Friday, January 6, 2012

Friday Fricassee

I'd like to share my musings on "writing" vs. "work."

In short, when you are writing, do you tell people you're writing, or do you say that you are working?

(Weird question?  Bear with me!)

Most of you (as in, you-who-are-regular-readers-of-this-blog), whether agented or not, are not yet published.  As such, your writing has not yet produced an income.  When we hear the word "income" we automatically think "work."

Yet, if your writing isn't producing income (yet), can you still call it "work"?

I do.  Because it is.  I do not make appointments or schedule anything during my daily writing time, because I am WORKING.  It's WORK TIME.

Of course, I do call it my "writing time", too.  But what's funny about this is that, were it a different vocation, I would probably just call it "work."  Which is what other people call the Thing They Do to bring in money.


"I'm on my way to practice law now."

"I answer the telephone and schedule appointments from noon to four."

"I have to teach fourth-graders on Monday."

Granted, those who work in the ARTS do word things differently.  And yes, writing is on the arts side of things.

A pianist will definitely say, "I have to practice this morning."  Not, "I have to work this morning."

A conductor will definitely say, "I have a rehearsal tonight."  Not, "I have to work tonight."

An actor will say, "I have to memorize my lines."  Not, "I have to work."

Yet there's something that feels more "work-ish" about sitting at a laptop (or a 1954 typewriter, or a composition book) and writing.  It might have something to do with the Age of Technology, when folks are walking around with all sorts of devices, making work more mobile than it's ever been.

I mean, when you see a guy in nice clothes with a Mac at Starbucks, don't you assume he's working?

There's something about the word "work" that legitimizes the whole writing thing.  At the same time, I hate that that's true.  Because writing IS work, whether you call it that or not.  And we don't need to be spending our time trying to legitimize what we're doing.

It's legitimate, folks.

So, what about you?  When your neighbor calls you during your Saturday morning writing time and asks if you can watch her three-year-old twins for a couple hours while she gets her car fixed, do you tell her you're WORKING?  Or let's say she's a bit more organized.  What if your neighbor calls you on Friday and asks if you can watch her three-year-old twins from ten to noon on Saturday--and that happens to be exactly when you get your writing done.  Do you say, "I will be working then.  Can I help you later in the afternoon?"  Or do you say, "That's my writing time.  Can I help you later in the afternoon?"

Or do you say, "Sure, I'll do it!" and drop the writing altogether?

(Yes.  I've asked that last question with bated breath.)

Because, yeah.  If you had to be at the bank from ten to noon on Saturday because you WORKED there, you would have to tell your neighbor, "I work from ten to noon."

Shouldn't you say the same thing about your writing?

A final comment:  My writing didn't take off until I finally made this level of commitment to it.  Prior to that, I would sometimes allow several weeks to pass without touching a manuscript.  Now, it's a 6-day-a-week commitment, no matter what.  It's my passion, but it's also my WORK.

When it comes down to it, my daily writing is only 90 minutes to 2 hours of my day.  But IT IS ALWAYS PART OF MY DAY.  And it takes a lot to get me to put it aside for something else.  (Just ask my husband.)

So.  "Work" or "Writing?" Share your thoughts!


  1. This is an interesting post! I used to say "writing," but now I always say "working." I may not be agented as of yet, but I'm finishing up an R&R that has taken the better part of four months, going on five. Once I had editorial notes in my inbox, a schedule to adhere to, and someone waiting on the finished product, writing finally crossed the line from a hobby to a second job. And I really, really love my second job!

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  3. I'm cagey. I'll tell my husband and best friend that I'll be 'writing'. I tell others I'm not available and don't go into details. I'm committed 6 days a week as well, and on occasion stretch it to 7 even if all I'm doing is sitting over my laptop with my hands in my hair and an agonized expression on my face for two hours. And if my neighbor asked me to watch her three year old twins, I'd tell her she was high. And the way to protect the writing time is to hide - I hide in the basement. Then my husband and child wander around calling me and when I don't answer they move on to other things.

