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The Day Job and the Craft

Got a question/comment about the creative process of writing? Post it here!
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cw gortner
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Post by cw gortner » Wed April 22nd, 2009, 6:46 pm

I've always written stories; my mom has these spiral notebooks I used to write my stories in when we lived in Spain. I designed covers for them and illustrated the pages. I was always obsessed with books, too. Writing just came naturally to me; learning the craft itself is a life-long discipline, of course, but it's something I love to do, as opposed to stuff like math, which I totally suck at :)

I've also always held down a day job while writing - and it's a good thing, considering how long it took to actually sell a book! I worked in fashion marketing for several years, then moved into grant writing and program design development when the HIV/AIDS crisis struck. I've been working in the HIV arena ever since, everything from grant writing to treatment advocacy to case management (sometimes all three in the same job, depending on the non profit!) I went back to school in my mid-twenties and got my MFA in Writing while working, too. Talk about brain fry.

Now, I'm an administrative analyst and grant writer for the City's HIV/AIDS division. I've been there for 8 years, so I qualify for pension, etc. Lately, I've been mulling over with my partner the possibility of becoming a full time writer. There's a lot of re-structuring going on in the department where I work due to budget shortfalls, and my current unit is being re-organized into something less appealing to me. My book income was pretty good last year, more than my day job salary, actually, so there was plenty to live on, but that was for that book deal and I have to admit I'm very wary of taking the plunge, given the state of publishing in general. If I'm fortunate enough to secure another deal, I'd seriously consider it; otherwise, if I leave my current job I might do some consulting so I can carve out more day hours for writing. As it stands, I write in the evenings and on weekends, as well as every other spare moment I can find; but with a full-time job, and in my mid-forties, I'm just not as spry as I once was and some nights after work I just want to read and veg out.

The next two years for me are going to be decisive.
Last edited by cw gortner on Wed April 22nd, 2009, 6:52 pm, edited 1 time in total.
THE QUEEN'S VOW available on June 12, 2012!
THE TUDOR SECRET, Book I in the Elizabeth I Spymaster Chronicles
THE CONFESSIONS OF CATHERINE DE MEDICI
THE LAST QUEEN


www.cwgortner.com

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juleswatson
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Post by juleswatson » Thu April 23rd, 2009, 8:13 am

I really admire you writing so much while holding down a full-time job, CW. That's dedication! I went full-time as a writer when I got my first book deal, and have no idea how I would have done five books in seven years without that. But times are tough out there, and who knows what the future holds. Before that I was a freelance writer, so I know that consultancy work does make for more flexible hours and hopefully more writing time.
Author of Celtic historical fantasy
New book "THE RAVEN QUEEN" out Feb 22 2011: The story of Maeve, the famous warrior queen of Irish mythology.
Out now, "THE SWAN MAIDEN", the ancient tale of Deirdre, the Irish 'Helen of Troy'
http://www.juleswatson.com

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stu1883
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Post by stu1883 » Thu April 23rd, 2009, 11:37 am

[quote=""LoveHistory""]Good for you Stu! My mother and husband have Fibro. Not a fun condition.[/quote]
Fun is definitely not a word you can associate with fibro! Still - writing makes me happy and I'm determined to carry on!

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SarahWoodbury
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Post by SarahWoodbury » Mon May 4th, 2009, 4:31 pm

Thinking about dreams versus being happy now . . . until I was twelve my parents thought I was going to be a 'hippy' (their words) because I was always dreaming and writing and composing songs and poetry. Then we had some major family upheaval and I suddenly became studious and serious and devoted to school. I ended up at 27 with a Ph.D. in anthroplogy, but remember being incredulous that I needed to come up with an 'original' idea for my dissertation as I hadn't had a creative thought in 12 years. At that time I routinely commented that I 'didn't have a creative bone in my body.'

Well, maybe that's not quite the case. I've spent the last 14 years gradually sloughing off school and finding that inner sense of creativity--whether gardening, or cooking, or quilting, or writing--and raising and homeschooling 4 kids. I would never, ever have thought, twenty years ago, or even ten years ago, that I would be doing what I'm doing now--and happy to be doing it.

