I have a vivid picture when I think about my ideal writing life.
I will have spent months, perhaps years, reading good stories, collecting interesting facts and pondering different ideas. A story will brew in my head. I will know it’s many nuances. I will know where to find the relevant facts and figures. The characters will be alive and speaking great things to me. I will be able to sketch out their faces, write down their histories and describe the many quirks, flaws, and oddities that make them human.
I will have two leisurely hours in the morning, starting an hour before sunrise. I will have my usual breakfast: egg and avocado on toast with sriracha drizzled on top. I’ll spend a lingering, meditative moment over a cup of fresh black coffee, brewed just the way I like it. While sipping coffee, I’ll consider the weather outside. If it’s clear, I’ll go for a brisk walk/run/bike. If it’s stormy or below freezing, I’ll do some stronglifts or body weight exercises or the variation of a seven minute workout. This will last thirty minutes, no more than forty. If I don’t feel up to bodily exertion, and there will be many such days, I’ll pace inside my house. Either way, I’ll be itching to create by the end of it. I’ll wash up, and dress in a comfortable cotton shirt and old jeans — no socks, because I think best barefoot. I will sit before my favorite desk, with its polished and lacquered pine surface, take a moment to stare at the large window in my writing room and admire the copse of trees. Then I’ll fire up my laptop and start creating.
In three to four hours, noon will roll around. I’ll stretch, push my laptop away, and scrounge something up for lunch. In the afternoons, I won’t be writing unless I’m deep into a story. Mostly, I’ll be doing my main paying work. I like to think myself doing Independent IT consulting and some teaching on the side. No more than four hours a day. My late afternoons and evenings will be full of friends and family, seminars, books and painting. All with a cup of tea steaming by my elbow.
Striving for the Ideal
As I said before, the above is the ideal writing life for me. Some writers prefer to write in cafes. My writer friend fantasizes a writer cabin far north (Alaska). Others may balk at early morning exercise or prefer yoga. I know many wish to become full-time writers a la J.K. Rowling. I don’t, personally, for my own reasons. Anyway, all of that is fine. The important thing is to know what that ideal picture is, and have evidence that shows it really is ideal for you.
But how to find that ideal writing life? How do you find the evidence an ideal is ideal? What if you don’t know what you want? Why not just go ahead and figure it out as I go?
Part of it is temperament. I’m the type of person who, when I have a goal, must sit down and create a detailed multi-tab spreadsheet to figure out how to go from A to B. I also want to make sure I understand what it is going to cost me to get to the ideal. For I am thoroughly aware that I can anything, but I can’t do everything.
Let me repeat that:
I can do anything, but I can’t do everything.
I don’t say this be cynical or pessimistic. If I strive for a life full of work, by necessity I will neglect everything that isn’t connected to my work. The work I strive for is crafting beautiful stories. This is often a solitary enterprise. I can work with others to gather the building blocks of a good story, but ultimately I alone must put the words down on paper, virtual or otherwise. And while I’m honing my craft, I will not have time for family, and any other career I have will suffer.
The Cost Of An Ideal Writing Life
The family cost haunts me the most. I’m currently at that stage in life where everyone and their second cousin once removed is asking me, in shrill tones, why I’m not doing everything humanly possible to settle down, get married and have children. Most of my age peers are parents of two little ones. My grandmother, who passed away this April, told my mother she wanted to live long enough to see me married. She didn’t get her wish. I’m not ashamed of my quiet intellectual life, and I grimly wait for the day when people won’t bother to ask because it’s too late. But there are times I can’t help but wonder … what if…?
The cost isn’t just limited to relationships. There are daily and future challenges, too. In Real Life, there are rainy days, sick days and bad days. I have obligations I do not care for but must fulfill. My work sometimes keeps me on the grind for twelve hours straight, at the worst possible moment. I don’t always feel up to creating. I’m sometimes in a mood to do anything but writing. I have days when I can’t bring myself to do anything. I can’t bank on me wanting what I’ve written in the first section for the rest of my life. For instance, until Harry Potter happened, I didn’t even imagine myself writing anything, let alone fiction.
Still Worth It
So is it worth it? Yes. I’ll wake up every morning knowing what I will do. I will look forward to each day and hour, and I will go to sleep at peace. Most importantly, each day will be dedicated to my goal: crafting good stories. How many people can claim that about their life? I don’t need to win the lottery to get it. In fact, I can have it making $1,409 a month after taxes. That’s cheap for someone who lives in a developed country. I’ve tested various parts of the ideal image to see if it can withstand opposition. Thus I can say it’s a robust life. The kind of life I can tell naysayers: no, I have reasons for the hope I have, and here they are. And if I have a change of heart, it’s simple enough to change directions.
In the weeks that follow, I’ll go over how I arrived at my own ideal and how I figured out the cost. After going through the cost counting exercise, I realized I can have my ideal writing life right now. All while not making a single cent from selling books. Knowing how reachable your ideal writing life is, and having the assurance it is your ideal, is incredibly liberating. I hope all you writers and aspiring authors will find it helpful.