  4. I write pretty much six days a week, but since I'm a stay-at-home mom with two super-sleeper kids, my writing time is much more flexible. So if a neighbor called and asked me to take care of her kids for a few hours, even if it was smack-dab in the middle of my writing time, I'd say yes (because that sort of thing doesn't happen every day).

    But even if it did happen every day, I'd probably still be inclined to take care of those (extra) kids. To be honest, I've been at this writing thing for four and a half years now (not counting the ten years I spent writing as a kid), and I still haven't even found an agent who loves my work enough to want to represent it. So I think it's a little audacious of me to think of this as a job. I'm a driven, ambitious person, so I don't need outside motivation to get my writing done, and I haven't given up. But at this point, I do think my hobby is just a hobby, and other things have to come first.

  5. It's funny how a simple change of one word can have such a big impact on the way people look at things. I consider it work, but I don't call it that. Maybe I should. It might help me AND my family.

  6. I use both (though, truth, I work from home in addition to my writing work), but I definitely have dropped writing plans to help someone else out.

    I appreciate your perspective and perhaps it IS time for a change.

  7. I've always made the distinction between my work (job) and my writing. I've noticed that my family doesn't bother me when I'm "working" and they don't understand why I get annoyed when they pester me while I'm "writing". I need to be the first one to step up and make my writing my work. Thanks for the idea!

  8. You make a very good point here, especially about the arts folks having different terms for their "work."

    For many years I was a technical writer, and I said I was going to work everyday...not going to write everyday. :-)

    My ficiton writing is, for now, a hobby and passion but doesn't earn me any money. And as such, when I do sit down to write I am bombarded with interruptions from family. And I either give them a vague "uhh. huh." while never taking my eyes from the screen (which gets the message across that I'm REALLY busy), or else I say, "Sorry, I'm working on my book. Can this wait?"

    My family is very supportive of me working on a book and would love to see me get published one day. Now, neighbors wanting me to watch their kids? Not so much. But that doesn't come up a lot, so I'd probably do it and try to fit in some writing some other time.

    The neatest thing I've found to stem from my serious effort to produce a novel was that I was no longer bored. Ever. Waiting at the doctor's office or stuck in traffic? Awesome! I'll brainstorm plot points. I'll think up wicked dialog for my current scene.

    Also want to take a moment to thank you, Authoress, for all you do for the writing community. :-)

  9. WOW. Okay, so I hadn't exactly thought of it that way.


    My daughter has actually caught on and when she sees I'm deep in concentration typing madly on my laptop, she asks if I'm working? Well, I've been giving her the answer of, "Yes and no baby. I'm working but on something I want to do, not like mommy's regular job."

    Now the neighbor question? I would probably watch the kid then rearrange my writing time for later because, well, I don't know. I guess that part I hadn't really thought about before.

    Got me thinking now...

  10. I'm fairly flexible and often take in others' kids...but almost always as part of an exchange where they take my wonderful munchkin later. A lot of this is for his sanity- with all of his older siblings at school, being home with just me can be dead boring.

    I call writing "work" when I'm telling my kids I need another 45 min with no interruptions. I don't call it work with my husband, I just tell him I need to spend some time writing. Sometimes that flies, sometimes it doesn't and I have to squeeze out a few tears and call it writing therapy;)

    I jest, but it really does make me a happier person to write. Okay, I got a rej today, so maybe happier isn't the right word. More fulfilled?

    And last thought- People call therapy work as well, as in "I'm working through a few things with my therapist." ;)

  11. This hit home with me ! I always allow my job/husband/friends/dogs interrupt my writing time and sometimes allow my poor MS to go untouched for weeks. Not anymore !

  12. Work. Unless it's something really important to someone very important to me, I won't skip my writing-time anymore.

    It's just not worth it, because hardly any non-writer that I've met appreciate any time-sacrifice I make. They seem to think I'm just messing about.

