[Click here for other posts in the series Cried But Did The Thing Anyway – Life of a Freelance Writer]
Week Ten –
Guess what – this is officially the tenth post in the Cried But Did The Thing Anyway series. In terms of time, I’ve been blogging for thirteen weeks, but there has been one skipped week, one guest blog I’m still waiting on (*clears throat meaningfully*), and one week where I skipped on creative advice in favor of waxing lyrical.
Ten posts seems like a nice milestone for a recap, so for those of you who are just joining us, Cried But Did The Thing Anyway (Life of a Freelance Writer) is a series of blogs by me, Maria Stanislav, freelance writer of fiction and comics, novelist in the making, and translator of English/Ukrainian/Russian. You can look at all posts in this series by clicking the linkie at the top of this post, or at the top of this page.
Now, back to you, dear readers, because you’re what this week is going to be all about. I’m going to answer some of the questions I got, and if you’ve got any more for me, drop a comment below. I’ll be answering ALL questions I get during this week, I promise. (Just keep it nice and relevant, mkay?)
MoonlitMeda of Snuggly Hookery, mathematician and crochet enthusiast, asks:
How do you do your bill-paying work when your creative work is screaming for your attention and you know you could be so productively creative right now and you’re wasting that energy? Logic-brain says, ‘do the work and then you can make things’ but Pessimist-claiming-to-be-realist-brain says, ‘after work is done you will be exhausted and all the creative enthusiasm will be gone away and you will just want to sleep’.
Excellent question, Meda! …Sorry, I always wanted to say that. Ahem.
It IS a good question, though. One of the big ones. Juggling day job and creativity is no easy feat, and yet something that any young artist without a trust fund must go through.
Before saying anything else, I’d like to address the ‘Logic-brain’ that joined in halfway through Meda’s question.
Some people are uber-disciplined and always perfectly motivated. These people can take care of their commitments in the best possible order, giving equal amounts of attention and effort to each of them. I’m sure they exist somewhere, or maybe they’re a myth created to destroy us through soul-crushing inferiority complexes. Alternatively, they are robots from the future. The ‘logic-brain’ that says, “do the work and then you can make things” comes from the same realm as these half-myth, half-robot creatures. Of COURSE it makes sense to take care of external, wage-earning commitments first, and then do creative, artistic work, which surely is more relaxing, right?..
WRONG. Dead wrong. Anyone who’s tried doing art of any sort on an even slightly regular basis (as career or potential career, rather than a fun hobby) will tell you that the ‘fuzzy’, creative work can be harder and more nerve-wracking than any day job. There are very few rulebooks to tell you if you’re getting it right or wrong. Sometimes, you literally have no idea what you’re doing and have to figure out things as you go along. And all of your deadlines are your own, which means that if you fail one, the only consequence you will suffer will be the ever-growing sense of personal worthlessness.
With this in mind, I’d like to finally answer the question. It’s an answer that’s simple – but far from easy.
That which you want most, comes first…
…but know that something’s gotta give.
I wrote about the first part of this answer in my post about Advanced Schedules and Deadlines (Part 2), where I advocated putting internal deadlines first. Myself, I know I’ll always keep an external deadline so much better than an internal one, because, apparently, I can live with letting MYSELF down, but other people – oh, no, never. From my experience, whenever I took care of my Muggle work first, the exact scenario described by the Pessimist-Realist brain took place. The hour would be late, the head would be fuzzy, and the motivation, non-existent. But whenever I took care of creativity first, staying up until ungodly hours to finish a translation project wasn’t anywhere as disheartening.
What I failed to mention in that post, however, is the second half of the above answer. I didn’t talk about the typos I might’ve missed because of the late hour, or of how much the quality of my translation work suffered because my brain just spent the day wrangling words and couldn’t do it as well anymore. (Once, upon proofreading a text, I found that I wrote ‘appoint a time for a meeting’, instead of ‘schedule a meeting’, several times. Fortunately, that verbal monstrosity got caught before it made it to the client.)
But, even with that in mind…
If you’re inspired to create when you’re supposed to be doing something else, instead, ask yourself – will it matter in five years’ time? If your answer is YES, because you will lose your job if you miss this meeting, or fail your class if you don’t study for this exam, or will have no place to live because your house is currently on fire… Then note your idea down in a few words, and try to keep hold of the muse until you sort out the immediate emergency. But if it’s work you can catch up on by losing a few hours’ sleep, or a test that won’t make a huge difference in your academic career, or a pile of dirty dishes that needs doing – I say, screw it, and go art. Go art right now. Because in five, or ten, or twenty years’ time, or on your freaking deathbed, you won’t be wondering how your life would’ve turned out if only you’d done those dishes.
To sum up:
Question One – Day Job vs. Art?
Answer One: Art first. But art responsibly. But also, art first.
Also, an important thing to remember:
Question Two – Pen&Paper vs. Keyboard, and Why?
MooncoreBunny of Bunnyworks, programmer and musician, asks:
Why do you write your stories by hand first, instead of typing them as you go along?
Fun fact that makes the above question even more relevant: I learned to type before I learned joined-up writing!
Writing fiction in longhand in situations where a computer is easily available is a reasonably new habit for me. It’s something I fully sank into when I started my first novel-length work, about three years ago. I found that it’s the perfect way to write first drafts – especially if you use a notebook that doesn’t take kindly to having pages torn out of it (I’m a Moleskine acolyte, and I’m pretty sure that lightning made of ink will strike down anyone who dares defile one of those sacred notebooks).
Typing into any word processor offers complete freedom to edit as you go. To me, that freedom is a guarantee that I won’t get past the first two hundred words in my session, constantly going back and forth to change things. True, there are tools that restrict that freedom, like Write Or Die, a terrifying piece of software that turns your world upside down if you don’t write fast enough and, in some modes, will actually delete the existing words if you don’t put some new ones on the screen asap. For me, such extreme motivation is counter-productive, as I’m liable to produce much less when I panic. (Besides, the tool can be cheated by keysmashing, and what’s the point of working like that, anyway?)
On paper, however, I can work at my own pace, but also am forced to trudge on even if I’m not completely happy with the words I’ve managed to pinned down so far. Then again, Pulitzer winner Jane Smiley teaches us that the first draft only has one job.
That’s for the practical aspect of my choice of medium. There’s also a fun part, which is – I like having some physical evidence of my work. On the computer, drafts are edited and changed, files saved and renamed, and even if I save each draft as a separate file, it’s not the same as having a stack of notebooks that have traveled with me to wherever I was writing from, during the months it took to finish a novel; or a notebook filled with miscellaneous short-form writing, one that might have accompanied me for years on end.
Then, at the end of a project, I can take a picture like this:
The pages themselves are an amusing display, too. As I write, I may leave myself notes like ‘this description needs fixing’, or even entirely re-arrange the sentences in a paragraph by means of brackets and numbers. The resulting pages are often a puzzle that only I can decypher. (But since I normally type up the first drafts within a week of writing them, I don’t have the time to forget what on earth I was trying to say.)
Another fun aspect of writing longhand is seeing how my handwriting changes depending on what I’m writing. I’ve got pages that are nice and even, pages that are a scribbly mess, and pages that look like the words were chiseled into them.
To sum up:
Question Two – Pen&Paper vs. Keyboard, and Why?
Answer Two: Pen&Paper, because my first drafts need a physical form, and stationery is fun!