When I was younger, I had a very specific vision when it came to what my future life as a full-time writer would look like.
What I imagined back then is probably something similar to what many aspiring writers picture their dream lives now. In my writer’s fantasy, I don’t wake up with an alarm; I wake up when I want to wake up. I spend the first few hours of my day reading, because other people’s words are great fuel for writing your own.
In this dream, I sit down to write — for a long time I envisioned being a novelist, perhaps of the young adult fiction variety == and I wouldn’t stop until the evening or later, perhaps with the exception of breaks to tend to my worldly human needs.
And every day, in my ideal writing life, the one I spent o=so many years dreaming about, would end with more reading. Maybe a movie or a few episodes of a TV show. For some reason in this fantasy there has always been a particularly cuddly cat and a house plant that can never die. Sometimes there is a significant other in the picture, other times there is not.
As you can probably guess, what I pictured life as a writer to be like is not at all what it is actually like. It’s such a luxury to be able to do what I do, and despite my many complaints over the past year, I am so grateful to be where I am today, professionally.
But positivity doesn’t necessarily make things easier. Being a working writer is extremely challenging. But one of the toughest parts of this life isn’t the writing itself, or the deadlines, or doing your best to work and thrive in a fast paced, competitive environment.
It’s the fact that you are a writer … and so many other things on top of it.
You may have noticed that my simple writer’s fantasy mainly focused on me sitting in a chair doing one thing for the majority of a day, presumably five or six days per week for the rest of, oh I don’t know, forever?
This is just the first of many things younger Meg got very wrong about working as a writer. The idea that most writers actually write all day every day is actually highly unrealistic, depending on the context of whatever career you might be choosing.
When I wrote full-time for the company I currently work for (I have since moved into a position that involves more editing and data analysis), I didn’t clock in every morning and start writing right away, and I didn’t write for the next eight hours straight until I clocked out again — and not just because of meetings and breaks and lunches and all that.
What my job really entailed was researching trends, reading articles from other publications, constructing carefully calculated headlines, gathering sources … and THEN some writing. Followed by self-editing, social media posting, and a dozen other tasks involving strategy and workshops, searching for images, SEO analysis, and so, so much more.
This is very typical of a content writing job at an online publication such as BuzzFeed, Bustle, and others (I do not work for these companies, but our goals are similar). Your job title says “writer,” but you aren’t just writing. You’re putting all the pieces together that make up an article. In many places, there aren’t dedicated photo editors or SEO strategists. Everyone does a little bit of everything.
Okay, so maybe you have no interest in content writing — maybe you really do just want to sit in your house all day unbothered and write novels. Honestly, who doesn’t? (Okay, a lot of people, but you get it.)
But the “I’m just a writer” fantasy still doesn’t quite fit, does it? Because, for example, sitting in a house all day requires that you have one, and having a house means you’re probably responsible for all the things home owners (and renters) are responsible for. Errands. Dishes. Making the food that creates the dishes that need doing.
And just for the heck of it, let’s add that significant other back into the picture. Maybe multiple cats instead of just one, and/or a dog, and hey, how about some tiny humans. Okay, so now it’s not just you typing away without a care in the world. You have creatures to tend to. Oh my!
Now you are not just a writer, even though that’s maybe what you do end up doing for a significant portion of your day. Maybe you are also a partner, and a parent, and a pet owner. You have other identities outside of “writer,” and those identities come with their own set of tasks and checklists, and things to remember, and time away from Making Words Happen.
Whether you are writing full time or not, whether you treat writing as a hobby or are working toward making it your full career, you are almost never going to be doing just one thing. The reason so many newer writers struggle to get their writing done is that they expect writing to eventually become their everything. And it almost never will be.
You have a life as a writer, but writing is not, can’t be, shouldn’t be, your whole life. When we talk about work life balance, we aren’t just talking about vacations and self-care and workout plans. We’re also talking about finding purpose and meaning in things outside of our work, or in this case, outside of our writing.
Why? Because you just can’t invest all of yourself into writing. It’s not healthy. You need other things. You need people and activities that maintain your connection with the “real” world. You need to talk things out, you need to laugh and experience new things. You need to exist in a world not of your own creation.
Things like time management and balance are the core of what I talk about on this blog — these and many more struggles are why writers come here to seek inspiration and guidance and hope. But we can’t work on any of these challenges if we can’t yet recognize that writing may be a very important part of our lives, but it is not all that makes up who we are.
Remember that there are a lot of things that matter to you. Writing is just one of them. You are many things, and you can’t forget to give each of these things the attention and care they deserve.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.