The Non-Fiction Novelist

Helping at-work writers to become novelists

Don’t Let Writing Keep You From Writing

Don’t Let Writing Keep You From Writing

By Larry Kahaner

Being a novelist is like being an actor or a painter. Sometimes you need a day job to make ends meet until your artistic talents are economically appreciated. The question for writers in particular is: do you write to pay the rent or do you take a day job that’s not writing?deadline

Some say that a non-writing job keeps your mind fresh and available for your novelizing but others (I’m in this camp) say that writing non-fiction keeps your word skills sharp and your writing-mind limber.

Those of you who are familiar with my blog and website, know that I’m a working writer, journalist and author, and that I’m also writing a novel. My website and blog are devoted to the idea that non-fiction writers bring unique and valuable skills to the fiction world.

There are also challenges. For example, this is the first time that I’m writing a book on spec which is an uncomfortable and unprecedented situation for me. I’m almost 70,000 words in (all writers know their word count even if they publicly say they don’t) and I work on my thriller when I’m not making a living by writing non-fiction.

I’m always on the lookout for others, like me, who write for a living and work on their novel when they can fit it in, so I was pleased to come across this blog by Lauren Tharp where she tackles the same issues that confront me and other working writers.

It struck me as comforting, but strangely eerie, that we have many of the same feelings and beliefs about how to handle our writing work lives and our non-worklife writing.

For example, Lauren writes: I have, and will always, put my clients’ needs before my own. Mostly because I like getting paid. I agree. Ya gotta eat and pay the mortgage. I feel lucky to earn my living as a writer and I won’t jeopardize it. However, to make time for my ‘other  work,’ as I call it, I schedule the time. I may work the morning on ‘money work’ (my other pet name) and the afternoon on my other work. Although counter intuitive, I find that when I dispatch my money work, it revs me up for my other work. I also find that time becomes more precious, so instead of spending it on Facebook or some other web-related time-suck, I will dive into my other work. My money work may sometimes creep into my other work time but not the other way.

(As an aside: A few hours ago, I got a call from a friend and editor at a magazine where I once worked who asked if I was available for a six-month assignment. It would be a weekly article of about 500-600 words. I explained that I was working on my novel – he knew that already – but he understood immediately (’cause he’s a working writer) when I told him that this work would only serve to stimulate my fiction writing. So, yes, I welcomed the additional work. Thanks for thinking of me, Jim.)

The other item that Lauren wrote was: For many writers, “mood” dictates whether or not they’ll sit down and write. However, for many successful writers, “mood” needs to either be ignored or be incorporated into their work. I agree here, too. Writers have to do their jobs whether they feel like it or not –  just like everybody else in this world.

These are just two gems from Lauren’s blog. She also quotes other working writers on how they juggle their time write their passion projects. It’s worth a look.

I’d like to add one more of my own findings. Writing for a living compels you to meet deadlines so you learn to write as best as you can in the time allotted. Even if there’s no deadline for your novel, it’s a good trait to know when to stop writing and hand it in. Too many novelists work ad infinitum, trying to eke out perfection, so they never really finish their book.

Lauren ends with this: If you, really, truly, want to write for yourself, nothing, can stop you –  not even writing.

True that.

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3 thoughts on “Don’t Let Writing Keep You From Writing

  1. Love this! It seems I’m in the same situation you are: I write non-fiction for my day job, and I write fiction in my “free time.” (I’ve always hated that term, as I am always filling it, and it’s never really free.) And even though I sometimes wish I could just write novels all day, I agree that my money work often produces good habits and skills in my novel work. And vice versa: sometimes my novel writing influences much more creative, engaging copy at work.

    What you say about deadlines is so true for fiction writing. I believe my ability to write good copy in very limited amounts of time translates into a much faster, more efficient novel-writing regimen.

    • Thanks for your comment. I’m always glad to hear from non-fiction writers who are moving into the world of fiction. We have a leg up, for sure. It’s a matter of capitalizing and amplifying our skills for the fiction job ahead. Keep in touch, please.

      • Absolutely. I think honing the craft of writing daily, no matter the topic or venue, is essential, and anyone who gets to write for money and for fun will most certainly do this.

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