How do you know you’re on the right path in life? I’m not sure, but I can tell you how you know you’re not. It happens when you start feeling small and insecure and angry and on the verge of tears because the one thing you need is the one thing you can’t buy more of: time.
This is the lament of a writer with a full-time job.
How It Begins
I get up at 6:35 am. Okay, that’s not true. The alarm goes off at 6:35 am, but I hit snooze every single day. I throw back the covers at 6:42, stumble into the closet to grab my clothes, and try not to drop anything on the way to the shower. Sometimes I crash into doors because I’m not very coordinated this early in the morning.
I leave for work at 7:35. Okay, that’s not true. I intend to leave for work at 7:35, but I usually leave at 7:40 or 7:41. I drive on a windy country road, past a lake, and into the neighboring county. I get to work at 8:20, walk upstairs, and clock in by 8:30.
I open Google+, Facebook, and Twitter as part of my job, and see all my writer friends and acquaintances posting their to-do lists, their accomplishments, and the interesting articles they’ve found. I remain silent. I’m at work, after all. My to-do list involves ghostwriting articles for insurance agents, proofing consumer emails, and researching trends in marketing, tech, consumer funnels, and automation.
Someone on Google+ posts their latest word count. Someone tweets about a new editing client they have. Someone posts about their AdWords experiment to drive traffic to their website. Someone posts a review of a book promotion site. Someone on FB posts a flash fiction piece or short story they finished. Someone posts a link to an hour-long podcast that talks about how to get reviews. Someone posts a link to their blog, where they’ve written about the five-point plot structure. Someone posts about how they’ve outlined the rest of their series, 10 books total. Someone posts a graphic reminding everyone to walk outside, look up at the sky, and remember how amazing life is. I can’t. I’m at work.
I hang my head, copy the links I can’t click at work, and paste them into my Evernote file. I have 721 notes, most of which are notes on things I need to learn, master, or implement.
How It Gets Worse
Somewhere between 9:00 and 9:30, the coffee kicks in. We used to have free office coffee, but someone got angry that no one ever made more coffee, and so instead of making more coffee, removed the pot entirely and brought in a Keurig. We must now all pay for our own K-cups and bring them to work. If I think about the irony of someone being too angry that someone else didn’t make coffee to make coffee, it makes me angry.
Under the influence of the coffee, I think of a great idea for a short story, and how to tie it into the next book I’m writing. I think how great it would be if I could make a free eBook compiling my helpful blog posts on writing. I see a public domain photo that would make a great background for a pull quote. I save the link for later, because people at work would get mad, understandably so, if I made pull quote graphics on their dime.
At 1:00, I clock out for lunch. My options are to go sit in a small breakroom without any natural light, or stay at my desk that’s right next to a window. I can try and get a little bit written if I stay in, so I choose the desk option. Then two co-workers come and ask me questions and another IMs me. 30 minutes fly by, and I’ve written two of the shittiest sentences ever. I clock back in. Three and a half hours left.
I see three new definitive guides to using Pinterest fly by on Google+. Lists of 6, 9, 15, 26, 120 ways to do everything I’m terrible at better. I can’t read them all. I can’t even click on them all. Work monitors what I click. Work monitors how many articles I write. It’s their right. They’re paying me to be there.
How I Vainly Try to Justify the Situation
Sometimes a post goes by that details financial woe. A writer, supported by her husband’s job, agonizes over spending a few dollars on books from Amazon. Another gets stiffed by a client and says she’ll eat Ramen for a month. I can pay my bills. I can take my husband out to eat once in a while. If we need a new lamp, we can go buy one. But I make less here than at every adult job I’ve ever had…at the age of 36. The bank: $35,000 plus yearly bonuses. The university: $32,500. The media company: $42,000, up to $49,000 by the time they went out of business. The department store’s advertising unit: $37,000. Now? Less than the university. Not by much, but it’s the smallest I’ve ever brought home.
I’m like Benjamin Button for paychecks.
Still, I have enough money to buy a few books from Amazon so I comfort myself with my limited financial superiority. And then someone posts about finishing a book and planning the release date, and I feel like crying. What little money I have can’t buy me what I want: time to write.
By the end of the day, I’ve written several thousand words for someone else. I’ve done hours of research that leave my eyes and brain strained. I clock out at 5:00, walk downstairs, and get in the car. I drive the exact reverse of the route I took to get to work, only this time it takes a little longer because there’s more traffic at night. Though my daze, I try to remember to stop at red lights. I try not to hit cyclists or pedestrians. I think about all the ideas I saw that day that I need to do: make book trailers, sell foreign rights, get foreign agents, write a series, write a novella, agonize over not having a starter product to offer at a permafree price, make pull quotes, redesign the blog, write guest posts and find a home for them. I am so behind. People have been doing this all day while I’ve been chained to a desk that isn’t mine.
How I Try to Reclaim the Day
I pull into the driveway at 5:59. I get out of the car and go inside. The kitchen is dark. There’s nothing on the stove, and there’s a package of defrosted chicken in the fridge. I have to cook now, or the chicken will go bad. I put down my purse, change into my play clothes, wash my hands, and start chopping chicken breasts. I stir and saute and usually burn what I intend to braise (“Too much heat,” the hubby calls from the living room). I’m such a bad cook that he can smell dinner burning across the house. I serve the burned chicken with a side of rice at 6:52. We eat until 7:15. I do dishes until 7:30. I’m supposed to work out, too, but now I have to digest my dinner. I won’t be ready until 8:30. If I work out for 30 minutes, it’s 9. Then I take a quick shower, and it’s 9:20. So that gives me an hour before workout time to…check email and start working.
