I have always wanted to be a full-time writer. I have always wanted the ability to work from home. I love what I do, but I think the illusion is drastically different from reality.
It is Friday afternoon, end of workday, time to relax for the next 48+ hours—except of course you know that is not what happened. I was sick last week with the flu that has kicked everyone’s butt this season. Monday through Wednesday, I barely peeked out from under the covers. On Thursday and Friday, I tried to work from home. I am appreciative of the opportunity to work from home on days like this. All I had to do was roll out of bed, don my fuzzy bathrobe and slippers, and trudge into my home office with my mussy hair and unbrushed teeth. It was better than cleaning up for the office and dealing with the rush hour, but work-from-home also meant no sick days–not unless you were on your death bed which with this bout of flu, felt pretty darn close. Due dates are due dates, and I had a series of editors, publishers, and clients waiting. I was several days late.
I loaded my project management software and glared at the writing projects in front of me. One was Essential Job Training that had just come back from the client for review. It was not in terrible shape. They did not have any change requests. It was ready to convert and send to test lab. I could do that on Monday. The next was a New Release…an operation manual and the associated training guide for a new tool. It had not been started, and the model was due Monday. Now I got a little nervous. The next project was another job training. This one involved troubleshooting reasons for poor customer service and writing an online curriculum to correct it. It was due Tuesday morning. In all, I had to research and write over 300 pages in one weekend. So much for relaxing.
I spent Saturday analyzing. I played with the tool, compared it to the old tool, and thought about how someone would use it. I took detailed notes and created learning objectives and a design document. I tried to walk through each possible twist and turn that a customer might use. I wrote down questions to ask the client. Then I began. In all, it took over 8 hours to analyze and outline the product, and I still did not have the model document that was due Monday morning.
Sunday rolled around, and I knew that I needed to work on the other project. This one also involved analysis. I had to put myself in the shoes of a customer service representative and figure out why they were doing certain steps wrong. I looked at all of the documentation from the client. I also researched documentation on my own that described the proper steps. Still, I had not been able to talk to a single employee. I had to rely on data and documentation only. Six hours later, I analyzed as much as I could. I had to take a break.
I knew that it was crunch time. Not only did I have to write the model, I had over 40 images to capture, mock up, and upload for approval before I could insert them into the document. I stayed up until past midnight on Sunday night. I got back up at 4:30 AM Monday morning to complete the first model. I would have to do the same on Monday night into Tuesday. Monday ended up being a fourteen-hour workday.
I had a model by Monday, but I was in a stupor. The writing was horrible. I was almost comatose by the time the meeting with the client rolled around. I was back in the office on Monday and organized the conference call and webinar to discuss the first model. Some of us were gathered in the office conference room. Others were spread out across several states. Everyone was reviewing my model and pointing out changes they thought we should make. I would have to rewrite major sections, and the other model was still due in the morning. After the meeting, I broke down in tears while hiding out in a bathroom stall.
Tuesday was not much better. The subject matter experts that I collaborated with and I did not have a meeting of the minds on how to solve the problem. They were the experts. I was the writer. I would have to make revisions again. The product had not even made it to first edit, which was a grueling process in itself. After all of the discussion about what to put in and what to take out and how to rephrase, it goes through an editing process at least three different times before it makes it out the door. I handled things better that day, however, which was good since I was so sleep deprived.
I went home Tuesday night and crawled straight in bed. No poetry writing for me tonight. No fiction writing either. Not even a blog. Creative writing is my first love, but I could not muster another word. I did not want to see another written word, creative or technical, for at least twelve hours, and then, it would all start again.
I used to think that being a fulltime writer was a glamorous job. I used to think that I could sit at home in my fuzzy robe, drink hot cocoa, and go to book signings. Do not get me wrong: I love, love, love writing and would not want to do anything else. It is hard work though. It is writing when you are tired. It is writing when you are not inspired. It is even writing about things that you do not necessarily want to write about and hoping that you have to time write about the things you do want to write about.
It is writing to make the client happy or the reader happy or the editor, publisher, and agent happy. It is not always about “the art” and making you happy.
Writing full time also means that you take chances. I write on contract. With no active contract, I do not get a paycheck. You learn to scrimp, save for the future when times are not that great. Writers do not have a nine-to-five job. They write at midnight. They write nonstop for days when deadlines are near. They feed their family frozen pizza and hope they remember to take the plastic wrap off before they put it in the oven.
Is it worth it? Absolutely. I love what I do. I just wish that I had a little more time and energy to do it…and next year, I will definitely get that flu shot.