Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Day Job

About ten years ago I looked at the nifty report the Social Security Administration sends out, the one that tells you what your S.S. payments are likely to be, and realized that I could not afford to retire.

I have never made much money from writing. My best year ever was $8,000; and most years I make between $2,000 and $4,000. I don't have a spouse with a good job. My parents did not leave me a large inheritance. I have to support myself.

Through most of my working career, I worked part time jobs or took full time jobs for a year or two, until I had money in the bank, then quit. This made it possible for me to write. I have written while working full time, but it's not easy.

My jobs have been mostly clerical, though I did light warehousing for several years. Light warehouse work is terrific. Someone pays you to exercise eight hours a day. None of the work is heavy enough to do damage, but you are in motion all the time: walking, lifting, climbing. It is the perfect fitness program; but the pay was not good, so I went back to office work.

Why did I work low paying, menial jobs in offices and warehouses? Partly because I did not plan ahead and acquire a skill that paid well. This may be a result of becoming an adult in the fiery sixties. As Patrick says, young people then figured they'd be shot by the cops for looking weird or going on peace demonstrations. (Remember Kent State?) Or there would be a revolution, and society would be reorganized on a new basis. Why make career plans, if you were either going to die young or a new world was going to rise from the ashes of the old?

And maybe I was influenced by the biographies you used to see the back flyleaf of books. The author has been a short order cook, merchant seaman, taxi driver, lumberjack... It sounded so romantic and writerly...

Being a woman, I had to settle for clerical work and light warehousing. But this was still more romantic (to me at least) than a profession.

And I wanted to be a writer, not a lawyer or doctor or college professor.

The combination of working low-paying jobs and taking a lot of time off meant that I did not have much in the way of savings, and my Social Security payments were going to be low. If I did not get serious about making money and saving it, I was going to have a poor old age. So, ten years ago I decided to get serious.

In spite of never thinking much about acquiring a skill, I have one. When I started in office work 30 + years ago, I had two choices. Either I could type or I could work with numbers. I have never much liked typing; and back in those days, when you had to deal with carbon paper and erasers, I really did not like it. Because I wrote novels, I had to do a lot of typing on my own time. So I went for the numbers; and gradually, over the years, I learned enough to be a bookkeeper and then an accountant.

Having decided to get serious, I began to work 30 to 40 hours a week doing accounting. I've had three jobs so far, all with nonprofit organizations. The pay has been less than I would have made working in the for profit sector. But nonprofits find my odd resume interesting, which means they are willing to hire me; and I fit in reasonably well, which means I keep my job.

The problem is, I don't have a lot of free time or free energy; and I am not writing much. I still trying to figure out what to do about this. Can I find time to write, even though I am working full time? How?

15 Comments:

Blogger Sean M. Murphy said...

Hey Eleanor,

While I don't have your experience or your expertise when it comes to writing, I do find myself struggling with the same questions that you just put forward. I constaly find myself tired or unable to focus when I try to block out time for writing, and the day job takes up the preponderance of my day time. Add to that the religious restriction of not being able to write (read: compose, with a pen or a computer or any device, even a word) from Friday evening through Saturday evening, and my potential writing time is pretty narrow.

I'm trying something new, and it came out of the discussion on the Wyrdsmiths blog about talent. The one thing that everyone agrees upon is that consistency is necessary to improve. Additionally, consistency is necessary to get anything done, anyway, so here's what I'm trying: I'm getting up at 5 a.m. and writing for two hours before I get ready for work. I make coffee or tea, then sit down and only work on writing until 7 a.m. I'm finding that I have energy and imagination available, since no pressures of the day have interfered with it yet, and I'm making an effort to be in bed by 10 p.m., so I'm getting seven hours of sleep a night. It seems to be working pretty well, so far. I'll let you know how it seems after a month or so.

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