I struggle so hard with this.
Sometimes, most times, it feels like I’m digging holes in the sand. I get up every morning, I write for an hour, and then I go to work, like a good aspiring writer should. But the longer I do this, the clearer it is that I cannot realistically finish a novel in single-hour intervals. I question whether I can even finish a few chapters to cobble together a book proposal using this schedule.
The lack of sustained progress chops up the ideas, the flow, and it’s really obvious that I’m having this problem when I reread what I’ve written. I forget plot points that I meant to include. Objects that characters were carrying get set down and forgotten. Discontinuities abound, is what I’m saying.
Plus, the progress is just too darn slow! It’s like when you’re losing weight, but only 0.2 lbs a week. Yeah, it’s progress, you should be proud of yourself, but at that rate…are you really getting anywhere?
I need three extra hours a day but no matter how I try to stretch and hack my time, it doesn’t happen. It can’t happen with a full time job, a commute, a family. Yes, I need to suck it up and make more time for myself on the weekends, but anyone will tell you that’s hard when you have a family. I have a dog, two cats, a husband, and the time they need and deserve is a lot! Time I want to spend with them. People with kids, I salute you. I don’t know how you do it.
I’ve also been in academia for a while now and sometimes I wonder whether my next job should be something less mentally exhausting. I spend all day living in this hyper-cerebral world, thinking about the vagaries of atoms and gases, and by the time I get home I just don’t want to think anymore. If you’ve ever read Stephen King’s book, On Writing, (and you should) you might recall that he discusses having this same problem in the years before he broke out with Carrie. Looking back, King thinks he was a more productive writer when he was working at an industrial laundry, which while more physically exhausting was also less of a mental burden to subtract from his creativity than when he was later teaching English to middle school students (high school maybe? I can’t remember).
But then I think about how I hard I worked to get my degree and what a waste it would be to stop working in my field. I get scared too. What if I devote myself full-time to writing and find it was all a bust. Then surely I’ll regret jumping ship from my safer field in science?
I like science, absolutely. It’s rigorous, challenging; I’m rarely bored at work. But those same qualities also get in the way of my personal projects; things like writing, which are incredibly important to me.
I still have another year of funding at my job to figure this problem out. I’ve thought about going into freelance science editing, which I’ve had some success at on the side, but I worry I can’t realistically make enough money doing it. Sometimes, I kind of just want to be a gardener somewhere (I like gardening). Or work at a hotel (another secret fantasy). Yet, I know I’m romanticizing other jobs, largely because I’ve never had a real non-academic job (and man, it embarrasses me so much to admit that here in a public forum).
Maybe I should take a sabbatical? Find a less mentally exhausting job for a year, put way more time into my writing, and if it doesn’t work out – look for another post-doc in science? It could work, I think. And I think it would help my writing in other ways to do something new. I mean, my god, I’ve never waitressed or worked in retail before. I feel like I’ll never really understand what it means to work until I’ve done that for a little while.
What do you think? Do you struggle to write with a full-time job? Did you specifically choose your job to give yourself more time to write? I am so interested to hear your stories.