Ten Things No One Told Me About Being a Full Time Writer
I’ve been away from the blogging habit for a while now, spending time focusing on writing books and keeping the things I used to post here in a private journal instead. The last few years have been a whirlwind for me, ushering in huge changes in my life. After a lifetime of working for other people, some of which was literally organized by bells marking the passage of time, becoming my own boss was a huge adjustment. I’d never had the flexibility of setting my own schedule. I didn’t know which hours were my peak hours. I didn’t know how to plan my time accurately. I didn’t know how to find a good work/life balance.
Before I began working from home, I thought I’d done my homework. I’d read books and articles on it. I knew friends who had made the leap. And as for the writing part of it, well, that was easy, wasn’t it? I mean, I had written a first draft of my novel in my spare time while working a full time job and doing some side hustles too. If I was working at it full time, I could easily finish a book every couple of weeks at the pace I normally wrote.
A lot of people think of working for yourself as though it’s like a day off – sitting around at home in your pajamas, listening to music, watching YouTube videos, scrolling through social media while your pet does something cute.
Okay, yes, I’ve done my fair share of that, but most of my time is spent actually working.
Don’t believe me? Okay. Imagine this.
You hear about a place other people like to go. It sounds exotic, and you read up about it on the internet. You watch Rick Steves videos about how quaint the little towns are. You look up how to cook some of the local cuisine. You even learn a little of the language. Finally, you decide it’s time to visit. You buy your plane ticket and reserve your hotel room, and finally the day comes and off you go. Once you arrive in this virtual paradise, you walk around, see the sights, meet some locals, and you think “wow, it would be great to live here.” So you quit your job, pack your things, and move to that magical place. But you don’t know where the good grocery store is, and you didn’t realize how bad the traffic would be, plus the rent is really steep and no one in the area is hiring at anything approaching a living wage. It’s no longer a hobby. You’re not visiting. You live there.
That’s what it’s like starting your own business working from home, especially if you’re a creative person.
What people don’t tell you about working for yourself is that, if you’re going to accomplish anything and if you like what you do, you’re probably going to be the meanest boss you’ve ever had.
You’ll have weeks when you repeatedly wake up, sit down at your desk, eat meals there, and stay until it’s time to go to bed. Working from home is not like a day off at all. It’s the workday that never ends, and if your desk is in your living space, you never really have downtime at all unless your friends, family, or significant others force you out of that space. There is a continual sense that you don’t have enough time.
Every action that requires leaving the house is an interruption. It means taking time to put on pants, for goodness sake! That’s a whole hour of work you’ll miss out on while you’re doing frivolous things like choosing what to wear in public or ensuring that your hair doesn’t look like a haystack.
I knew how to do project management. I knew how to write long projects and how to do the tasks that were required for publishing them. I even knew some things about bookkeeping (though I had a lot of room to learn in that department). But it didn’t take long for me to realize that I had no idea what I’d signed up for.
It’s been nearly four years now since I took that leap, and I’ve learned a few things in that time.
- I’ve learned to say no to things I don’t want to do. I’m the boss. I make the rules. I choose the assignments. If I don’t want to do something, I have the power to refuse. I won’t be fired for insubordination. Saying no means I’m productive on the things I do care about because I’ve selected those tasks. I’m invested. I don’t have to do tasks that feel like drudgery. I can create a work environment I look forward to every single day. I don’t ever have a Monday when I wake up dreading my job.
- I’ve learned that taking an occasional three day weekend off is necessary in order to stave off burnout and exhaustion. It’s okay. You’ll even perform better when you go back to work.
- I’ve learned that continuing education is even more important when you’re working for yourself than it was when you worked for someone else. Learning from experts in your field who are succeeding at the thing you want to do is vital to becoming better. That means going to conferences, taking courses, reading books, and studying everything on the subject that you can.
- I’ve learned that having a designated workspace outside your normal living space – whether that’s a remodeled garage, an extra bedroom converted to an office, or a regular table at your local coffee shop or library – and setting regular and reasonable work hours is essential to help you stay motivated. That separation is important for your mental health. You need a way to physically feel like you’re off the clock. Just like drinking water while you’re running a marathon, you need regular stops so you don’t get overwhelmed or exhausted.
- I’ve learned to tell my friends and family that I need to schedule time with them. I cannot drop what I’m doing and take time off on a whim. I tell them if they would not call me or interrupt me at my place of work when I was working for someone else, then they should follow that same rule while I’m working for myself. Emergencies, of course, are an exception, and certainly it’s important to spend time nurturing relationships with people who matter, but allowing them to start a spontaneous twenty minute conversation about Aunt Lou’s gout or ask me to run errands during my work hours is not okay. Boundaries are important so I can stay on task. For writers, that’s doubly true. Respect your work. Respect the drive that’s in you to do the thing you’ve set out to do. And ask that they respect it too.
- I’ve learned to take chances and be willing to fail. Send in that manuscript. Search for those speaking engagements. Email that library or conference. Reach for that business opportunity. Apply for that grant or contest. Get outside your comfort zone and talk to people, even when it’s scary and new. Everyone who’s succeeding at what you want to do had to start somewhere, and at some point in their career they had to do the scary thing and risk rejection. You don’t move forward if you are never willing to be told “no.”
- I’ve learned that my job doesn’t have to be isolating. There are tons of ways to meet people who do what you do. I’ve found virtual watercoolers where I can talk to other people who do what I do online. I’ve gone to conferences and writers retreats and gotten to know some other people in the field. I’ve gone to libraries and book events and had the opportunity to meet and share with readers.
- I’ve learned to take care of myself and get in tune with my intuition. When I experience “writers block,” that’s my clue something is wrong with the story, and I need to go back and rethink things. When I feel sick, I need to take a day off, just the same way I would do with any other job. When I’m struggling with some part of a project, I take a break and hug a puppy or go for a walk or bake bread or knit a hat. The idea will come if I give my mind room and time to work on the problem without pressure.
- I’ve learned that success doesn’t come all at once but happens gradually over time. You have to be patient with yourself. Have faith. You’re running a marathon, not a sprint. Most people give up before reaching the finish line. Even the people who are considered “overnight successes” took a long time to achieve it.
- I’ve learned that not everything you try is going to be a masterpiece. Work hard, but don’t expect perfection. Even masters at what you’re trying to do have failed attempts and they falter sometimes. You only see the things they completed, but you don’t see the long road it took to get there.