Weekend Writing Inspiration: Commit to Writing Professionally, Even With a Day Job
September 28, 2018
I'm reading The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.
I want to make the commitment to being a pro, but haven't come to the part in Steven's book yet about juggling the pro job of being a writer (once you truly commit) on top of a full-time job and I'm not 100% sure it's in there — that might come with the territory as so very few have the ability to do that.
Do you have any guidance about how to manage the wear and tear of full-time work while also making a professional-level commitment to my screenwriting career — and still having somewhat of a life?
First, congratulations on heeding your inner desire to commit to going pro. I’m thrilled you read Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art — it’s on my required reading list for writers. Whenever I read Steve’s books I feel my spine straighten and my resolve for doing what it takes to make my writing happen strengthen. I highly recommend his book Turning Pro for more on this.
Juggling the pro job of writing while handling the wear and tear of a full-time day job is certainly not easy, but as you said, it’s the norm for writers more often than not; at least for those of us who “haven’t made it yet,” don’t have wealthy spouses or inheritances, or aren’t retired (and each of those come with their own unique writing challenges as well — fodder for future articles for sure).
Here are some thoughts about making being pro a reality, even while you’re still working the day job to pay the bills.
Know what going pro means
Let’s first start with what going pro means
Going pro — at least in the sense that’s within your control — means making a life decision to write. To be a writer. To make time to write and to approach writing with the high level of professionalism you would bring to any other career, even if there’s no one external to you setting deadlines or expectations. It means becoming the CEO of your own writing company, and making screenwriting career decisions with that role in mind.
Going pro also means being willing to do whatever it takes to write and succeed in the craft: Learning; studying, writing, getting feedback, pitching. All of it. No dabbling; trying, angst-ing, thinking, deciding, debating. Instead; committing and doing, no matter what, regardless of (perceived) success or failure, outcome or result. You write because you are a writer. Period. The end.
This doesn’t, by the way, mean you aren’t enjoying your writing time. But it does mean showing up to write whether you feel like it or not, just like you would a job.
That’s my take. What’s yours?
Begin by getting clear on what being a pro means specifically to you. It’s easier to know whether you’re keeping your commitment if you’ve first defined what it is.
Finish this sentence, multiple times if necessary, until you have something that resonates: Committing to being a pro means…
Set firm limits around the day job (and everything else)
What I see is that managing the impact of day job work while also taking our writing 100% seriously has less to do with time management and more to do with resolve.
When you want to go pro with your writing, you have to go a little more pro and be a little more rigorous with everything else in your life, too.
Here’s the thing: You can’t allow yourself to be so worn out from your day job (or anything else) that you “can’t” write. This means setting firm boundaries at work; saying “no” to extra projects, drawing hard lines when it comes to your work hours, operating effectively during the time you have to work so you can leave on time, etc. It could even mean getting an easier day job.
Inside and outside the day job, being a pro requires a kind of ruthless prioritization around how you’ll spend your time and on what, and even who you’ll spend your time with. Get clear with yourself about what and who makes the cut. Say “no” to more so you can say “yes” to your writing.
Create a writing life you love
Having said all this, be ready to adapt as needed. We can’t expect ourselves to live rigid, perfectly organized, structured lives with no flexibility or spark. That doesn’t work for creative types.
Being a writer requires time to think, process, and be. You need downtime and mental space to make room for divine inspiration, as much as you also need to commit to showing up and doing the work of writing.
Rather than going for rigidity, create “containers” or “buckets” for your day job, writing time and downtime and aim to keep them contained — within reason — in their proper places. At the same time, it’s okay to roll with the unexpected plot twists in life. Just move back to the plan when you can.
The more clearly you draw the lines around both your day job and your writing time, the easier it is to know when you get to be off; playing, spending time with your loved ones, reading, relaxing, and enjoying your life. And the beauty of this is that the rigor with which you approach your work and your writing is best sustained by fully allowing yourself time off. You’ll be working hard at your day job — and at your writing — so you need ample time to rejuvenate, recover and be inspired.
Design a writing life that works for you by designating time for writing, time for the day job, and time to relax and replenish your creative well. When you fit these three together in a balanced way that works for you, you’ll be better equipped to sustain yourself and your writing until you’re forced to quit your day job because your writing income is just too good to pass up.
That will be a glorious day indeed.
Your weekend writer’s assignment
- Write down what being a pro looks like for you. Committing to being a pro means…
- Print out a blank weekly calendar and map out a realistic writing schedule, including time off, that works with your life and day job. Commit to showing up to write whether you feel like it or not.
- Write … and then go play.
Happy weekend, and happy writing!
Got Questions You Want Answered?
After working with hundreds of writers over the last seven years, writing coach and Called to Write Founder Jenna Avery has answers for you about how to balance your life and your screenwriting, trust yourself more as writer, fulfill your call to write, and more. Submit your most pressing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or via Jenna’s online form at https://calledtowrite.com/final-draft and she may choose your question to answer anonymously in a future article.
Written by: Jenna AveryJenna Avery is a screenwriter who specializes in sci-fi action and space fantasy, and her most recent project is a post-apocalyptic coming-of-age story for a Canadian producer-director. Jenna is also a writing coach and the founder of Called to Write, where she has helped hundreds of writers overcome procrastination, perfectionism, and resistance so they can get their writing onto the page and into the world where it belongs. Jenna writes about writing and fulfilling your creative calling at calledtowrite.com, writes for ScriptMag and Final Draft, and teaches at Script University. Download Jenna’s free guidebooks for writers, including “How to Choose Your Next Book (or Script!)” when you join her mailing list at https://www.calledtowrite.com/mailing-list