest between edits is useful as well, especially if you change a significant portion or are doing rewrites.
Setting your objectives
If you have a lot of projects you are trying to get done all at once (say, a blog, a book, and a short story or five), it may begin to feel like you aren’t making progress on any of them. I felt this. It was like I was pressing the pedal all the way to the floorboards and my wheels were caught in mud. Pulling away from everything and writing down exactly what I wanted to accomplish this year made it clear where I wanted to go, and writing down exactly what I aimed to accomplish when gave me a plan for how to get there (this might actually be the next article, since it has been so helpful). This allowed me to simply trust in this plan, as long as I could stick to the daily tasks. It also allowed me to plan for time off. That brings me to another item:
I cannot say this enough. If you are trying to get through a night class, do homework, work full time, and start a brand new career, you will need time to rest. Not having the clear plan I mentioned in the last point combined with a need to be constantly working sapped the life out of me and reduced me to a panicking, sobbing mess two or three days out of the week. Don’t be like me–er, the old me. Be more like the me now. Whatever – don’t burn yourself out is the important bit. Plan for down time.
Find a writing group
I haven’t actually done this one yet, and I hate it. I need to have someone who I’m not married or related to read my work for feedback, and I need to get better at critiquing others’ work as well. Why the second one? It’s important to learn from your own mistakes and writing habits, but you get double the lessons out of learning from someone else’s as well. There also inherent risks involved in writing groups, but as long as you remain aware of them, it makes for a great way to grow.
Sometimes you need to completely start over
The other day I was working on a flash fiction piece that I wrote the first draft for a year or so ago. No matter what I did, nothing seemed to work – the descriptions were clunky, the piece had no point, nothing really mattered. I hated it, but as we’ve just established, professionals at least try to finish what they start. For a week I wrote a paragraph here, did some copypasta from the first draft there. Removing lines, adding words. Taking out and promptly putting commas back in (seriously, I have a problem). In frustration I opened a new document and started from scratch. In about an hour I had something far better than I’ve written in a long while.
Once you figure out that a piece isn’t working, and you can’t get it to – nix it. Toss it. Kill it. Not the whole idea, but parts that aren’t working. My example was flash fiction, so I could afford to start from scratch all over again, but if you’re working on a chapter that doesn’t fit – get rid of it and try again. No need to throw away the book, but the chapter can go, I promise. You will soar once out from under that dead weight.
Most importantly, be honest with yourself
If you know you aren’t going to work on Tuesdays, don’t try. Make that your Saturday. If you know that you like your spouse and you want to spend time with them once they get off work, make sure you finish your tasks for the day before then. If you know that you’re very “out of sight, out of mind,” hang your tasks and schedule on the wall where you see them every day. Stay mindful of what works and what doesn’t, and don’t be afraid to change something, even for a day, if you think it will help.
What have you been learning about yourself or your process recently? Any specific tips to share with the rest of us about making the switch to “professional?” Share in the comments below!
I must have written a thousand of these introductory posts. Hell, I’ve rewritten this one four times. Normally I get excited about an idea, hop on over to a blogging platform and get to introducing myself again. I don’t typically have more of a plan than that and it all falls apart in a week. This time I have a plan and a dream. Though all this does is make me more nervous to put myself out there. Whatever. We’ll see where this goes:
Hi. I’m Charlie and I’m going to be a full-time writer even if it kills me.
What does this have to do with you?
Ah yes, the age-old question.
I got tired of a lot of the other writing blogs. The blogs that give you guidelines on how to submit or find an agent, but don’t actually tell you what any of it is like. Those ones never say anything about how long it took them to be published or how many rejections they got, or what the rejections letters said. Those don’t talk about the many, many mistakes they inevitably made or what it cost them. There are a thousand and one blogs out there telling you exactly what to do, but few that actually tell you what it’s like.
If you want to be a writer as well but are afraid of the unknown, then this blog is for you. I’ll be recording both failures and successes, acceptance and rejection letters, things I know as well as those I learn along the way.
There will be times, especially in the beginning, where there’s nothing happening. When this is the case, I will be writing about the process. My advice will be most helpful to those just starting out, but sometimes it’s helpful even to the experienced to read about it from a fresh perspective.
The thought on the schedule – subject to change – is that I’ll post on the writing process for most of the month, have a review of something every so often (probably once every month or two), and begin each month with a post that dissects the previous month. I will write on the publishing game more as I get experience.
What to expect
Tips and tricks. How do you decide what to write? What do you do about writer’s block? Where do you even start when you’re worldbuilding? I’ll be answering these questions and more.
Reviews. Fiction books, guidebooks, organizational systems, writing software, journals, etc. I will only be reviewing things that I have personally used and recommend only things I like.
My story as it happens. Even if you have read another blog of this type before, this will still be unique in that no one will have exactly the same story. I want to have complete transparency into what the writing life looks like as I try to go from full-time software dev to full-time writer.
Let’s get caught up with that story, shall we?
The Crisis. I won’t bore you with all my existential thoughts in the introduction to my blog; I’ll save that for another time. However, it boiled down to the fact that I have literally always wanted to be a writer and I haven’t actually made any real attempt to do so. Now I will.
The Plan. Knowing what I wanted to do, my partner and I sat down and talked about the logistics. He drew up a budget to figure out how much money we would need to save so that I could take a year off to make an actual attempt to do this.
Everything I read said I should have an author’s site even before getting published, but what on earth would I even put on it? In doing research I found so many blogs that talked about what to do, but not how to do it, or they talked about steps but not experiences. Enter the idea for the blog.
What I’ve Done So Far. At the time of writing this, I have added to a growing list of post ideas, outlined about 20 of those, and written up about 10 of those 20. I wanted to have a schedule of writing a post every other day while working on a short story or a novel the other days, but I’ve put that aside for now. Ultimately I’ll be writing blog posts in “seasons,” where I put everything else to the side to write up a batch of posts and then go back to writing fiction. I’ll schedule the posts so that I’ll still need to write the monthly review of course, but the rest of it will be released week by week.
After writing up those 10 posts, I began to edit them. Editing so many things in a row has made me realize that I am terrible at it, but that’s okay. Now is the time for learning these things. And I’ll be getting plenty of practice as this blog goes on.
I have comments enabled for a reason! I’d love to hear more about you and why you’re here. How long have you been writing? What do you typically write? What would you like to see come out of this blog?