  13. For me, since I'm a "stay at home mom" and "kept woman" for income most of the time, the change comes from when people ask "what do you do?" or more officially 'what is your occupation?". For a long time I said "I'm a writer" (I am published) but when things slowed down I started describing my part-time job. I recently quit that job, and am back to calling myself "a writer".

  14. I call it working, but since I have four other part-time jobs to which that could refer, it's pretty non-specific for me to say, "I'm working." ;)

    I do consider writing my fifth part-time job, only because I would like it to take the place of at least one of my other part-time jobs at some point. I know if I don't consider it a jb, it will never become what I want it to be.

    Writing is the only part-time job of mine that I don't get paid for, though, so sometimes it has to go on the back-burner. Three kids are EXPENSIVE. lol

  15. I can't call it working until I move out. Parents and sibling know my job is at McDonalds, and know my hours; if I'm not there or asleep, then clearly I MUST be available for what they want, so long as they pester me enough. (And it's not worth an hour or more of being pestered, so I give in fast most of the time. I write after they're in bed and sleep late to make up for it).

    I don't think I could ever call writing 'work', though. I enjoy it. Considering what my job is, I want to look forward to writing, which I can't when I call it 'work'. Though I have no qualms about calling it homework, which I do when I'm taking classes.

  16. Work mode? Writing mode? Can one word change an outlook/attitude? I think's all about the discipline with me....I've got to keep to my schedule otherwise I might enter the LaLa Land of chocolate, coffee, and toe counting.

  17. "Work," definitely. Though I do also say "writing"--they're synonymous to me--I find that other people more readily understand the significance of "work." That said, when I started writing seriously I had already deconstructed the belief associating "work" with toil and obligation.

  18. laylamessner:


    That said, when I started writing seriously I had already deconstructed the belief associating "work" with toil and obligation.

    YES!! Many don't "get" this. The word "work" has become innately pejorative, because the vast majority of people are, sadly, employed in ways that don't make them happy. It's just "a job." It brings home the bacon.

    It's "work." Therefore, "work" must be bad.

    So, yes, a deconstruction of that belief/perception MUST take place in order for us to joyfully embrace writing as our WORK. It has a whole different meaning!!

  19. I definitely call it work and think if it that way too. Only illness or an emergency in my own family cuts into my writing time 5-7 am, and 2-4 pm every day except Sunday. (I actually cringe at the thought of vacation, because that means everyone's schedule will be different, the kids may not nap as well etc. So I just do the best I can when vacation/holidays roll around.)

    Isn't loving your work the ideal?

  20. I treat my writing as work. I'm the same as you, I schedule two hours a day where I don't answer phone calls or do anything else unless it's an absolute emergency.
    However, I firmly believe in calling it "writing" for a few reasons.
    I think it is important to establish ourselves as writers. It helps to firm up that identity by using that word. I'm a writer and I write and I'm going to be writing so don't bother me from 9 to 11 each day!
    Also, to me writing is my passion. Work is what I do in the afternoons to put food on the table. In my mind, I need to keep the two separate. If I look at writing as work, it might lose some of the appeal. Work is what I have to do, Writing is what I GET to do!

  21. D'you know, I was only thinking about this the other day when someone was making demands on my 'writing time.' Their view, I'm sure is that unless I'm getting paid, I'm not working, I'm hobbying, so therefore, not important. I've decided to call it work, not because that's what I think it is, but because un-writerly people relate to it more easily.

  22. PS I should mention that my work in the afternoon (my paying job) is freelance writing. Maybe that is why I need to distinguish the two types of writing in my mind.

  23. I'll raise the bar.

    Not only is it work, it is a profession, despite the fact that you are not profiting from it yet. Many businesses do not produce profit for many years.

    If you look at your writing as a profession and consider yourself an author (even if you are not published), you have the right mental model.

    When I talk to my friends about my wife's writing, I tell them she is an author. That is the way I see her and that is what she is.

    Thomas Edison decided where he wanted to work and against all odds, he worked there. He would accept nothing less.

    Why else would my wife call herself Authoress? :)

    Love you, my dear wife.

