Writing Full Time: Diana Pharaoh Francis
In three more days, I reach the end of my time as a full-time state employee.
Author Diana Pharaoh Francis was kind enough to write the letter below, congratulating me and sharing her experiences and the lessons she’s learned. Taking care of yourself is important advice, and it’s something so many of us routinely forget or neglect. My thanks to Di for the reminder.
Her latest book is Edge of Dreams, the second Diamond City Magic book. I haven’t read this one yet, but I’ve enjoyed a lot of her other work. You can also say hi to Di over on Twitter or Facebook.
Congratulations on leaving the day job and embracing the word-job full time. Scary as it is, it’s a wonderful thing. I’ve been working on what to say to you, and I was embracing the funny, but really, I couldn’t maintain it. This is too important. So let me tell you from the heart some things that I think are important.
As you know, I did this about two years ago. I left a stable tenured job at a university and moved across several states with my family and went full time writer. It was a glorious dream come true. I was over-the-moon excited. This was something I’d been working toward for a long time. Like you, I have a spouse with insurance and a stable income, but I still need to make a certain level of income to get the bills paid. Unfortunately, unlike you, we couldn’t pay off our mortgage (I so envy you that).
At first it was amazing. The kids were in school and I was writing like a fiend. Words tumbled out on the book and I was having a fabulous time. And then came the unexpected. My son developed an illness that turned into a long term illness. It’s lasted now for the better part of two years. I’ve been so grateful to be able to be with him and to have the schedule that lets me go to hospitals and doctors and so on without having to worry about getting time off. On the other hand, it seriously cut into my writing time. It also cut into my creativity. (He is getting better finally. Yay!)
I didn’t realize it was happening to me, but over the months, I began losing motivation and ability to write. I felt tired all the time and I couldn’t think. I had a lot of resistance to writing. It took me time to figure out that this was stress. Perfectly reasonable, but by that time, the stress of not being able to write had added to the stress of everything else and created a terrible feedback loop.
And that’s where I come to my advice. Take care of yourself. You know that means exercise and taking schedule time off from the job, and so on. But I’m here to tell you that one of the most important parts of taking care of yourself is to find a community of writers to hang out with. We do this at cons, but it’s truly important to do this in your real life, too. Maybe it’s online in chatting. Better if you can do it in person. I’ve taken to meeting other writing friends for coffee or breakfast. The conversation is sometimes about writing, but more it’s just talking to people who really get what your life is like. They’ve experienced the same things. There’s something so positive and rejuvenating in that understanding, it can be a lifeline when you’re struggling on any level.
So that’s it. My big advice. Oh, except this one thing, which is actually from Neil Gaiman. Enjoy the ride. It’s lovely and fun and exhausting and difficult and so very amazing. Remember to enjoy it.
All my best,
Michael W Lucas
August 25, 2015 @ 4:28 pm
Ouch! So glad the kid is improving.
I went full-time writer last October, and immediately started writing like a fiend. A fiend utterly terrified of having to get another real job. You can wear yourself out that way. Now I make sure to get to the dojo 2-3 times a week. I take an hour every day to swill out my home, whether it needs it or not. (In theory, some day it won’t need it. In theory.) And clean clothes have a certain charm to them, even though I don’t see anyone.
Best of luck, Jim. Set a routine, including time with those you love, and stick to it!
August 25, 2015 @ 4:30 pm
I second the taking care of yourself part. I should probably look for some writers to hang out with.
August 25, 2015 @ 4:33 pm
That’s excellent advice.
If I had one other suggestion, it would be to figure out how to avoid the guilt spiral. There are going to be days where it all goes wrong, where no words get written, or where every word that does get written feels like complete and utter garbage. Learning how to stop those days from becoming weeks and those weeks from becoming months is crucial. I don’t know that I have the answer–especially for people who struggle with depression, the guilt spiral can feel like a whirlpool, dragging you down, down, down–but do I know that it’s a problem. My best bet for escaping is Jerry Seinfeld’s “Don’t Break the Chain” rule — except when my chain starts becoming too many bad days in a row, I deliberately set out to break it. Even little steps — a sentence, a writing sprint with a friend, an hour of no internet — can help.
It’s funny, I didn’t comment before because I didn’t want to be a voice of negativity. And I still don’t! Congratulations, you’re off on a wonderful adventure — you’re going to have so many days where you’re amazed at how incredible your life is.
August 25, 2015 @ 6:55 pm
She sounds like a lovely person and a wonderful mother. I’ll check out her work.
August 26, 2015 @ 9:09 am
Oh, man, this is so true! If you’re stressed to the max, pushing harder is actually counter-productive.
Sometimes, when I sit at the computer for too long, my mental process becomes something like, “Uh, duh, uh…I dunno…” and it’s easy to read another blog or skip on over to YouTube. And I feel like I can’t take a break, because I haven’t written words, and words need to get written! But frequently, if I do step away from the cmputer and get something done around the house or go spend time with friends, the kink in whatever I’m trying to write straightens out and I can see my way forward again, and I return to the computer with renewed energy.
I don’t pretend to be on the same professional level as Diana or Jim, though I aspire to be. But I like to think I recognize good advice when I see it, and that right there is some good advice!
August 26, 2015 @ 4:10 pm
I can’t tell you how exited I am that you are finally able to make the switch to full time writer. I’m a fan of the libriomancer books, and was incredibly disheartened when I first learned that you were writing basically as a side gig while working at a full time job. Writing professionals like yourself deserve to be able to make a living at this. Congrats, and I wish you the best of luck!
Jim C. Hines
August 26, 2015 @ 4:12 pm
Thanks so much, Bethany!
Two days and counting 🙂
Jim C. Hines
August 26, 2015 @ 4:12 pm
“I don’t pretend to be on the same professional level as Diana or Jim…”
Heck, most of the time I think I’m just pretending to be on the same professional level as me!
August 31, 2015 @ 7:18 am
There’s a section of Screwtape Letters where Screwtape tells his protege that he should get his target in that state of mind where he’s just twiddling his thumbs, neither doing what he should nor what he wants. I’ve found that’s easy to slide into when dealing with a family illness—I can’t focus on writing, but I can’t bring myself to walk away and do something to relax. That’s always a mistake.