Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Writer by Day/Writer by Night: The Bad Side of Writing for a Living

I am a writer/editor by day and an aspiring novelist by night.

Does it matter what I write by day? I don’t think so. It just matters that I am working with words. I went into this line of work because of Truman Capote, Raymond Carver, and Kurt Vonnegut, among others. This is all their fault.

See, I like biographies of writers. And I notice that a lot of great writers got jobs writing before they were great writers. Capote worked at the New Yorker. Carver edited science textbooks. And I have no idea if this is true, since I read it on Wikipedia, but this tidbit about Vonnegut sounds believable:
In the mid 1950s, Vonnegut worked very briefly for Sports Illustrated magazine, where he was assigned to write a piece on a racehorse that had jumped a fence and attempted to run away. After staring at the blank piece of paper on his typewriter all morning, he typed, "The horse jumped over the fucking fence," and left. On the verge of abandoning writing, Vonnegut was offered a teaching job at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop.
Hilarious, right?

Does writing for pay make me a better writer? Without a doubt.

Does it occasionally suck? Without a doubt.

So here’s 5 downsides to being a paid writer by day and an unpaid writer by night:
  • We need to come up with a name for the thumb cramp that comes from using a laptop mouse 18 hours a day. It’s not carpal tunnel; it’s more like claw thumb. My right hand goes into the awkward backwards C position it needs to be in to click my laptop mouse all the time. Like this weekend, when I left the couch to spend time with human beings and eat pork barbeque and compare the United States to Panem, I looked down and my hand was resting in my lap in perfect backwards C, mouse-clicking form. The term “writer’s cramp” is already taken. Blogger’s cramp? Post-modern writer’s cramp?
  • When I read a character name, my mind cannot always distinguish between work and home. Everything tends to blend in my head. There are always at least two narratives playing in my mind. Sometimes when reading at night, I think, but what happened to that young boy character? until I remember he is safe and sound in chapter four, on my work computer.
  • My gluteus maximus hurts from sitting all day. My body is all, let’s go to the gym! and my mind is all, but we can’t write there! Might be better for my heart if I spent my day rock-climbing or extreme skateboarding or something.
  • Writing is a lonely business. It’s hard to be in a cocoon all day and come home to a cocoon while friends and family go out to socialize. You have to be quite content with being solitary if you want to be a writer by day and by night.
  • Other people’s ideas are wonderful, but I like my own ideas best. Five days a week, I use eight of my best hours to write flawless copy that gets a product out the door—somebody else’s product. Sometimes my name doesn’t even come close to my work. Writing for pay means getting cash, but not always credit.
Not that I'm complaining. Writing for pay is not all bad; in fact, the upsides outweigh the bad stuff by far. Stop in tomorrow for part two, and I'll tell you about the good stuff.

In the meantime, tell me writers: what do you think sucks about writing by day and by night?


  1. My eyes would get tired from looking at the screen all day. I'm generally only on the computer in 5-15 minute increments except when I write so my eyes get a nice rest. Still I think your job sounds AWESOME! You are already getting paid to write which is better than 99 percent of us.

  2. I'm jealous of your job. And all your expertise. Luckily, I was smart enough to befriend you so I can hear about both ;) It sucks that I dont get to write enough. Day or night.

  3. I'm still laughing at the Claw Thumb! I can totally relate. =)