  24. LOL- I think my co-workers are now all blind due to excessive light bulb action over my head as I read this.

    I say writing, and like my actor and muscian friends I'm ok with that- BUT my problem is I'm not committing to the time. I have a 40 hr a week day job, so I pretty much do the, "oh I'll write tonight...or catch up on the week-end" routine. I don't usually set aside a chunk of time and say THIS is my writing job time. I never really thought about it, but by not doing that, I do have a hard time writing when I get home.

    I think, Authoress, you may have nudged me in the right direction to really focus on my writing!

    Thanks so much!

  25. Very interesting post!!! I call writing my 2nd job, and my day job is my day job. I do say "I'm writing," when I write.

    I don't really call it work, because the person asking would probably look at me and be all "Uh, yeah. Sure." Which is stupid, cause it is work, like you said. I'm rambling.

    Have a fantastic weekend!!

  26. I say I'm working, if I have an intense look of concentration on my face, people seem to fall for it.

  27. I love that you wrote this post! It IS work; I tell people I'm working, and I won't give up my writing time for anything. (It's the first "work" I've ever loved, why on earth would I give it up?) It's involved, requires serious concentration, and someday (I hope) it will earn an income, at least more than a few hundred dollars. :)

  28. great question! with my kids, I tell them I'm working and I hear them say to each other sometimes, don't bother her right now, she's working on her writing. With my adult friends who know I don't hold a paying job, i say I'm writing. Yes it is work, but when one day i'm a published author making money from the books I write then I will say I'm working. I think the connotation for me works better in that situation. Then again, I guess I'm always really working, because being a SAHM is the HARDEST job I've ever had and it really is WORK.

  29. Mr. A, can you talk to my husband? We just had a big "discussion" about this "writing thing" and when am I going to go back to "work." This said when I just finished a full revision, am in the midst of querying and have an agent reading a partial?! And I'm a mom, and a caring wife. He's fantastic, just a stressed moment for a guy who carries the whole $$ load.

  30. Great post! My careers have always involved home offices, and even though I worked for a Fortune 500 company for 15 years, my husband still thought when I was home, selling my million dollars worth of product to accounts each year, I wasn't really "working". Trust me, we've had discussions! While I do get paid for my writing now, it's not the writing I would like to be paid for. However, now is not the time for me to be physically writing (life has intervened), but it doesn't stop me from mentally planning and plotting.

    As for the babysitting, it all depends on if this neighbor is there for you when you need her.If she's saved your tush in an emergency, then by all means, watch the kids!

  31. I tell people I have three jobs. Two full time -- mother/wife (which we all know takes more than 40 hrs/week) and writer (because I put in at least 32 hrs/week on that). And one part time -- 15-20 hrs/week to help pay the bills. Juggling family and writing are tough, but I do it because I *must* write. Every day. It's not a hobby. I've always treated it that way and am so grateful that my family respects my writing as work, not a joke. I know not everyone is that fortunate, and I have tremendous respect for writers who forge ahead despite a lack of support.

  32. Are the three-year-old twins sweetie pies or holy terrors? :)

    I have a full time job so I tend to view my writing as a hobby. But I find when I'm not writing, I feel a little guilty. (I may have to look into that.)

    I often set goals with my writing, and I don't like to not meet those goals, so that sort of makes it feel like "work".

    Regardless...I am so blessed to have two "jobs" that I love (only I'd feel even more blessed if I got paid for both of them.) :)

  33. And GOOD LUCK, Skywriter, on your partial!

  34. I use both 'writing' and 'work'. I tend to use 'work' more since I signed with my agent. In fact I've only really 'come out' as a writer since that happened (which also, interestingly enough, happened just after I quit my day job.)

    Now my kids know Mom is a writer : D

  35. I have been saying "I'm writing" but from now on, after thinking about your post, I'm going to say "working." That describes what it is, as you pointed out so well. Thanks for this perspective on it.

  36. It depends who I'm talking to. If it's someone who understands, then I'll say I'm writing. They respect that as work. But if it's someone who doesn't respect that you just can't stop everything and switch gears when writing, I tell them I'm working.

