Writing is a constant balancing act. With lives so hectic and time so seemingly scarce, creating space for Making Words Happen — even just the words that NEED to happen — can sometimes feel impossible.
So when you’re caught between the work that needs doing and the “fun” writing waiting to be had, how do you decide what’s more important? Is it even a decision — or just a matter of learning to create time for both?
Professional writing is a constant balance between the things you can’t wait to do and the things you’ll be tempted to put off doing for as long as possible. But making time for writing you enjoy isn’t something just the “lucky few” can do. You can do it, too — and you should.
You’re always going to have to write things you’d rather not. Cover letters, proposals, queries, listicles that don’t excite or intrigue you in any capacity but will succeed in helping you pay next month’s rent — all professionals must work, and that includes writers who want to make their living with words.
This is a reality many aspiring writers struggle with. Not because they aren’t capable of diversifying their skills or doing the “not fun” work to get to the stuff they do enjoy, but instead because most writers — especially beginners — have this particular vision of how they want their writing lives to be. And it usually doesn’t involve writing letters or queries, looking at data, or any of the other things most “entry-level” writers are expected to do.
The truth? Writing is work even if you mostly consider it a hobby. It’s not work in the sense that you can’t or aren’t allowed to enjoy it. In fact, most writers probably share the same or a very similar end goal: To write all day every day and to enjoy what they do, while also having plenty of time for other things they enjoy in addition to their work.
What many forget is that writing as a business is competitive, and because of that, everyone is expected to put hours of time and effort to get to where they want to be. Months, if not years of hard work even just to figure out how to make themselves stand out in just the right way in order for a publisher or company or person to notice their efforts.
This shouldn’t discourage you, however. Everyone starts out in the exact same boat you might find yourself in right now. Everyone starts at the bottom. Everyone has to figure out how to work their way up to a point where they can afford to graduate to a bigger boat.
But each thing you’d rather not do should get you closer to the thing you do want. What matters at this stage of your writing life — whether it’s still just a hobby or you’re set on making it your long-term career — is that you have some kind of overarching goal. Something you know might take you years to achieve, but something you want to reach nonetheless.
Once you know what that is — maybe it’s publishing a novel, or making a living as a full-time blogger — you can work backward and figure out what you’re going to need to do in order to reach that goal. Some of it isn’t going to be fun. If you’re planning on being a professional blogger, for example, at some point you’re probably going to have to write and design some stellar sales pages. That might not sound like something you’re into. But it’s a stepping stone you’re going to need to hit on your way to your ultimate achievement.
Knowing where you’re going helps you remember that the “not fun” thing you might be writing right now is ust something you have to do in order to get to the next step.
But along the way, you can’t forget that while you’re doing some of the things that don’t sound all that appealing, you also need to have a writing-related activity you can return to that keeps you feeling inspired and motivated — something that keeps your sometimes weary spirit alive.
A writer should always have one “just for fun” project. I have argued this point many times throughout the years I’ve been offering tips and advice on this blog, and that’s because it just happens to be a strategy I’ve seen work for me. Sure, not everyone will feel they’re capable of adding yet another “something” to their day, and in that way it’s easy to see why there are those who consider enjoying what you write a privilege.
But the thing about succeeding as a writer is that you are fully responsible for every action, big and small, that gets you to where you want to be. There are plenty of things in this industry you can’t control, such as whether or not an agent responds to you or a subject agrees to sit down for an interview for your story. But there are many things you can control, such as the small ways you choose to challenge yourself as a writer in any given week.
On top of my day job and this blog and freelancing, I always make sure I’m putting a little time into a writing-related activity that’s “just for fun.” Sometimes it’s a “just for me” project — a draft of a novel I’m slowly chipping away at or a short story that’s nowhere near publishing-ready but that I’m having a blast working on nonetheless.
And sometimes it’s a fun project that I get to share with others, such as micro book reviews on Instagram or a video about a topic I feel qualified to talk about (mostly writing). I’m not getting paid, no one really notices, but putting things I make out into the world makes me feel good. So I do it.
I’ve never understood the “I don’t have time to do this” argument when the thing you don’t have time to do is something you really, really want to do. If it’s truly something you are passionate about, aren’t you going to figure out how to fit it into your life no matter what it takes?
I don’t think this requires any particular skill, just practice. Practice not turning on Netflix every time you finish dinner. Practice blocking out one hour of your day for writing something that transports you to another place and leaves you feeling purposeful and whole.
You have to make time for writing that “doesn’t matter.” It matters — all writing matters. But sometimes it’s freeing and extremely beneficial to just write something when spelling and grammar don’t matter, when all the facts don’t matter, when people’s names don’t matter … the only thing that matters is that you’re practicing telling a story, and it’s making you better one word at a time. Also, it’s (hopefully?) making you happy. That’s, ideally, the most important thing of all.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is an editor and writer, and a 12-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food, and Star Wars.