Making a Living as a Writer: Writing Through Chaos

Hi! I haven’t touched base in a little while because this past month has been utter CHAOS. We’ve been helping our daughter Maddie get ready to move to Scotland for 2-3 years’ social justice work. Here we are at the airport just before her flight.

With Maddie at the airport

She’s off to change the world!

This past month has been a tough one, both emotionally and productivity-wise. It’s been a whirlwind of boxes everywhere, money discussions, trips to Goodwill, last workout at the gym together, last girls’ lunch out together, and a whole lot of other lasts. My schedule has been blown to smithereens, because I wanted to spend any time available hanging out with my daughter before she headed off on her big adventure.

I am behind on so many things it’s not even funny. But it was worth it.

And, through the chaos (including some recent computer issues), I did meet deadlines: four copyediting projects, three literary passages, and a bunch of other business tasks. I did turn down an offered assignment, and I was 15 minutes late to an appointment. (I hate that!) And forget about writing new material (that I wanted to work on, not that was assigned to me, I mean). There just wasn’t a spare moment or ounce of energy.

The bottom line, though, is that if you want writing to be your career, you have to be able to write through chaos in your life. There is no vacation time to take. No sick days. Only deadlines to meet and bills to pay, even when life is crazy.

And that’s something you have to be okay with if you choose this career (or any kind of freelancing career). We have a whole lot of medical issues in our family, and I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent writing in doctors’/hospitals’ waiting rooms. Lisa knows this, too: Even during really difficult times, you write. If you’re a writer, you write. You might not work on your “I want to write about…” projects, but you meet your obligations, you make your deadlines, and you escape into words and stories and someone else’s world. And sometimes that’s a relief!

A job, where you work for someone else, offers you a cushion. When life happens, sometimes you can skate by with 70% effort at your job for a week or two until your life settles down a bit (and your paycheck doesn’t even sink down to 70%). But a writing career doesn’t have that flexibility, unless you’re successful enough to set aside savings and schedule in time off for yourself (which is really smart). So you have to be able to get into your “this is work” mindset and block out everything else. For me, it’s like flipping a switch. Many times this past month, I checked with Maddie about her schedule for the day, and then I blocked out my work time. And during those work times, it was almost like wearing a steel helmet that blocked out any other thoughts, worries, details to be figured out, etc. I would set the timer, declare my goal to finish by the time the timer rang, and get busy.

I’m not special in this regard. Thousands of freelancers and consultants face this issue constantly. But it’s something good to think about if you’re considering a career as a freelance writer. Are you willing and able to see your writing as “work,” as something you must do, you NEED to do, even when you don’t feel like it or when life is blowing up all around you? If you can answer yes to that, welcome to being a career writer!


About Laura Purdie Salas

children's writer, poet, reader, visiting author, speaker/teacher, mentor, copyeditor, freelance writer
This entry was posted in Making a Living and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Making a Living as a Writer: Writing Through Chaos

  1. Excellent. And great point about writing/editing being an escape from CHAOS. Last count, I have 12 projects besides writing/submitting grabbing at me. That includes what to do about the dog peeing… um… inappropriately in the house (Should we take him to a shrink?) and whether to move the furniture back into the twice-recently-flooded downstairs bedroom. BTW, an electric leaf blower works great to dry out carpet.

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