Is writing easier if you treat it like a job?
We’ve all heard countless authors say that they treat writing like a job. This could look like practical, physical steps, such as getting dressed (no pyjamas or lounge clothes), renting a workspace, setting specific, measurable goals, and you know, anything else that can go into a spreadsheet.
It can also refer to mindset, such as turning off devices, saying no to coffee catchups on weekdays, or working during business hours (9-5 pm [that is, if you don’t have a ‘regular’ full-time gig]).
There is so much value in treating writing like a job. It’s good and important to show yourself that you take writing seriously, but in Ann Patchett’s recent collection, These Precious Days, she shares that she became a writer because it isn’t a job.
Ann sees writing as flexible. It is a vocation that she fits around her life. She proudly declares that she is the friend who you call if you need a lift to the airport and it is the reason why she was able to become her mother’s caregiver. Now obviously, Ann Patchett is privileged in a variety of ways including the fact that she is a very successful and high profile author, but there was something very refreshing and honest about this perspective.
For most of us, jobs are unpleasant; we work jobs to survive. They are means to an end, something to be endured. We might be grateful to have a job as a source of income, but for me at least, jobs are separate from careers and vocations. A job is something we get because we have bills to pay, whereas a career is something in which we are specialised, and a vocation is a calling or passion. For me, waitressing is a job, being an academic is a career, and writing is my vocation.
This is the same reason why I have an issue with the word ‘discipline.’ So much writing advice is around being disciplined with your writing: you must force yourself to sit down and do the work. The dictionary definition of discipline is ‘the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behaviour, using punishment to correct disobedience’.
I mean, is that really the attitude you want to have when approaching your creative work? I better be a good little creator and follow all the rules of craft or else the writing gods are gonna get me.
Don’t get me wrong, discipline can lead to freedom. If you make the effort to engage with your creative practice often, then writing will become a part of your life. It will take less and less time to sink into the work and not writing will feel weirder than writing.
If you are new to writing, then being disciplined with your routine will help make writing a regular habit, and maybe imagining writing as a job, in which there is an outer sense of accountability could be a useful source of motivation depending on your personality.
And yet, sticking to this particular way of thinking about, and engaging with, your writing process may not be that great in the long term.
It does take time, but if you put in the work you will reach a point where you trust yourself as a writer, and what I mean by that, is that you can step away from writing with confidence because you know you will return. You perceive yourself as a writer; the title has become part of your identity, and writing is just something that you do.
You don’t think of writing as a habit; instead, you think of your relationship with writing as a type of commitment. It is a process you engage with consistency.
In the long run, we probably don’t want to think about our writing the same way we think about a job. We don’t want writing to be tedious, heavy, mandatory, or something to be endured. If you approach writing with that kind of attitude, injecting energy and brightness into your work will become incredibly difficult. After all, it’s kind of hard to engage with your imagination and fully give yourself over to the creative process if you’re watching the clock.
Okay, I’m gonna say something that is super crap and I’m sorry for adding to this narrative, but few writers make a living wage from their fiction. Most of us do other work that allows us to write during our free time.
You shouldn’t treat writing like a job, because you already have a job.
Instead, writing should be seen as an activity that you choose to do. It’s your passion after all. It may not be your passion forever, and there may be many writing sessions when you feel passionless, but if you want to enjoy your creativity in general, then you must have a positive relationship to writing.
Treating writing like a job and using discipline as a way to meet your goals may have its place, but if you want to enjoy the art of making, then commitment and consistency may be a more pleasant way to engage with your creativity.
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