I check email, and there’s nothing much there. My mom emailed, and I email her back. I glance through the dozen or so writing-oriented newsletters I don’t have time to read. I ignore the five tutorials emailed to me by a new design site. I don’t have time to do them, but if I archive them, I’ll forget they exist. “Have you checked your sales figures?” the hubby asks. No, I have not. I do not want to check them. I do not want to know if my last promotional activity has failed. It might have succeeded, but the knowledge it has failed would crush me right now and I can’t take it. The best thing I can do is plan another promotion or try to write something. It’s 7:50. I have 40 minutes left until workout time.
I open Microsoft Word. It takes me at least 5 minutes to get back into the zone of what I was writing. Suddenly, I remember I have no blog posts ready for either of my 2 blogs. I ignore the feeling of failure. I write two pages for the next book. They suck. It’s now 8:30, and I have to work out or my husband will get on my case. I hate working out. I hate it as much as I hate cooking, but part of a partnership is doing things you hate. So I do it.
How I Try to Redeem Myself
At 9:25, I emerge with wet hair and pajamas. I have two hours before bed. I turn the computer back on, and remember I don’t have those blog posts. I write something about working with images, grab some screenshots, format the post…and it’s 10:48. I hate being a perfectionist. My eyes are starting to burn from all the computer time. “Are you going to turn that off?” the hubby asks. I know what he’s thinking. I don’t have time for that. “No,” I say. I’m a terrible wife.
I haven’t done any social media. I try to think of something to tweet or pin or post. Surely something interesting flew by during the day that I can comment on.
My mind, a tired wheel ground down to nothing, goes blank.
I settle for retweeting a quote about writing. I open Facebook and close it again without posting. I don’t want to see any baby pictures or Buzzfeed quiz results.
It’s 11:09. Seven and a half hours of sleep if I go to bed now. Too early. I haven’t even read anything today. Or the day before. Or the day before. If I don’t read, I can’t write book reviews. I can’t update Goodreads. Shit, I have three books from January I haven’t rated on Goodreads. But the reason I haven’t done it is because I wanted to write something instead of just click a star rating. But there wasn’t time to gather my thoughts, let alone grab quotes or put it in any sort of coherent order.
Tomorrow. It will all have to wait until tomorrow. I’ve said that every day for three weeks now.
I put my computer away and brush my teeth. The hubby follows. When I crawl into bed and turn on the Kindle, it’s 11:17. I’m thinking of all the things I didn’t do. It’s the way I end my day, without fail. I didn’t submit to a literary journal. I didn’t complete a project. I didn’t schedule a new promotion. I didn’t put the Google Analytics tracking code on my website. I didn’t write a blog post. I didn’t make a pull quote image to share online tomorrow. I didn’t do anything but survive and I feel like I’m barely doing that.
How It All Ends
The hubby crawls in bed beside me and says something about the mortgage. I tamp down the irritation. I only have a few minutes before I fall asleep. I need to read. If I don’t read, I don’t know who I am and I don’t know what I’m supposed to talk about. Who gives a crap about the mortgage or the neighbor or the car? I want to care. Being a good wife means I have to care. But I don’t have any time left to care. And I don’t have the money to pay off the car. I don’t sell enough books to make enough money to pay off the car. And I don’t sell enough books to pay it off because I don’t have more products to sell because I didn’t have time to write them because I had to go to work to make the smallest salary I’ve ever made as an adult.
The anger burns itself out as I try to respond to the hubby’s question and read at the same time, without falling asleep. I want to cry because I’ve accomplished so little. If I complain, the hubby says, “Give up sleep.” If I give up sleep, I also give up functioning eyes, a good mood, ability not to bitch-slap anyone who asks me for something I can’t give, and a general willingness to live. So there is my dilemma. Am I a shitty person for clinging to six and a half hours of sleep a night? Is this what dooms me to obscurity and unhappiness and last place in the race to support myself via fiction writing?
Every day, I feel like I’m running a race. A race where everyone else gets a 10.5-hour head start.
When it’s finally my turn, when I’ve waited through those 10.5 hours, I find out I’m now supposed to polish my shoes for an hour before I can start running. That’s how I feel about cooking, grocery shopping, working out, or anything that takes more than 10 minutes away from writing and marketing time after work.
It’s not that I need to compete with anyone, per se. It’s the fact that I know I could make this work. I know enough about marketing and have enough determination to actually pull off this whole indie-writer-and-marketer thing. But it takes more than an hour or two a day.
If I quit to focus on writing, I’m bankrupt within a year.
If I work to stay solvent, I’m emotionally bankrupt.
How It All Gets Resolved
That subheading is a trick. It doesn’t get resolved because I don’t know what I’m supposed to do about any of this. I’m clearly failing at earning a grown-up salary. I’m clearly failing at progressing in my writing career. I’m failing at getting back in shape. I’m just treading water, screwing most things up. It’s like bailing out the Titanic with a thimble.
The worst part of it all is that I realize this is such a first-world problem. Complaining about it makes me seem like an ingrate. I have a home. I have my health. I have a fantastic husband and family. Everything else should be…everything else.
How much is a dream worth? How much is time worth?
Number of minutes to burn 200 calories on a stationary bike: 30
Number of minutes to brush teeth: 4
Number of minutes to shower: 6
Number of minutes to comb hair after shower: 5
Number of minutes to figure out what to wear: 2
Number of minutes to unload the dishwasher: 3
Number of minutes to put dishes from the sink into the dishwasher: 3
Number of minutes to check 3 email accounts, no responses: 3
Number of minutes to make lunch to take to work: 7
Right there, that’s more than an hour.
We haven’t even talked about the laundry.
Or how long it took me to do the graphics for this post.
Making stuff look good is hard.
Tell the World