There is a conceptual difference between professional writers and those who write on a semi-professional basis in the minds of many non-writers, including friends and family members.
Most writers that I talk to who write on a semi-professional basis tend to feel they have to justify their creativity to others. It is somehow seen as selfish to explore a creative life. It doesn’t matter if this person holds down a full-time job, or several part-time jobs, to support his or her family–pay the mortgage, put food on the table, and meet all of the other sundry expenses that come from living in this era. Semi-professional writers do the necessary household chores, shop, pay the bills, take care of their children and/or elderly relatives, and spend time with a spouse or significant other. They help with homework and go to a weekly religious service. In addition to this list, they want to spend time writing, and many times are made to feel like this is a negative thing—like this is “stealing time” away from their family and obligations.
A friend of mine recently published a poem in a literary magazine. This was a very big deal for her; it was a local magazine and she received a small check. (She has a full time job at a local library but was proud of that thirteen dollars and fifty cents). She felt so happy until she shared the news with her sister, who had come over for a visit.
“I don’t know where you find the time to write” my friend’s sister said, but this was in no way a compliment. During the visit, the sister “found” multiple issues to discuss with housekeeping. “I can’t believe minor the things she pointed out,” my friend told me. “She even mentioned water spots on my drinking glasses. I felt we had drifted into a dishwashing soap commercial!”
I have encountered this attitude with people in my own life—people who are generally very supportive of my writing. A few months ago I was having dinner with some friends and mentioned wanting to talk to another friend who lives across the country, but our schedules were not compatible. The only time she had “free” to talk on the phone was during the two hours when I write. (I do schedule my writing time as work. Yes—I enjoy it, but it is a way I someday want to earn my living, just like a lot of other semi-professional writers.)
“So there’s no real time to talk; either she’s working or I am.”
“Well, you are not really working,” one of my friends said. (She drew out the word “really” in that sentence.) “I mean—it’s not like you have to write.” (She stopped talking at that point and we changed the subject; I must have had quite the expression of shock on my face.)
This statement flabbergasted me. This was a person who, as one of my best friends, I expected to support me and my goals; instead I was gently “reminded” that I was not “working” when I was writing. Therefore there was no reason I could not call someone for a long conversation.
I wonder if she would advise taking off from my “regular” job to call someone for a chat? Somehow I don’t think so.
Professional writers do not have this issue; writing for them falls under the umbrella-term of work, and people who are not writers can classify it as such. It is easy to see—you are working when you write. This is how you earn your living. It is a 9 to 5 job.
Since I earn my living another way, writing is not a necessary activity in the minds of my non-writing friends. It is somehow selfish to prefer to write—to prefer to be creative—to set this time aside in my daily life just to type words on a screen.
In On Writing (2000) Stephen King says that writers need to have a concrete goal and the determination to see it through. “The longer you keep to these basics,” King explains, “the easier the act of writing will become.”
To me—and to many writers—the act of writing is a very necessary task. Whether we publish something or not, it is a serious occupation.
Categories: On Writing