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EC2
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Post by EC2 » Mon May 4th, 2009, 4:46 pm

[quote=""cw gortner""] My book income was pretty good last year, more than my day job salary, actually, so there was plenty to live on, but that was for that book deal and I have to admit I'm very wary of taking the plunge, given the state of publishing in general. If I'm fortunate enough to secure another deal, I'd seriously consider it; otherwise, if I leave my current job I might do some consulting so I can carve out more day hours for writing. As it stands, I write in the evenings and on weekends, as well as every other spare moment I can find; but with a full-time job, and in my mid-forties, I'm just not as spry as I once was and some nights after work I just want to read and veg out.

The next two years for me are going to be decisive.[/quote]

Only just seen this CW. I think I must have been away when you posted.
It's very interesting reading everyone's experiences - thank you all!
I earned enough from my writing from my first contract to be able to stay at home and raise the kids and write - but only because my husband had a full time job. Mine was the second top-up income. This continued as my sons grew up with my income gradually crawling up the ladder. Finally, a couple of years ago we reached the stage where it came to crunch time. I was finding it difficult to run the house and have the time for the writing. Husband was not happy in his job but was doing it to continue to make ends meet. So we took a deep breath and the plunge. He retired on a small pension (been working since he was 15 and saving for his pension ever since) and now looks after the house and walks the dog etc, while my income became the one that runs the house, pays the bills etc. So we've swapped roles and wage-earner status. At the moment neither of us regrets it one little bit, but the writing industry is a terribly fickle one and income can fluctuate horribly - especially now. It really is difficult making that move. My husband only went because he had one final row with his manager and wrote his resignation in the heat of the moment. It had been coming a long time, but even so, that jump into space was a real 'gulp, OMG what have I done' moment!
Les proz e les vassals
Souvent entre piez de chevals
Kar ja li coard n’I chasront

'The Brave and the valiant
Are always to be found between the hooves of horses
For never will cowards fall down there.'

Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal

www.elizabethchadwick.com

71writer
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Post by 71writer » Fri May 22nd, 2009, 11:31 am

I only work 14 hours a week as a homemaker for the elderly. I take them on errands, doctor's visits, and clean their homes for them. They are a treasure trove for information. Especially my one client who is 88 years old.
But I am also a wife and a mother of 3 teenagers (1 not living at home anymore). So I have all the usual things to do: housework, cooking, driving to baseball practice, heavily involved in our church in music ministry.
I have set aside the afternoons (I am done with my client's by noon) to work on my book.
My husband is a factory worker for a support plant for Toyota. He is working 10-12 hour days and writing in the evenings. He usually falls asleep sitting up, pen in hand. I don't know that we will ever be published, but I do want to actually get this work written.
I think when I actually am working, I write more. When I was homeschooling our kids and staying home all the time, I didn't get any writing done. When I worked 10 hours a day at the hospital I wrote on my breaks and lunch. I don't know, weird I guess.

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SarahWoodbury
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Post by SarahWoodbury » Sat May 30th, 2009, 3:55 pm

I started writing in part because we were homeschooling . . . because of what my kids were doing, it came to me that I could have something interesting to do with my time too, where I was continuing to learn and grow just like I wanted them to be doing, and wrote my first book just to see if I could. It was terrible and moulders unloved on my laptop, but I learned so much doing it, and sometimes I even still raid it for characters or plot ideas . . .

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Ken
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Post by Ken » Sat May 30th, 2009, 7:01 pm

I have found the posts on this thread really interesting and quite emotionally moving. Particularly the story of 71Writer!

I guess, by comparison, I have been lucky! I had a rewarding career as a Structural Engineer, lots of foreign travel. Designed many tall buildings and bridges that still stand (I hope!) to this day and ended up by getting a retirement 'package' that allowed me to retire relatively comfortably. I do not, therfore, need to earn money from writing as so many of the above contibutors do. I do have a 'day-job' however, so-to-speak, I am (like EC's dh) a 'House Husband' who cooks, cleans (not like only a woman can!), washes, irons, pays the bills, etc. to let my dentist wife carry on her work.

HOWEVER! I found, like most other people who retire from a busy career I guess, that from being SOMEONE one day, to being NO-ONE the next, very hard to take! No emails, no voice messages, your so-called one-time colleagues 'not in the office' when you call, etc. All very humbling!!

So! I found a 'project', writing historical fiction! For me, it has been a God-send. I, like many before me, I suppose, have discovered that I do not have a particular gift for writing, BUT, I adore the research, which EC2 has so brilliantly described as 'addictive'! It is probably because of this aspect that I ask so many questions on this forum!!!!

