Risky Regencies

The Writing Life

I recently read a book called A Broom of One’s Own: Words on Writing, Housecleaning, and Life by Nancy Peacock. Though I’ve never read one of her novels, on the strength and entertainment value of these essays I’m going to buy one immediately!

Peacock talks about both the life of the writer, the artist, and her old ‘day job’ of housecleaning, what she learned from the work and the people whose houses she cleaned. (I must say, the chapter on the Hamiltons made me feel much better about my own lackluster housekeeping! At least I always put my candy wrappers and used Kleenex in the trashcan). She says several things I could identify with in my own weird odyssey of writing books.

From page 20, on writing full-time for a year: “…I did miss having something in my life besides writing. Writing itself had not become a strong enough foundation yet, and without the foundations of regular work I felt like an emotional mudslide. I was caving in on myself. Living alone, probing a fictional world for six hours a day, was making me feel a little weird…I was discovering, in fact, that writing full-time was inefficient. I found that I could write effectively for two or three hours each day. After that, time spent at the desk was time spent mucking up my characters’ story. I’d lost the ability to listen to them.”

From Amanda–I’ve never cleaned houses for a living (see above, those lackluster cleaning skills–no one would pay me to do that!), but I do work a “day job”, working in a library/archives and doing an occasional newspaper story. I relish holidays, when I have long stretches of time where I can stay home and really get ahead on a book, but I’m never too sorry to go back to work, either. I dream about being a full-time author, but the truth is I need the structure of the day job. It makes my writing time more precious, more efficient. I have to get right to the point of the story every day when I sit down with my pen. And it keeps me from watching soap operas and sitting around in Hello Kitty pajamas all day!

From page 53, on publishing one’s work: “I think that in the beginning of my writing life I believed that writing, publication in particular, could, besides making me rich, also make me invulnerable. It might have been the stupidest thought I ever had, because there is nothing, with the exception of love, that has ever made me feel more vulnerable than writing and publishing.”

From Amanda–amen to that! I think that writing (the world of romance publishing especially, perhaps) sets up a sort of “magic door” way of thinking. Once we sell our work, all will be wonderful! I may have thought that once. But publishing just opens up a whole new world of concerns and, yes, vulnerabilities. I’m not magically more self-confident because my book now has a cover and sits on a bookstore shelf; in fact, I am less. Ack! It’s making me nervous just thinking about it all!!!

From page 72–73: “Writing is so crazy. There must be a million things to do that are saner than writing…It feels a little like living a double life. It feels secretive. If one of my characters suddenly dies, and I am moved to grief, or even tears, I can’t share that with anyone.

“I think this is why I thrive on routine. I like for the real life, the one that involves going to work and cooking dinner and being in the physical world, to be somewhat predictable, because there are enough surprises in the alternate life.”

From Amanda–okay, so this is why I have a much harder time writing when my routine is messed up! (When it’s Christmas, for instance, or there’s an illness in my family, or I’m helping my brother’s fiancee get ready for their wedding in May). My alternate world keeps getting interrupted. And it is an alternate world. I may appear to be grocery shopping or cooking a pot of pasta, but in reality I’m trying to figure out how to unravel my latest plotting problem, or trying out bits of dialogue aloud…

And on page 23: “I think there are two things writers love more than anything else. One is solitude and the other is gossip. In the housecleaning trade I got both, but in all the jobs I worked before housecleaning there was too much gossip and not enough solitude. These jobs exhausted me.”

From Amanda–LOL! My last job involved a great deal of inter-personal conflict (not with me–between other co-workers, but they always wanted to tell me all about it). This current job suits me very well. Most of the work is on my own, but sometimes people in the offices next door come by and chat, and I eat lunch with them. This gives me time to think, to let my stories percolate in my mind, but keeps me from going bat-crazy. And there is always something interesting going on here! I like to take breaks a couple times a day to check in with the Riskies and other blogs.

What about all of you? Do you have a “day job”? How does it help/hinder your writing? What is your perfect balance of solitude and gossip?

And don’t forget! On April 6, I will be blogging at Unusual Historicals, with a chance to win a copy of A Sinful Alliance! It’s on shelves now, and my mother says it is very good. 🙂

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Diane Gaston
14 years ago

Wow. This is great stuff, Amanda. The vulnerability resonates with me. I think of myself as pretty tough, but it is surprising how the negative parts of this job affect me – a bad review, a rejection (we published authors do get rejections), and how much I worry about whether I can EVER write another book.