    I write everyday. I set aside time to critique my CP's writing and I spend about an hour a day in the marketing part of it.

  37. Writing is my work. Sure, I have a day job (which I often work at night - go figure), but writing is the profession I want to be remembered for, the one that is my all consuming passion. When I sit down to write, it is work, just the same way sitting down to answer emails or write screening schedules is work.

    Unfortunately I have to fit this important work around the less important work because I don't want my kids to starve...

  38. Writing is definitely work, whether or not it has paid off (yet).

    If the neighbor asked that question about her kids, my response would definitely be "I'm working." Partly, this is because of the popular perception (popular among non-writers) that our writing time is NOT "work" and can be interrupted at others' convenience. If you say "that's my writing time" the neighbor will think you're being obnoxious for refusing - even though if you did have to work at a "real job" during that time she would totally understand. Hence..."working."

    You're absolutely correct that no writer gets published until (s)he makes the commitment and considers it a "real job." It's impossible to get the time and practice required to hone craft to publishable quality until that commitment (and the resulting hours) are put in.

  39. You've raised some good questions! I do always say "writing." Although my day job I get paid for is teaching & when people say, "Oh, it must be so nice to get so much time off," I usually do clarify that I'm still 'working' on my 'writing' so actually, I get no time off! I think it's just b/c I love writing so much that I don't think of it as work. In the beginning, I blew everybody & everything off to write. Now, not so much . . . everybody in my family is too needy;)

  40. I work more than full time at my job. I write as often as I can because I love it. Honestly, I can't imagine thinking of it as "work" -- but that's semantics, it doesn't mean that I'm any less dedicated to it. But would I reschedule my writing to help a friend? You bet! I'd do the same with my job, if I could, but I can't (my boss is picky that way). I also reschedule my writing to cook, clean, help my kids with homework, take them to practice, the doctor, pick them up from school as a surprise so they don't have to ride the bus home sometimes, run errands for my husband and my mother, take the dog for a walk because no one else has had time to, and occasionally to exercise. Do I wish I had two hours every day to write? You bet! Do I? No! Because I choose not to, because I have other people and things that I am responsible to and for--and I wouldn't change that. Some day I hope I might have a schedule that allows for it. If my fellow writers do, more power to you!

    I once heard a broadcast from a famous writer saying that no one who didn't write at least two hours a day could consider themselves a writer. That bothered me for oh, about 5 minutes, knowing I couldn't spare that time on an every day basis. Then I considered what a very small world that writer must live in. There are days and times when I am able to dedicate significant time, but does it mean I'm not a serious writer because there are days that go by that I don't have one minute to myself to do one thing that I want to do? I refuse to believe that. Call it work, call it writing, all I know is that I do it as often as I can and I love it.

  41. In the case you mentioned, Authoress, I'd say working. Usually, I'm in the group that uses "writing" with those that understand and "working" with those that probably wouldn't.

    However, I don't have a fixed time for writing. I tend to fit my writing around the rest of life. A lot of that is because my "day" job has such a variable schedule i can't set a fixed time for anything.

    Actually, I lot of my writing time is done during downtime at my day job, especially on nights and weekends. That's because I actually have a lot less distractions at work than when I'm at home. Also, at work I have room to pace freely, which I need when I'm working through plot elements and scene problems.

    That said, I actually find that since I've really gotten serious about my writing (mainly since I finally finished a rough draft on a novel) I have found myself spending almost all my free time on my writing. If I'm not actually adding to my word count, I'm plotting, or researching, or working out ideas, or planning future books, looking up agents, querying, etc. So I guess I'm working pretty much all the time.

    But when I'm actually adding to my word count, I do hate to be interrupted, especially at home. That's why I usually do it when everyone else is asleep or gone. If I had a work space with some privacy, I might have an easier time finding writing time at home.

