On Doing too Much, or Lessons in Your Time and Your Writing

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A few months back one of my closest friends asked me about doing too much and why I take on so many tasks. Back then, Juliana asked me to write a post on how to effectively do too much and how to time manage. I wanted to do the post, but as I was doing book trailers at the time, I didn’t have the time to write it. I was trying at that point to further my design career and skill set at the same time as my writing, which suffered to the point of nonexistence. In essence, I stopped writing. I couldn’t get past a sentence most days or even figure out how to go about editing my books.

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I was frustrated by this, so I quit making trailers in hopes to better my writing but still found myself needing to progress my design skills anyway to stay on top of it with the industry as it is. While it did make more time for conference attendance and writing articles, it still left little time between my day job and my writing for my books and writing them. I also found myself less and less active in my community of writers as a result and unable to do things I wanted to like write short stories or CP work or guest post. It also left me less confident in my work because I was stretching myself thin, getting harsh criticism for my videos and art portfolio that left me feeling completely dismantled.

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As conferences stepped up in pacing, I found myself having to chose between the two fields and what to pursue. Those of you that are familiar with being a commercial artist understand it’s brutal in a different way that other creative fields. It’s a different level of expectation and a different level of harsh dedication. I’ve seen more advice in being an artist professionally along the lines of “give up every other inch of your life besides being an artist if you want to be great” than I do in writing. Most writing posts I see talk about balance, are more forgiving of family or day job obligations, but still have rough deadlines you have to push through like any other creative field. I think the real trouble came in for me when trying to do both to my fullest potential and I quickly found something had to give.

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At first, I only gave up video, needing a day job to help out at home, but that balance faded fast when writer expectations stepped up. As writers, you all are probably familiar with the daily need to blog post, review books, CP, Beta, write your own books, guest posts, blog group membership on a rotating post schedule, Twitter, and conference attendance. Add in the fact I’m also an illustrator of my work and others and you’ve got too dishes spinning in the air and something had to fall. My brain would just shut down some days and I couldn’t work on anything creative at all.

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In all this, my decision came to a crux and I chose to quit my day job. I read a lot a posts leading up to this decision on why not to quit your day job as a writer and I don’t think those posts are always accurate. Particularly for those of us trying to do two creative careers at the same time. You get burned out all too quickly. I had anticipated years from now having to make this decision and even looked forward to it but now that it’s here I’ve found myself at a loss of whether to be excited or nervous.

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In a society that expects a 9-to-5 means you have a “job” oftentimes the idea of being a full-time writer isn’t regarded as real work, but it is. It is a full-time job and there is no getting around that if you want to do it and do it well. So doing all the things all the time is not what it’s cracked up to be. It makes you perform at less than your best in the end though the pressure now is to do everything and still come out with 150% at every second of every day. That said, what I’ve found in design is a lot of stiff competition to be the best based on the last big name you worked with so you can progress to just copying someone else’s design or branding to the pixel. I love branding, I love marketing, but not to the expense of personal creativity. I realized then and there I was more of an entrepreneur that wanted to write for creative projects that I chose to work on rather than having to recreate someone else’s OCD pixel-perfect work that I didn’t even care about for the rest of my career. So, I’m leaving the design field and making a field switch to writing and illustrating.

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Then I realized, I am actually stupidly excited about this. I’m going to get to freelance write and edit, focus on my book career, my edits, my CPing, my TV reviews, blogs I write and edit for, and internships/freelance jobs I’m interested in. Much more interested in than pixel perfection. It took months of working all hours, not seeing friends, not working on projects I actually wanted to all in the expectations of other people or other things than what I was trying to focus on: my writing.

I think I’m most thankful to Juliana and my supportive husband Michael for helping me realize all of this over the past few months. They saw I was killing myself behind the scenes and spoke up weekly/daily for me to change things. Chuck Wendig was a huge help behind the scenes too. That man is a guru of how to be a writer. It was also my lovely agent Carrie who helped me see how important focus on writing was to my books and how much being able to focus on my edits would make them so much better. She really is the best.

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So my question to you all is how many of you need to focus more on your writing? Struggle with balance? Hoping to make the switch to full-time writing? I’d love to hear your thoughts below!

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3 thoughts on “On Doing too Much, or Lessons in Your Time and Your Writing

  1. Reading another’s journey through something I’m going through myself was really helpful. Thank you for posting. You’re brave and wise to make the choice you did and I’m glad you had such great support for it. I also hope it turns out amazing.

    Recently, I’ve felt that tug-of-war between career paths, but mine was more “Do I write now or illustrate now?” I’d neglected my illustration career for way too long while writing, revising, and querying the first book in my YA series.

    Writing, to me, had always been a close second to drawing. It was something I wanted to do for myself, to publish one day for myself, but never to do commercially, unlike illustration. That I can do anytime, no matter what, and I know I’m good at it.

    November brought the idea and the push I needed. Instead of NaNo, I chose to do a personal drawing challenge, using Twitter as inspiration. Daily, I’d pick a descriptive tweet and illustrate it, putting as much or as little detail into it as I felt like. Then I’d post my sketch to the person who inspired me, bringing a little happiness their way as well as a RT mine. By the end of the month, hopefully I’ll have some portfolio-worthy pieces, as well as a larger Twitter following than I started out with.

    I haven’t yet given up my day job (part-time as it is) since I love it, but making this choice for now feels like the right one. After I give my illustration work the attention and time it deserves, I plan to go back to working on and finishing my YA novel series (which I’m also illustrating). Now, the next step is finding an agent who reps both!

  2. Personally, I have always approached my writing as a career, a full time gig. It didn’t matter how much time I actually had. I understood that if I wanted to get where I wanted to be, I had to put in the work. I’m single though and can afford to do that. Once I made that commitment to writing, everything else fell into place. After three years of dissecting, learning, failing, and evolving, I’m finally confident with my writing skills. I know I can create quality fiction without seeking reassurance from anyone else. It was a ton of work, mostly on my own. But it was well worth it.

    Best of luck moving forward, Cat. It seems like you’ve got a great support structure in place. I’m sure you’ll do just fine. And always have fun. Your work will reflect it if you aren’t.

    • Thanks for your thoughts Brian!

      I think the keyword there is that you’re single. It is an entirely different game to do three jobs – writer, illustrator, and designer – with a toddler. They don’t understand writing time. They don’t understand you have to work right now. They want a schedule of coming home and seeing you and eating dinner then shower and story and bed, if you’re lucky. It’s never predictable. Oftentimes, I found myself working until 2 in the morning just to find any writing time to myself and I would only get an hour or two at that. I would get 4, maybe 5 hours of sleep, and do it all again. And, more than that, I eventually felt like my son never saw me, because in order to treat my writing like a full time job while I had a full time job, I had to every night and every weekend tell him that I was working. I missed a lot of things with him trying to eventually find a way to transition from having my night job become my day job. It took us a year of my never seeing my son to do it. My husband did dinner and bath time and story time while I worked and missed everything. So it’s not about treating it like a full-time job or not, I’m sorry to say and I’m not trying to be rude. It was just very different when I was single and could do these things and didn’t have a son I missed terribly while I went from working all day to working all night. Because of THAT, not living only working, my writing suffered. I hope with this explanation that is more clear and I hope it didn’t come off as rude.

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