The remedy, of course, IS writing.

I don’t have the structure of a day job, but I’m so grateful that I don’t! I loved my career in mental health, but I was so ready to put it behind me and live this new life. I’d hate the thought of more 9 to 5.

Amanda McCabe
14 years ago

“I loved my career in mental health, but I was so ready to put it behind”

I think it would be so very difficult to write AND have a challenging day job like yours, Diane! It sounds like it must have been exhausting. Luckily my job is challenging enough to be interesting (plus it involves books and old documents and photos, things I like!), but it’s quiet enough that I don’t come home exhausted at night. I’m not solving people’s vital problems all day.

But I would still like more time to write! I often feel I’m being so slow. 🙂

Elena Greene
14 years ago

I used to juggle a day job, motherhood and writing but it got too much for all of us. The problem was I was regularly required to do overtime which just destroyed any work/life balance.

So I left and I don’t miss it. I really like the chance to structure my own schedule. I do love it when the kids are off on the bus and I can get to the writing!

But working from home does have its challenges. One thing is I volunteer more for PTA and church stuff which can compete with my writing time. I have to set limits and say no more than I used to. Not everyone respects my time the way they would if I had a 9-5 job.

So it’s a balancing act–and I don’t write as fast as I’d like to either!–but worth it. 🙂

Susan Wilbanks
14 years ago

I have a full-time job and a daughter who turns four tomorrow, so finding writing time is a daily battle. Mostly, I have to write after my daughter is in bed. If I can write 20 pages per week and finish a book in a year (allowing time for editing, getting stuck and having to go back and start sections over to fix them, etc.), I’m doing well.

I stayed at home and did some freelancing for a year and a half after my daughter was born. I ended up having to go back to work for financial reasons, but I miss being able to write at my natural “peak time.” My daughter took great afternoon naps as a baby (don’t envy me too much–I was in labor for four days, so I feel like I earned every one of her “easy baby” qualities), and I wrote every afternoon from 1:30 till 3:00 or so.

If/when I’m published, I know I can’t quit my day job right away. But it’s definitely my dream, and I hope I can at least think of going part time soon. There’s a lot to be said for structure, a regular paycheck, and benefits. But my work is definitely a job rather than a career (I’m operations manager for a small department in a big hospital), and my current juggling act is often exhausting. If I could work three days a week, or work half-time from 8:00 till noon and have my afternoons to write…

Amanda McCabe
14 years ago

Well, even though I can’t yet support myself with writing (I’m single, and health insurance is astronomical!!), I still feel very lucky to find something I love to do and have a real passion for. So many people haven’t yet discovered that, and it makes such a huge difference!

Of course, it also means that when I DO get insecure and think about quitting, I can’t. Those pesky ideas and words just keep coming and won’t go away!!!

14 years ago

Around the same time I decided to try my hand at writing I became involved, after a fifteen year absence, with my family’s gourmet store. It’s been a challenge to make the time to write with what has now become a full time job, having young children and aging relatives. It’s a juggling act for me and I’m not very good at juggling but I’m learning.

14 years ago

Susan, I am with you on the day job. Mine is a JOB, not a career. It is what I do to pay for little luxuries like living indoors, electric lights, and toilet paper! I spend half my day listening to “she did this” or “she said this” or “why isn’t she doing this” or “why do I have to do this” I remember now why I don’t mind not having children! There are days it is not just physically, but mentally exhausting. I will concede the physical exhaustion as the cost of earning a living. However, I really resent the mental exhaustion. This job doesn’t pay well enough to corrode my mental powers!

My happiest times at work were when I was singing and I realize that it was the creative process that fed my soul. It is what writing does for me now and I truly would like to get to the point that I can make a modest living at it and quit my day job. I have no expectations of getting rich, but if I can make about the same as I am making at Wal-Mart (which is NOT MUCH) I would happily walk away from the day job tomorrow. Fortunately, musical performance is that same unstructured process when it comes to the day to day. It is not your basic structured 9 to 5 job, but if you love it you can’t NOT do it. I would hope writing full-time would be the same for me.

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon
14 years ago

Hi Amanda, I just received A Sinful Alliance in the mail and I can’t wait to read it. Thank goodness I have a long train ride to MA on Friday. I have a day job which fortunately allows me to write otherwise I would never be able to keep up with my writing and both blogs. But anything negative can really impact me in terms of writing. Recently there have been two deaths of people that I knew, the resignation of an RWA NYC board member and other stuff, and it just threw me for awhile.

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