I’ve been a full-time writer for 40 months.
It feels like both a long time and like time has passed by in a flash. It’s an oxymoron, isn’t it? But then, so many of the past months have felt like an oxymoron. By the way, Merriam-Webster defines oxymoron as “a word or group of words that is self-contradicting, as in bittersweet or plastic glass.”
When I look back over the last 40 months of being a full-time writer, I discovered four mind-blowing things that I totally didn’t think I’d experience…but did.
1. You will be paralyzed by fear.
If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know my story. But for those of you who don’t know, sit back and let me tell you my tale. Back in 2016, I was so excited to become a full-time writer! Oh, I couldn’t wait! But as soon as I did it–quit my prelaw consulting business and switched to writing every day–I had paralyzing fear and couldn’t write. I couldn’t write for two hours. Or one hour. Or even half an hour. Most days, I couldn’t write at all. I called myself a “full-time writer” but was grateful if I was even able to write a couple of hours a week. I felt sad, ashamed, angry, and alone. It took me 18 months to make writing a habit. If you had told me back in 2016 that this was going to happen, I don’t know if I would have become a full-time writer. Before this, I was such a goals-oriented achiever. A laser-focused doer. An efficiency freak. It’s probably a good thing that the old Peg didn’t know what was going to happen next because I realize now that it was important that I learned how to feel fear and still write. I experienced what plagued my prelaw students all those years that I worked with them on their personal statements. I developed newfound compassion for them and other writers. I realize now that I wasn’t alone–feeling fear is experienced by most writers. It was a sobering time but I am grateful for it. Learning to face fear and still keep writing is one of my greatest achievements to date.
2. You will feel guilty about reading.
Stephen King said, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time to write. Simple as that.” So true, right? If you’re a writer, you know how important reading is to your writing. Also, I love to read. So, it amazes me that for a long time after becoming a full-time writer, I felt guilty about taking time to read. It’s the weirdest thing because I knew I couldn’t write all the time. In fact, most days when I was working on a project, I would only write for two hours or less. After that, I was spent. My brain was fried. Creating something from scratch takes a lot out of me. I had no idea that after making writing my job that I’d feel guilty about doing the one activity that not only helps my writing, but is also one of my favorite pleasures in life. Go figure. To combat this, I schedule time to read every day. Even if it’s just for 15 minutes, reading is part of my daily routine and it helps to stop the Guilt Monster in its tracks.
3. You will find out who truly supports you…and who doesn’t.
Once I became a full-time writer, many friends and family members stopped asking me how my work was going. (Truth be told, some of them never asked before either.) I would ask how things were going with them, and at their jobs, and would listen to their trials and tribulations, but they didn’t seem interested at all in hearing mine. Occasionally, someone would ask, and I’d reply, “Well, it’s going okay…” Before I had a chance to gather my thoughts and say anything more, they’d switch the subject to something else, usually themselves. These last 40 months have been challenging in terms of facing fear, quieting my doubts, and continuing to do the work, but they’ve also been challenging in terms of my emotional health. I’ve realized that some people just don’t support me. These last few years have lifted the veil and I’ve had to make the difficult decision to limit my time with some people and completely let some relationships go. It made me sad, but over time, taking these hard steps opened up room for relationships that are truly supportive, energizing, and reciprocal.
4. You will feel something that can’t be measured or quantified.
Despite all the fears, doubts, guilt, and loneliness, there are still moments when I catch myself completely immersed in writing, when time is flying, and I feel truly alive. When I’m in the flow of expressing myself with words, I feel a kind of satisfaction that’s hard to measure or quantify. When I read my work and it delights me instead of disgusts me, the satisfaction is multiplied by ten. (Sometimes by one hundred, depending on the writing.) It’s the memory of this feeling that keeps me going on the hardest days, when I feel afraid, alone, and think no one will ever read my writing. It’s this feeling, and the memory of this feeling, that sustains me.
Many days as a full-time writer feel like an oxymoron. Many days, it’s bittersweet. I can’t speak for other writers–I can only speak for myself–but I hope that my four discoveries have given you more to consider before you dive into the pool of full-time writing. The water isn’t always fine; in fact, it often stings. But for some of us, it’s the only way to swim.
Peg Cheng is the author of The Contenders, a novel that asks, can enemies become friends? Peg is also the creator of Fear & Writing, a workshop for procrastinating writers from all walks of life.
Anne Janzer says
Love the post – thanks for sharing those.
A 5th thing: you may also a wonderful community of supportive writer friends!
Peg Cheng says