Dear Readers: A few weeks ago I received an email containing a question so important and so heartbreaking that I haven’t been able to answer it–until now.
Dear Jenna –
Would you mind sharing with me whether you had a job that was not writing when you started to write with the purpose of getting published? I am working full time and at this point need to continue to work full time to pay the bills and support my family. Several people have told me to “just do it” – to quit the job and pursue my passion. I am 52 and see my life slipping away little by little – each passing day is one less day that I am doing something to escape this existence and take a chance on something meaningful. My Dad worked hard at a job he really did not like for 40+ years and retired at in 2002 when he was 65. He died ten weeks after his 70th birthday. This haunts me. Sincerely, S.
Thank you so much for reaching out to me! Of course, this question is so important that I can’t answer it for you. Only you can answer it. What I can do is lend you my own experience, since you asked about my circumstances when I began writing. Maybe this will be helpful.
The biggest difference between you and me is, I haven’t yet started my own family. I have a fiancé and a black Lab, both of whom I love dearly, and my book babies. I deliberately chose the road less taken: I postponed starting a family so I could concentrate on my career.
I also chose a career that is not financially stable–because the career chose me. I’ve wanted to be a writer and only a writer since I was a very little girl. Luckily, I also love begin a teacher and public speaker–about writing–so that helps bolster the budget. But I always caution people that depending on writing to provide a steady living is a fantasy at best, and even if you are making money at writing, it is not going to be steady income (unless you are Jodi Picoult or Stephen King. We aspire! :).
When I started, I was supporting myself in food service–“waiting on,” as my dad would say. I worked as a diner waitress, a luncheonette waitress, a prep chef, a restaurant manager. I managed a Borders bookstore for a while, which was blissful. I always chose jobs that would give me time to write, and all of the jobs went to feed my expensive writing habit. In the late 90s, I went to graduate school for creative writing and flipped the channel from food service to teaching once I got my M.A.
I often feel my choices are atypical and I sometimes find the results challenging. But I have been greatly blessed in my life by primarily being able to do what I love–which was my goal all along.
Here’s what I can encourage you to do:
* on social media, Facebook and Twitter, look to other writers who have both families and careers. Befriend them. Get daily inspiration! I know many, many women writers who have families, books, and day jobs. (If you friend me on social media, you can use me as a starting point to find them.) If you’re not crazy about social media, Google “women writers who started careers in their 50s.” The results may surprise you. Writing does not have a shelf life!
* Also, have faith!: many of my friend have become successful novelists after their primary child raising obligations were done–when their kids of college age. Look up Randy Susan Meyers and Henriette Lazardius. Nichole Bernier, who has five! (adorable) children and who is writing her second book. Anna Solomon, who has two young children, a teaching career at Brown, and has just finished her second novel as well. And Pam Jenoff, who is a law professor, has twins + a son, and is a prolific historical novelist.
The purpose of this advice is not to intimidate you (“Why aren’t I doing more?”) but to show there is a sisterhood out there–and it’s possible to write and hold a job simultaneously.
* since you love to write, and you are time-poor, find a little time every day. Take sips of writing–this is often how the women I mentioned above do it. If you can’t do every day, try five days a week. Give yourself 20 minutes at a time, then build up–or don’t. The sense of accomplishment you will feel from watching the words accumulate will compensate for not having as much time as you would like.
Now I should take my own advice and go get some words down. Please feel free to check back and let me know how you’re doing. I will be thinking about you and wishing you well.