Saturday 17 June 2017

Unleash My Inner Puppy

In one of my online profiles, I describe myself as a Bookworm stuck in Corporate Plumbing. Well, I’m one of those writers who cannot afford to live on my writing income. Even with a busy school visit schedule, I would barely make ends meet if I decided to live on it.

So I have a part-time day job – rather I always had the day job and a few years ago I decided to go part-time to give me more time to write. The balance between three days at a well-paying job and four days for writing, living life and everything else in between seems sensible. Many colleagues at my day job envy my work-life balance. They are impressed that I have a “hobby” and I pursue it with all my passion and I am able to balance the both.

Those who know me know that I have a foot outside the day-job door all the time. I keep threatening to quit. I don’t yearn for promotions and big responsibilities at the day-job. I am always dreaming about a writing life that isn’t limited by schedules and calendars. I want to travel, read, go on walks and do more school visits without worrying about taking time off from work and compromising commitments.

But is writing my hobby or my profession? Is this balance working? This is a question I ask myself almost everyday.

If you met me on the street, I would always introduce myself as a children’s writer. My social media is dedicated to writing and my writing friends with an occasional crossover of work or school friends. My holidays are planned around book activities and I spend my money on books, stationery, writing, writing courses and an occasional handbag. (Well okay, more than occasional handbag).

Why do I feel restrained? Why can’t I be happy with the balance I have now? Why is a day-job like a leash that ties my inner-puppy?

a)     I am a morning person. I write in the mornings. So on the three days I work, I have to stop writing mid-point. If the words are flowing (and they often don’t) stopping them on the clock is a torture. I just want to keep writing until I run out of steam and then do whatever else is required. But given I’m in a serious grown-up job, I need to be at my desk at regular hours and that often makes me tug at my leash. 

b)    I can’t travel as frequently as I want to – be it for festivals or school visits or just travel to research my books. Wherever I am, I need to get back to my cave by Sunday night to start the day job on Monday. There are events I turn down because they are on days I cannot commit. I can’t take off to visit the places I want to research because I have to be at work. While I’ve been managing it with obsessive calendar control, I do resent the leash often for its restraint.

c)     The job itself sometimes can be less than fun. I should confess it’s okay most of the time. There was a time when I was passionate about the day job the same way I am now with writing. But now I’m merely good at it. I’ll never slack and I will always give it 100% but sometimes it feels life is going past me as I earn a living. 

But is it all bad? Is the leash a good thing for this attention-deficit inner-puppy?

a)     Firstly my job pays me well. My retreats and holidays, subscriptions and stationery loot are all courtesy of my day-job. I hardly spend my writing income – almost treating it as a souvenir of the writing than a source of income. Although I should say, the Chancellor of the Exchequer doesn’t treat it as a souvenir.

Holiday in Switzerland
Growing up lower middle-class with no luxuries and very often nose pressed against my friends’ windows, I worry about throwing away a job that pays well. What if I need to take care of my parents? What if I never get another book contract? What if I want to go on a holiday and I can’t afford it?

b)    Secondly my day job makes me use my right brain. I manage, organise, plan, budget, resolve, negotiate and more. I work with nice and difficult people. I write presentations (yes) and attend conference calls (oh yes) and meet people from different parts of the world.

If I wrote full-time I would be stuck in my room writing or trying to write all day. Or at least that’s what I worry about. What if no one wants to have coffee with me? What if I spend an entire week without talking to another human? What if I am turn into a Facebook profile and a twitter human who hates sunlight? Or in contrast, I might fritter away all my time doing events or socialising or attending talks and courses that I forget to write.

c)     Thirdly I think, the peace of mind that the day job gives makes me less desperate. I can take any amount of time to write a new book. I don’t have to write today to buy bread or rice tomorrow (mostly because I’m on a no-carb diet) – but you get the drift. If I had to sell a piece of writing to pay rent or eat a meal, I might be homeless and hungry often. Somehow I feel busking is not a writer thing. No one would want to throw a coin into my cap to watch me write.

I talk to writers in different stages of their writing careers. And they all tell me that it’s good to have a day job. Many do this full-time. But often many don’t. As someone pointed out to me recently, J K Rowling can do this full-time. Yes of course. But some are definitely exceptions and legends.

If you search our blog here, you will find over the years, many of us have grappled with this question. And in our own ways, we have to come up with an answer ourselves.

But apart from the time vs. money aspect, there are other things that make me want to be free of a day job.

As a bookworm – I want to read widely. I have a tottering pile of books that are waiting with bookmarks – books I have dived into and don’t have time to come back to.

As a writer, I want to practice the Zen of Writing – dive into my subconscious, mine my memory, do things that would excavate my mind-well for those inner fears and joys that make good writing.

School Visit near Liverpool, England
·      As an author, I want to visit more schools, festivals, museums – wherever else they’d let me talk about my books, about stories from India and meet children who are fascinated by faraway stories. Just like I was when I read those English books in a coastal city in India.

But more importantly, as a human, I want to live life – for my own good and others. Travel and see this world, wonder at the planet (before climate deniers destroy it), use my time to teach in remote parts of Asia, do things I’m afraid of – be it bungee jumping or living in a hut with no toilets or look after animals or just living without a leash.
In an orphanage near Colombo, Sri Lanka

Sometimes I call this my mid-life crisis. Maybe it is. Or maybe this is a creative crisis every writer goes through. Maybe this leash is the tension that the puppy needs to stay focussed. Or one might argue that all puppies should be free to play.

I don’t know yet. Maybe I’ll be brave enough to walk away from the leash in a year’s time or I’ll never be able to. Either way, as any writer does, I use my leash as yet another distraction to think loudly here in this blog to avoid going back to the work in progress. Some things never change.


Rowena House said...

I don't suppose there is a "right" answer to such complex dilemmas. Intellectual versus financial freedom? Time to travel versus money to travel? We're caught in endless loops. Though I must say, I've found more time doesn't increase productivity - especially when the weather is lovely like today!

Joan Lennon said...

I'm not convinced the perfect balance exists. How about a nicely dynamic pendulum?

Sue Bursztynski said...

I once went to hear a hugely popular YA paranormal writer. Rachel Caine, I think it was, it has been a while. But I remember something she said, she had only given up her day job a couple of years ago, not because she was s successful she didn't need it, though she was, but because she just couldn't do both justice; her company, with which she had a hugely responsible job, would call her while she was overseas on a book tour or writers' festival. She said, "Most people think they can go to see cabin in the woods and write full time. It just doesn't work." She recommended hanging on to your day job.

Very few writers in Australia, where I live, make a living out of their writing. Our population is too small. Mostly, those who do are married, with someone to support them and pay the bills while they write.

You have done well to treat your job as something you do your best in, without trying to get promotions, so you can write. And you're still doing better than I am, if you get school visits and such. I work in a school. You can't take days off to visit other schools - and teaching drains your creativity. You need it all for your students, you see.

Sue Purkiss said...

It sounds to me like a very good balance, Chitra!

Chitra Soundar said...

I think the good thing is I have a very strict code when I am not working. I never pick up the phone or even check emails. My manager once in a while will get in touch via whatsapp and that's it. So far I am doing okay on balance - but I do not know if I could do more if I quit. Don't know... thanks for all your comments and thoughts.

B B Taylor said...

I couldn't survive on just my writing (maybe one day, as we all dream) But i envy your organisational skills! Im constantly running round like a headless chicken balancing work, kids and writing (usually middle of the night) but i think it makes me appreciate my time to write even more, love this blog!