At the end of the day - I don't really care if my book finally gets published. I'm doing it for myself. If no-body wants it, I'll pay for it's printing and give it to my children to put (unread?) on their book shelves. BTW. I really enjoy logging on the HFOL. This site is also addictive!!

Nell_Gavin
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Post by Nell_Gavin » Sun May 31st, 2009, 12:12 pm

I was a software designer and product manager while I was writing my first book. It was a highly stressful position that left me responsible for the team's output, but without the authority to fire anyone who didn't deliver. That meant I could only coax and cajole, or report to my manager; I had no power, just all the responsibility and blame. I had pressure, not only from my manager, but from the customers and other departments as well.

I had to know what everyone was doing at all times so I could provide status reports to my manager and pitch in if things were falling behind schedule. Furthermore, I needed to know HOW everyone was doing it because, if a team member quit or left on maternity, I had to step in and do that person's job in addition to my own, until I could interview, hire and train a replacement. Deadlines didn't shift because I was inconvenienced. I simply had to step up and work harder. Except for programming the source code and translating the software into six languages, I performed everyone's job at one point or another over seven or eight years, from soup to nuts.

I'm a perfectionist, so the product always went out on time, and it always went out bug-free. But that takes its toll on you. There was one point where I had surgery to rule out cancer of the esophagus because I couldn't swallow. I kept choking on my food. It turned out to only be stress, which I had to manage with yoga and Vitamin B.

Meanwhile, I was writing THREADS, which is essentially mental vomit. My head was always churning and spinning, and I needed somewhere to dump the overflow. The book is complex - it has all kinds of layers and little "threads" that subtly link this to that - because my mind was going full speed and dealing with complicated problems all day, every day. I couldn't have written a beach read at that point in my life. I had to write something intricate, and it had to be very difficult to write. It had to be thought provoking and somewhat challenging to read. You had to keep up with me because I couldn't slow down for you.

I also had two small children at the time, so I had very little time to write. I wrote the book in my head during my one hour commute to and from work, then typed it after the kids went to bed. Despite this, there is not one line in the book that wasn't interrupted with a request for "juice" or some minor emergency. I also had a constant tape going in the background that replayed the book's content in my head, which I could have recited word for word - all 372 pages of it. I identified any number of typos and grammatical errors and inconsistencies just by tuning in to that rolling tape throughout the day.

It took me six years.

What being a product manager taught me was how to shoot for perfection. I know that there are eight typos in the first edition, and I know there is one minor historical inconsistency (aside from the ones I note at the end of the book), which fortunately only one reader spotted in the past eight years, to my total chagrin. There are several places in the second edition where the publisher formatted the text in the wrong font. These issues have the potential to make me crazy, but I learned to accept them.

My job also taught me how to tackle all the various aspects of publishing a book by teaching me how to tackle all the various aspects of releasing a software product. I didn't want to entrust my book to a publisher because not everyone "gets" it - and sure enough, when a publisher picked it up in Italy they marketed it to the wrong audience! (I have to trust that the translation was accurate. Good grief...). I couldn't let anyone else do that. I just couldn't. I'd turned into a total control freak.

I finally walked out on that job for my own sanity, and tried to decompress. I'm taking my time with my second book, which isn't going to be as intense because I don't have the same mental pressure as before. But I'm grateful for what I learned.
Last edited by Nell_Gavin on Sun May 31st, 2009, 8:21 pm, edited 17 times in total.

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Ken
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Post by Ken » Sun May 31st, 2009, 5:19 pm

You had to keep up with me because I couldn't slow down for you.

I finally walked out on that job for my own sanity, and tried to decompress. I'm taking my time with my second book, which isn't going to be as intense because I don't have the same mental pressure as before. But I'm grateful for what I learned.[/QUOTE]

Nell, That was one hell of a post!

As a 'perfectionist' also, I can identify with your anguish, when 'others' don't get that anything less than perfect in the work you (or they) do, won't do!

"You had to keep up with me because I couldn't slow down for you" is such a powerful statement! and I might steal it one day!!

I will look up your book 'Threads' and, now that you have found some calm in your life, I hope that your second book, reflects 'what you have learned' and has great success!

Good luck to you!

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