What is “Real”?

by Janis Patterson

Writing is a time consuming occupation. Not only do we have to spend time plotting, thinking, and constructing our stories, we spend time putting them into a concrete form and then making them as polished a form as we possibly can. Then – if we want respectable sales – we must spend egregious amounts of time doing publicity and interacting with our readers.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Well, it ain’t.

It wouldn’t be easy even if life didn’t intrude. Writers have families and jobs and lives, to say nothing of accidents and incidents and attacks of the unexpected. There are writing gurus who say you must write every day for a certain amount of time. That’s great, if your life allows and that works for you. I’m certain that somewhere there is someone who does this, but I don’t know any.

So what do we do? My answer is, the best we can. It’s not only a matter of time management, it’s a matter of priorities. When your granddaughter is in a life-threatening accident your focus should not be on writing. When the laundry reaches Matterhorn proportions or your living room needs dusting, that is no excuse not to write. (Of course, The Husband says I take that last dictum much too much to heart, and lately he has started muttering about finding a sharecropper for the parlor.)

The question devolves down to : Are you a writer or a hobbyist? Assuming that there is nothing life-altering going on (dust does not count) you have to decide just how important writing is to you.

In my case, it’s very important. I am a professional novelist, and a few days ago finished my fifth book this year. Because of this job, I miss shopping expeditions and luncheons with girlfriends, theatre trips and even some family gatherings – as tempting as such frivols sound – and have to plan my books around the trips The Husband and I make. (And I have never journeyed anywhere in the last decade that a laptop or tablet did not go with me!)

I also have a life. While I am blessed not to have to have a regular-in-an-office job, there are still lots of things that must be done. Groceries must be bought and eventually cooked. Pets must go to the vet. The car must be attended to. Extended family needs attention. The minutiae of living must go on, whether you work outside the home or not. My family is very important to me, as is my activism for animal welfare and conservative causes. The Husband’s happiness is always paramount in my priorities, and there is no way either he or I will ever give up our interest in and studies of Ancient Egypt and the Civil War. Health issues also raise their ugly heads from time to time.

But I am a writer, and after the really important things – family, beliefs, home – writing comes first, before nearly all social events, before frivols, before self-indulgences. Most self-indulgences. Some of my friends become insulted when I cannot go to lunch or take the afternoon off to go shopping, though they would never have such a reaction if I worked a 9-to-5 in an office. It’s disheartening to think that after all this time so many people still think that if you work from home you don’t have a ‘real’ job… Or that if you’re a self-employed writer, you still don’t have a ‘real’ job… Or that if you’re self-publishing and don’t have a big contract with a major publisher you really don’t have a ‘real’ job. After all, aren’t all self-published writers just wanna-bes or hobbyists who couldn’t get a ‘real’ publisher?

Yes, I have heard almost those exact words from people who are otherwise intelligent and sophisticated. Some of them I have given up trying to convince that I do have a ‘real’ job. Some truly do equate writing with lounging around, tossing off X number of words in a string, having them published immediately and then sitting back while unbelievable riches roll in.

Don’t we all wish!

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6 Responses to What is “Real”?

  1. franmcnabb says:

    Yep, I think every writer still gets the “real job” looks from friends and family. Writing does take quite a bit of time and energy and patience. I hope a lot of our friends read this!

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  2. marilynm says:

    I only write two books a year–and much of what you’ve written is true for me too, though in my case, family comes first and I do enjoy spending some time with my friends. What I don’t do is spend time chatting on the phone or going to community meetings, though I do belong to some organizations because it is helpful for selling books. Hubby and I like to go to movies, and I’m on the board of directors for the Public Safety Writers Association,

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  3. I’ve never considered writing a hobby, probably because I’m very serious about it and continue to work on my writing each day. Freelance fiction writers often make little money for their efforts but that doesn’t make them any less real.

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  4. Carole Price says:

    I wish I’d started writing before I retired, but I never considered it a hobby. I’m not a prolific writer, but I keep trucking along. I have allowed personal happenings to interfere with my writing and then taken too long to return to my routine of writing. I plan to correct that.

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  5. marissoule says:

    Whether a writer completes one book every five years or five in a year, that person is a writer. Some people write faster than others. Some books come together faster than others. Some people write short stories/some sagas that go on for hundreds and hundreds of pages. If you hope and expect to make money writing (be it a small amount or millions), it is your job/career/profession.

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