Writing, Paying the Bills, and a Little Perspective

Today's post is a guest column. Please read, enjoy, and leave Princess Jones a comment to let her know how nice everyone is in my sandbox. Then? Go visit her site. Your welcome. ***

I remember the first book I ever wrote. It was called The Saga of Barbie and Ken. It detailed their meeting on a busy sidewalk, their whirlwind courtship, the return of her evil twin Barbie 2 and Barbie’s quest across the deserts of Saudi Arabia to rescue Ken. It was actually pretty cheesy now that I think about it. Still, I have to forgive myself because I was only seven.

Like many writers, putting stories on paper has always been something I’ve enjoyed. I was good at it in school. I was on the school newspaper, literary journal and yearbook staff.  I kept journal after journal of my every thought and feeling. You couldn’t stop me from writing. I bet you were that way, too. Unlike the butchers, bakers and candlestick makers of the world, writers usually have the desire to write ingrained in them from an early age. I’ve never met a mailman who took his first crack at delivering mail in grade school, but almost every writer I know started that young.

For most of us, the ultimate goal is to make writing pay the bills full-time. It’s the universal dream to put “WRITER” in the occupation box for the first time without any hesitation. (It’s a damn good feeling. I recommend it to anyone if they want a rush of excitement.) But, the one thing nobody tells you when you become a professional writer is that it’s not the same as writing for fun. Even if you’re writing the exact same type of stuff, it just feels different.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was always one of my favorite books. The part about whitewashing the fence has always stuck with me. If you don’t know it, it’s the chapter where Tom is being forced to whitewash (paint) a fence as punishment. So he convinces passersby that this work is actually the best time he’s ever had and he’s glad to be doing it. In the end, he convinces them so well, they’re willing to pay him for the honor of whitewashing that fence, too.

To paraphrase Mr. Twain, the line between work and play is simply what we “have” to do and what we “get” to do. It’s all about perspective. Even you favorite thing can lose its luster when you have to do it to pay the bills.

Years ago, writing was playing for me. My “real job” paid my bills. Anytime I could come home from that hell hole and open a Word doc was heaven. Now, writing is what I have to do if I’d like to eat or pay my cable bill. Just the other night I was having a hard time with some upheaval in my life. Five or six years ago I would have written about my feelings until I had worked it out. Now, just picking up a pen and pad makes me think of work. I don’t know if I’d call it burnout, exactly. I prefer to call it a problem separating writing as work and writing as a hobby.

There’s no magic bullet for getting your writing mojo back, though. I think the problem is that while I’m doing a lot of passionate projects, I’m not doing enough passion projects. It’s time to get back to writing for the love of writing and nothing else. That means that I’m going to have to go against that instinct we all have to turn our writing into “something.” I think that part of me getting my writing groove back is allowing some my writing to just be. . . instead of turning it into yet another a project or a task.

And as for any of you out there who are pre-published or furiously working toward starting a full-time writing career, I’d tell you to take a moment and breathe. Enjoy the place you are right now. Because, as wonderful as it is to be paid for something you love, there’s something about doing what you love just because you love it.

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Princess Jones writes and writes and writes. Her newest project, Shes Self-Employed, is a site dedicated to women who run their own businesses and write their own checks. When she isn’t writing, she’s tweeting under @iampsjones.