Someone on a writers’ loop I belong to recently celebrated finishing a non-fiction contract project. This is one she’d been grinding away at for a long time, and she referred to it as an “albatross.” She was looking forward to a new contract, similar but with a different subject matter that she views as more interesting. Most of all, though, she was looking forward to not having the dead weight of the albatross around her neck, to having the time and the energy to work on her own personal project.
I could totally understand. Once upon a time, I turned down a second interview on a technical writer position because after the first interview I had worried that spending all day writing manuals for utility company billing and location software (can anything possibly be more boring?) would make me hate writing. I wasn’t published yet, but I knew I wanted to be. And I wanted to love getting there.
So even though it would have made me a ton of money (oh, lordy, I just totaled up how much I would have made in the intervening years…), I told them ‘thank you very much but a second interview would be a waste of your time and mine.’ They were shocked. Shocked! And I was sick to my stomach for days. Fortunately, I had the support of my husband, but it was still a really scary thing to do—I’m definitely a bird in the hand type, and this was choosing the one in the bush, which proceeded to fly off for another five years or so. But during that five years, the writing was fun. And it has stayed fun, even with deadlines and rewrites and long gaps between sales.
I often wish I had the fortitude to do both the fun and the not-fun writing, and I surely admire those who manage it. But I knew I wasn’t, and I did what I had to do. I have since taken other jobs to help make ends meet, but I made sure none of them had anything to do with writing (except for a short-term job grading high-school English papers—now that was enlightening, in a grim sort of way). They were all things that, even if they left me physically tired, left me with a desire to write and a brain with which to do it.
That’s what it’s about: protecting the writing. I was dead serious about it, and if you want to write, you need to be serious about it, too. Honor not just your skill and the muse, but your desire to write. It’s a delicate thing, and it needs nourishing. Whether it’s finding some way to keep body and soul together that isn’t a soul-sucking brain drain, or simply carving out a little time of your own, do whatever you need to do to make it possible, and preferably fun, for you to write.
Shoot the damned albatross–and then make sure you toss it overboard instead of turning it into a necklace. You can borrow my cross-bow.