  42. I tell people I'm working. It's too much work to be called anything else. :P

    No but seriously, people don't always understand why I have to say no, but I figure if they can't understand it, then they're not going to be friends who last as I build to my business. My writing business, that is!

  43. I do earn money from my writing and I have an agent, but I'm terrible about setting aside "work" time for my writing. I know I should, I really would be much more productive. :) Thanks for giving me a New Year's resolution.

  44. Interesting comments. My kids call me a writer, but my husband hasn't accepted that yet. Right now I'm fine with that. I love my paying job. It gives me the chance to interact with different people, see other lives. And I love my writing. Finding time for that's hard, between family and my job. But I realize what Authoress says. I have to make the time, though often the only time is after all the homework's done and everyone's off to bed.By then my brain's gone to sleep and there I am, staring at the screen and it's 2AM already.

  45. If this had been a facebook post, I'd have hit "like" a thousand times.

    My family "gets" it, and I do call it "work." The problem is, I don't always use my "writing time" effectively. And that is ONLY my fault, and no one else's. I have these great stories running around in my head, but it's so much easier to find something else to do.

  46. skywriter,

    Unfortunately, I can't talk to him, since my wife is anonymous. :-)

    But, I think you need to sell him on the fact that you are getting agents to read part of your manuscript, which is akin to odds on the back of a lottery ticket.

    Seriously, you both have to decide how important this is to you. That is what Authoress and I did. It is not easy for husband or wife to bear the full financial weight. However, what is your goal as a couple?

    Good luck!

  47. I like the idea of writing as work, and I think it's a perspective some writers need in order to treat it seriously. It's something I need to be stricter about with myself, making sure I stick to my writing/working time.

    But as for the neighbour and kids, I would agree to help out. Most 'day' jobs aren't that flexible. You need to be at a certain place between certain hours. One of the beauties of writing is that it is flexible, so if a friend does need a hand you can move your writing time to 2-4pm instead of 10am-12pm on that particular day.

    Of course, if you had one or a bunch of different people who were always ringing and asking for favours that interrupted your writing time, that's when I'd start refusing. But a one-off every now and then is part of life, and as someone else pointed out, they then owe you a favour!

  48. I have what I consider to be my "real job" that takes 40-60 hours a week of my time (which I love - not necessarily the hours, but the work). I have a husband and two kids and a house and a farm with twenty-six cows, three dogs, two turtles, and a guinea pig.

    I would love to call my writing my work. But I'm not there yet. Hopefully someday I'll find a world where everything can prosper at once. :)

  49. Thanks, Mr. A. My honey and I are usually in sync, so this hurts. He loves that I'm available to edit his work, run his errands and be an at home mom for our bright, sports oriented nine-year-old who needs a lot of shuttling around. But maybe we do need to clarify our goals -- this is not the first time this "discussion" has come up in a tense moment.

  50. It's work. It is a lot of work. I tell people I'm working.

    I may not be making a ton of money at it, but I never will unless I dedicate time to it.

    Great post!

  51. "A final comment: My writing didn't take off until I finally made this level of commitment to it. Prior to that, I would sometimes allow several weeks to pass without touching a manuscript. Now, it's a 6-day-a-week commitment, no matter what. It's my passion, but it's also my WORK."

    Wow. This is an eye-opener for me. I'm in the group that would say: "Sure, bring them over. I'll write later." It's weird but I almost feel guilty if I neglect other things in order to write (maybe because writing is enjoyable and we associate work with a not-too-pleasant obligation?)

    A very inspiring post, Authoress. Thank you!


  52. It depends on who I'm talking to. I'm a stay at home mom, now, but I used to work. I had lots more time to talk on the phone when I worked. ;) I use the "I'm working" whenever I'm working and need to not be interrupted. If I'm talking to my husband or someone who knows my life intimately, then it's "I'm writing" or "I'm cleaning" or "I'm fixing dinner". If it's someone that just needs to know this isn't a good time, then "I'm working" regardless of which of the many things I'm doing that constitute work. ;) I have no pretense of absolute transparency. Information is given out at my discretion. ;)