Guest Post by Cavanaugh Lee
How To Balance Writing with a Day Job
My first novel, SAVE AS DRAFT, was released on February 1, 2011. I spent the past week in my home town, San Francisco, promoting the book and I just flew back to Savannah, Georgia, my current state of residence, where I had the honor of speaking to a bunch of aspiring writers this weekend. I head to Atlanta on Tuesday where SAD (as those of us in-the-know appropriately call it for short) is set. All in all, it’s been a whirlwind of a week. Had anyone told me a couple years back that I would one day walk into my local Barnes & Noble and see my dream come true – my book on the shelf at the front of the store – I would have, well, laughed out loud.
For any writer, you’ll never have a moment like it. I’m an attorney by day (a federal prosecutor), and the closest I’ve come to feeling like I felt at B&N was when I won my first criminal trial. I was an idealistic new prosecutor (I still am) when I heard the jury read the verdict aloud – “Guilty”. I sat there stunned as my co-counsel, a very seasoned trial attorney, leaned over and whispered into my ear: “Take it in. You’ll never have a first again. It’ll always feel slightly different after this.”
I’ve often wondered if he’s right. Will it feel different after SAD? I only have one book to go on so I only know how it feels now. And it’s a thrill!
It’s also simultaneously hard and wonderful to go back to your day job. I haven’t officially returned to prosecuting full-time as I still have another week and a half to promote SAD. I took two weeks off from work to devote to promotion. I did, however, return to my office for one day – last Friday – to make sure that none of my cases had imploded, check voicemails, respond to emails, etc. As I walked inside, I felt a tremendous surge of excitement and fear. And fatigue… I was pretty darn tired.
For the last year, those three words have summarized the process of writing a book while working a challenging day job, all at the same time: excitement, fear, and fatigue. It’s tough. Tough, I tell you. But, all you writers reading this already know what I’m talking about – unless you are fortunate enough to be either independently wealthy or married to a millionaire. Alas I have neither so I kept my day job.
Oddly enough, that is the question I’ve been asked the most while promoting SAD: Are you going to keep your day job as you write your second book? My immediate response was always the same:
“I would be presumptuous to assume that there will be a second book although I sure as heck hope there will be one (I mean, two). And, I would be even more presumptuous to assume that I would be paid a “Stephanie Meyer advance.” These sorts of things just don’t happen too often. So, my assumption (and presumption) is that I will likely have to keep my day job while I write my second book. Sigh…”
But is it really a “sigh”…? If a genie in a bottle granted me one wish – to be able to write full time and quit my day job – would I do it? My answer is:
I don’t know.
I don’t know?! Shouldn’t it be a resounding YES??!!!
I don’t know…
When speaking to fifteen aspiring writers yesterday, that same question was posed to me yet again:
“Are you going to quit your day job if given the chance?”
One woman volunteered:
“I mean, that’s every writer’s dream. Harper Lee’s sister and brother gave her enough money to live on for a year while she finished TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. That is the greatest gift that any writer could be given.”
Hmm. I thought about that for the rest of the day. Is that really the greatest gift that any writer could be given? A year off to do nothing but write… I think it isn’t. The greatest gift that any writer can be given, that was given to me two years ago, is this:
A great story.
Maybe the second greatest gift any writer could be given is a year off to write. Although I’m not so sure about that even. As hard as it is to work two full-time jobs, I don’t know how well I’d write if it became a “luxury.” Isn’t there some truth to the saying, “the greatest inspiration is often born of desperation?” Didn’t Hemingway write his best when he was over-worked, poor, and sleeping on a couch at The Shakespeare & Co. bookstore in Paris? Of course, there is Harper Lee…
I just don’t know.
What I do know is this: I wrote SAVE AS DRAFT while working full-time as an attorney. I stuck to my schedule like glue – I practiced law Monday through Friday from 8:30 AM to 6 PM, and I wrote from 7 to 11:30 PM; on the weekends, I wrote five to eight hours. I rarely strayed from my rigid plan. I turned down late nights out with my friends at cool new bars. I declined dates from possible suitors, thereby eradicating any semblance of a love life from inception. I skipped out early on holiday dinners to go back to typing away on my laptop. I did (or didn’t do) all of these things except for one:
I did not quit my day job, nor did it even occur to me to lessen my caseload.
Why? Because our day jobs keep us grounded, remind us what is “for real,” and preserve our honest outlook on life and everything that comes along with it. Sometimes our day jobs can even inspire our writing. My story for SAD in many ways was borne from my day job two years ago. And I have a feeling my second book will follow a similar pattern. While it’s hard… so hard… to live on a little less sleep at night in order to get that chapter finished and somehow squeeze it in between cooking dinner and watching an episode of “Modern Family,” if you manage to do it – and do it successfully – you’ll appreciate the result all the more.
Yes, the greatest inspiration is often born of desperation.
Let’s face it, how desperate can one really be when she has everything she’s ever wanted in life in front of her computer screen?
So, back to that Barnes & Noble… and Harper Lee… You cannot imagine my joy at seeing that my first book – the one I wrote while working hard prosecuting crimes and fighting hard to keep our streets a safer place – was somehow miraculously placed on the bookshelf right next to TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD…
Wow. Wonders never cease…
So to all of you who have to work a full-time day job in order to reach your dreams at night, I applaud you! It’s so worth it.
Thank you Cavanaugh for stopping by! Please be sure to check out Cavanaugh’s website & find links to purchase SAVE AS DRAFT below.