About twelve years ago I began freelancing as a writer and occasional speaker. At the time my husband and I were child-free, which meant that, by most writerly standards, I was living the dream. Long, uninterrupted hours of writing, musing, sipping tea, more musing, more writing, and the occasional long walk in the river valley near our house…It was awesome.
And then I discovered something. The writing life, while enviable for lots of reasons, has its downsides. In fact, it comes with its own occupational hazards—which may not make anyone actually feel sorry for you but which can derail your progress. So if you are a would-be writer, here’s my list of top potential problems you may encounter should you decide to quit your day job.
1. Dirt. This is the broader category under which various household chores clump themselves, including dishes, laundry, dusting, vacuuming, mopping, and OCD cleaning behaviors in general. Even if you don’t particularly like housework, it will suddenly become urgent when you have a deadline.
2. Boredom. Bursts of inspiration—when you are so caught up in the thrill of creating something that you are oblivious to the process—come about roughly twice a decade. The rest of the time writing is like any other work: it’s work. And it can be monotonous. You stare at a screen and string words together, thousands of them, for hours at a time. Don’t be alarmed if you find yourself wanting to gouge out your eyeballs with a spork.
3. Unwarranted excitement when the UPS truck pulls up outside. If you have created the ultimate writer’s retreat of absolute solitude, then this may be the only social interaction—nay, THE ONLY THING, period—that happens all day. Don’t be hurt if the UPS guy isn’t quite as excited to see you as you are to see him.
4. Unwarranted interest in whatever the neighbors are doing. Never mind that you’ve shown zero interest in these people before. All of a sudden you’ve memorized the habits, schedules, obsessions, quirks, and vices of everyone within a quarter-mile radius—because no deadline is as important as the red minivan that you don’t remember seeing before in your neighbor’s driveway. (Are they pregnant again? Is her mother-in-law with the yippy dog in town? Are you observing a robbery in progress, in which case should you be taking notes in case you have to testify?)
5. No-bake cookies. You start off with good intentions, which is to make some kind of treat for the new neighbors who just gave you hours of urgent distraction by parking a big moving truck within view of the kitchen window. But by the time you’ve eaten seven spoonfuls of dough and nine-ish cookies, you look just a bit disheveled; so you opt to deliver the cookies tomorrow—at which point you will have annihilated the first batch, necessitating the creation of a second. You see where this is going.
6. Not showering. For, like, five days. Because who cares? No one will see you, not even the people to whom you pretend you will give the no-bake cookies. Even if you have a spouse who could potentially complain, ask him what he would do if he knew he didn’t have to interact with society for the bulk of a given week. Enough said.
7. Facebook (Twitter/Pinterest/social media of your choice). If you look up the definition of “time-suck” in the dictionary, it will be this. There perhaps has never been a more socially acceptable way to shirk obligations and deadlines than to talk via social media about how you are shirking obligations and deadlines.
8. Kitten/cat videos on YouTube. Really, any YouTube obsession will do.
But if ever you thought of yourself as self-disciplined, I dare you to watch this only once:
9. Conference calls. Most of the publishers, editors, copy editors, graphic designers, and project managers that you work with are people you will never meet in person. Which means a lot gets done via conference call, one of the most maddening forms of group decision-making known to humankind. If you don’t believe me, watch this:
10. Talking to yourself (or selves). Not all that worrisome until your selves begin to interact, generating actual dialogue that would lead any eavesdropper to conclude that you are, in fact, bonkers.
11. Creative brainstorms that sound like good ideas but really aren’t. Even though everyone around you (that is, yourself and various selves) thinks your ideas are awesome, it isn’t until you try to describe them to someone who isn’t you that you realize you’re not a genius.
14. Downton Abbey.
15. Small children. For those who are married and of child-bearing age, nothing brings the writing life to a screeching halt like the advent of small children. To quote a friend (whose son was then five), “I’ve had writer’s block for five years, and his name is Ian.” Not only are kids hazardous to your productivity, they can be an unexpected side effect of a female being home and available whenever the male is feeling frisky. Fair warning.