Sometimes we writers get so caught up in the worlds of our imaginations we need someone to bring us back to reality. Take it away Allan...
Writing in the Real World: It’s Not A Hobby, Dammit.
By Allan Woodrow
Thanks for having me, Donna. I’m thrilled to be featured today.
When I tell people I write books for kids, they are surprised to hear that I also have a full time job. “Oh, so writing is just a hobby?” they ask.
“No, not a hobby,” I say cringing, mentally comparing writing novels with collecting stamps, gardening or building model trains.
Not that there is anything wrong with any of those things, but most people collect stamps and build model trains because they enjoy it. I’m not sure if enjoy is a word I would use about writing. That implies I write because it’s fun, rather than because I have to, because I feel like I’m roaming haphazardly though life if I’m not writing, if writing didn’t make me feel like I have a purpose.
So writing isn’t an option, but neither is working, or being a dad to two wonderful girls (and going to their soccer games and dance recitals), or being a husband, or sleeping and eating and practicing good hygiene and somehow cramming it all in a day.
Which means finding time to write isn’t a choice either. Because if it were a choice I would probably choose to do something else, like watching TV or sleeping more.
When I decided to get serious about publication, I met a lot of people who had been working on a novel for ten years, or more, and were still working on it. My first thought was, “You’ve been writing a novel for ten years, every day?” That didn’t seem likely. So I assumed they meant they wrote for a few weeks and then stopped for a few months, and so on and so forth and they were still working on it. For them, writing was a hobby.
If you have a full time job, or a part time job, or if being a mom is your job, you can’t perform those things when you feel like it. You do them every day, or at set schedules. Writing novels it the same thing. You might not be getting a paycheck (right away) but it is a job and you have to treat it as such.
If you treat it as a hobby that’s all it will ever be.
So how do you make the leap? You need to open an office.
Find your office space
If you have an extra room or space at home, then great. Or maybe it’s the kitchen table. Or Starbucks. Or, like me, maybe it’s the train. But pick a consistent, habitual writing spot. Because if you don’t have an office, you don’t have a job.
Set office hours.
When I wrote my first published book, The Rotten Adventures of Zachary Ruthless, a middle-grade graphic novel about the world’s most evil boy, I wrote from 8:45 to 10:00pm every day. That’s after the kids went to bed. Now, I work downtown and am on the commuter train for two hours every day. Those are my office hours. Those aren’t my sleeping or game playing hours, but the time I get to work. Office hours don’t have to be long, but they do need to be consistent and honest. An hour a day is enough. But that’s a writing hour, not a Candy Crush Saga hour.
You also need to be consistent. Your office should be open the same time every day. If you start changing the days or times, then you’ll always find excuses not to open the office that day. You wouldn’t choose to stay home from a job, would you? Well, this is a job.
Respect the office
When the office is in session, your other jobs are not. You can’t be a mom and a writer and make dinner at the same time. Respect the office hours, but make sure the family does, too. Put your husband in charge of the kids for the hour, or if that won’t work, wait until the kids are asleep, or wake up before they do. Turn off your email manager. Tell your best friend you’ll call them back in an hour.
There’s nothing more magical to it than that. Of course, you don’t have to treat writing as a job. You can treat it as a hobby. Maybe you’ll even find success. After all, even a stamp collector sometimes finds that allusive one-of-a-kind stamp. I just wouldn’t want to count on it.
Growing up, Allan was cursed with a boring, happy and loving family, giving him nothing interesting to write about. He resented it for years. Allan eventually harnessed his feelings into writing for kids. He is available for school and library visits, and games of kickball.
Allan is the author of The Rotten Adventures of Zachary Ruthless (HarperCollins), the upcoming The Pet War (Scholastic , Fall 2014) and under the alias Fowler DeWitt, The Contagious Colors of Mumpley Middle School and its sequel, The Amazing Wilmer Dooley (Simon & Schuster, Fall 2014 and 2015), as well as approximately 400 other books in various stages of development.
Visit him at www.allanwoodrow.com