Get The Balance Write

“That Tolstoy doesn’t have to worry about blasted food ‘n’ rent,” said Dostoyevsky while hammering out an early draft of Crime and Punishment.

Well, not quite in those words he didn’t, and it might not have been while he was writing Crime and Punishment either; nevertheless, he said something along those lines at some stage. And he had a point: before denouncing his wealth in later life, Tolstoy’s aristocratic roots allowed him to work without financial pressure. For most of us, grinding out some cash to get some food in the belly and put some clothes on the back is just part of everyday life. If you have a family to provide for as well, then things are a whole lot trickier.

You’d think that working in education is an ideal job to support the writing habit, yet why do I never have any time? Avoiding inducing a coma by outlining my weekly schedule, it’s suffice to say that I’m damn busy. All the time, weekends included. Having a job where there’s always something to do and no two days are the same, requires steely discipline and a big sacrifice of family time to get that novel inching forward everyday. Toss in some bad luck that’s forced me to chase the filthy lucre during the holidays, and I’m wondering if working in a bank and counting the damn stuff everyday for a living wouldn’t be a better option.

TS Eliot worked in a bank. He enjoyed playing with the numbers and then going home to play with the words of The Wasteland. A puzzle and a challenge to stimulate the mind; nothing more than a warm-up before the real evening’s work began — home from the office at a civilised quarter past five. In our smartphone world where people hassle with calls and emails while we’re on the subway (and on the toilet), time management has become critical. For me, I have to write everyday to keep continuity; if it’s just a tired eye scanning yesterday’s frazzled sentences, then so be it. Tomorrow will be better. I’ll have more time.  And then the day unfolds.

If there are any pros to balancing gainful employment with attempting to scale the forty floor tower with a child’s sucker gun that’s sometimes referred to ‘as writing a novel’, then I’d define them as: the pressing need for food, shelter, clothing and cigarettes; actually enjoying what you do for a living; socialising and interacting with other humans on a daily basis so as not to go batshit crazy. Aside from those matters, I’d rather just stay at home and write because I find that work kind of ruins my flow.

So I guess the type of job you do certainly affects when and, probably, how you write. Many professional writers with previously difficult and busy lives became professional, in part, because for years on end they got up at five and did two or three hours while everyone else was sleeping. Many kept the morning lark habit after they could afford to quit their day jobs because with success came a whole different type of pressure. Meanwhile, others have always preferred to write at night and continued to do so after success smiled on them (presumbably finding affinity with solitude and the hoot of the owl). Personally, I’d rather start at noon, finish at four, and then go to a café for a wine soaked early dinner. Alas with all these assignments to grade, that kind of lifestyle seems a long way off at present.

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  1. Posted December 17, 2010 at 6:45 am | Permalink

    All very true, Paul. I’m 34,000 words into my second novel and I am writing it on days off (I work twelve hour shift patterns) and between the hours of 1 and 4am. we have all been cornered by people who say; “I would live to write a book but I don’t have the time.” If that is true, then they don’t want it enough. Tough as it is, we find time, we make time and we borrow and steal time wherever we find it. This is something that people who are bitten by the beast have to do. they don’t feel a choice.

  2. Paul
    Posted December 18, 2010 at 12:09 am | Permalink

    Hey Mark. Yes, I shouldn’t really be complaining with the time I get off, but those holidays are moving goal posts at the moment thanks to newly implemented university bureaucracy. Ten days of being too busy to even look at my MS gave rise to the frustration to post. You’re right about people who say they don’t have the time to write. They probably don’t have the craft/talent either, but that’s a whole blog post in itself.

    Enjoyed your post last week. Good stuff. Keep fighting on with the latest project: stubborness and coffee wins wars!

  3. Andrew
    Posted December 18, 2010 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    I hear you on all this, buddy. And with our jobs we also have the pressure of having to write and publish academic stuff to boot–yet one more project for other responsibilities to get in the way of and ruin whatever flow we had going.

    Personally I find my brain a bit foggy in the mornings and actually think work prior to writing helps, but as you say everyone’s different. I guess the main thing is finding what works for you and then making it work for you.

  4. Paul
    Posted December 18, 2010 at 11:41 pm | Permalink

    Yep, there’s an argument for the low stress/low reward nine to five. A job where you can think and make notes while the clock runs down and then home to write after leaving work far behind you. The flipside is that, in your mind, the book can become your dream ticket out of that existence, an all consuming obsession. Focusing on imagined financial gain to get you through the book writing marathon is a useful confidence trick to coax the brain into keeping going (especially during editing), but whether you (mostly) like the result at the end is the acid test for me. Viva La Vacation!

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