What ranks a close second? It’s being able to give up control and go with life’s flow.
That quality is flexibility.
I’ve been writing seriously for 35 years, and there are many things I’ve loved about writing. I’ve been thankful for being able to work at home, for making a living at something I love to do, spending my days immersed in words, having a job requiring lots of reading, not having to drive in traffic to my office down the hall, wearing fuzzy slippers to work, not dealing with office bullies, and the list goes on.
But the ability to sustain a writing career over the long haul isn’t easy. It will require extreme flexibility.
Only Pretzels Need Apply
Why is flexibility so crucial? Because life has a way of twisting itself into a pretzel. Your well-planned life (and those of loved ones) takes many unexpected twists and turns. It happens to everyone sooner or later. And if you’ll bend a bit, the writing life allows you to be flexible as well, so you can keep your career and your sanity both.
Over the years, I’ve needed to be flexible in many areas:
- children, from infancy to adulthood, plus grandchildren now
- moving, from farm to various towns and across the country
- finances, from flush to broke (several cycles of this!)
- health changes, including multiple surgeries, a chronic pain condition, and aging issues
Children: I wrote longhand in doctors’ waiting rooms, bleachers during basketball practice, and while nursing babies. I wrote early morning before toddlers woke up, while preschoolers watched “Sesame Street,” during school hours, late night waiting for teens on dates, while traveling to see grown children, while grandkids nap, and when I couldn’t sleep during my daughter’s four overseas deployments. Challenges changed every year with the children, but the flexibility of writing let me keep on making a living as an author.
Moving: We lived on a peaceful, isolated Iowa farm when I started writing. Moving to town was a shock, both in the noise level and dealing with neighbors and neighbors’ kids. Later, moving across country to be near kids and grandkids meant living in an apartment for a couple years, and learning to write in the middle of the night because I had two teenage girls living above me who had reverted to infancy and had their days and nights turned around. But my office was open all hours, so during those years I could continue being a working writer.
Finances: For various reasons (more kids, surgeries, single parenting years) there were times when the money coming in was less than the money needing to go out. Flexibility with the writing life counted there too. Some years I took on more writing than I “comfortably” wanted to do, including articles for online publications and work-for-hire series writing. I also said “yes” to more school visits per year than I ever hope to do again. Was it fun working those 60-hour weeks? No, but it turned the cash flow from red to black. A traditional employer doesn’t let you decide when you’re going to work overtime and when you’re not. Writing does.
Health Changes: Starting in my twenties, when the kids were small, I had more than a dozen total surgeries on my neck, face and jaw, ending with nerve damage and a chronic pain condition that saps a lot of energy. For many years, I could not have held down a traditional job. Even today, I occasionally need the flexibility of working when I feel well, whether it’s in the middle of the night or on Saturday or holidays. Writing has allowed me to keep my job when sick. Yes, I might write for three hours in the middle of the night, but later in the day when I fold up, I can take a long nap. It’s a rare employer who allows a two-hour nap mid-day.
Turning Pain into Gain
My two books for writers, Writer’s First Aid: Getting Organized, Getting Inspired, and Sticking to It and More Writer’s First Aid: Getting the Writing Done, could also be subtitled “how to stay flexible in order to keep writing.” My writing students weren’t abandoning their dreams because they couldn’t learn to plot or punctuate dialogue. They were quitting because of day jobs, divorces, caring for babies/kids/aging parents, and other life issues. In my books I shared how writing allows you to be flexible in all these life situations.
And don’t forget: surviving life’s pretzel times always give you something to write about!