For love and money: balancing life as a writer

When I decided that Professional Writing would be my major, I did it for many numerous self-fulfilling, positive reasons. I wanted to be a novelist but I couldn’t count on that. I still loved writing, just didn’t want to major in creative writing and get stuck teaching it. I wanted a major that would get me a job I would love.

Professional Writing was the obvious choice.

And now, out of school and working full-time in Greenville, South Carolina, I have a job I love working as a Project Manager in the Marketing department of a mega-church. It’s crazy how life turns out. I spend four days a week (I know, I get three day weekends because I work 10 hour days, it’s basically the bomb) managing and organizing the Marketing department. I do everything from doling out work and keeping the schedules of our designs to ordering items to writing synopses for the CDs and DVDs we sell. And that’s maybe an eighth of what I do.

But here’s the thing—I still want to be a novelist. I still want to, someday, become a self-sufficient writer career wise, and if that’s going to happen I have to work toward it on a regular basis.

Let’s face the facts, people. I work 4 days a week, sure, but they are 10 hour days. I don’t get home until 6:30 – 7pm, and if I go to the gym let’s make that 8pm. I’ve sent anywhere from 80 to 100 emails that day (I am not exaggerating), and the last thing I want to do is sit down and write a novel. I’d much rather eat some ice cream and catch up on How I Met Your Mother.

But I have goals. I don’t have time for any of that.

Here’s what you might be asking—not just how do you find the time, but how do you stay inspired? How do you balance being a professional writer at work and come home and do blogging, book reviews, and creative writing?

Determination. And time management.

That’s the short way to describe it. It helps that I love writing, and if I get myself in the right mindset I can force myself to write. And after about ten minutes of forcing myself to write, eighty percent of the time I’m not forcing myself anymore. I’m deep into whatever I’m writing and I’m excited.

Sometimes this might take a beer or three. Sometimes it takes a cupcake. Sometimes it takes watching How I Met Your Mother before even attempting. And sometimes it takes determination.

Time management is incredibly important for me. When I get home, and let’s say I haven’t worked out so I’m home at 6:30, I need to eat. By the time I’ve finished and done dishes, it’s 7:30. I’m mentally exhausted, so I watch 30 minutes of mindless TV. The hardest part is forcing myself to turn it off and get to work. From there, I always say that I’ll just write for a little bit. Then I pick the thing that I want to work on most, and I dive in.

Some days I get about one hundred words in and give up and go back to my library book or some TV, but most days I’m in it for the long haul. I write for a while, usually until I know I need to do some other stuff. Then I work on stuff I didn’t really want to do. Maybe a blog post, maybe some blog reading about queries (who likes to read about queries?). Sometimes, if I’m feeling ambitious, I try to do a little French, since I’m trying to pick up the language again.

By the time I’m done, it’s usually 10 – 11pm. Time for a shower, maybe a little reading, and bed. Then I wake up and do it all over again, but not always in the same order.

Something that is incredibly important for me is inspiration. And so is taking the time to find it. For me, inspiration comes in all forms. Reading is the big one—anything from blogs to novels to poetry. A blog about how a certain writer approaches outlines might inspire me. A poem about a cat might make me think that I want to write about a cat. Pinterest is another big source of inspiration, both writing and not writing (cooking and DIY stuff I will probably never do). I’ve always found photography to be hugely inspirational, and many a time if I need a prompt to write something I pick a photo and write the story behind it. If I feel blah or stupid or like my writing is dumb, reading helps, and so does Pinterest, and sometimes so does wine.

There’s no right way to balance your work ambitions and your personal ambitions—everyone does it differently. I write lists. I check things off. I read blogs (a lot of blogs) about writing and the publishing industry, trying to keep up to speed. I’m always thinking about the next step, both professionally and personally. Being lazy is okay sometimes—the other day I spent a whole three hours watching That 70s Show. Such things are necessary. Reading for fun is necessary too. How else am I going to get inspiration for everything on my to-do list?

For me, the key is balance. When I’m at work for 10 or often 11 hours, I spend about thirty minutes a day working on a blog post that isn’t about work. It frees up my brain halfway through the day and allows me to unwind, and when I jump back into work I’m so much more focused. It helps me be able to make the switch from professional to creative writing that much easier. Not everyone has time to do this, but I highly suggest it.

One thing I’m still working on is waking up an hour early to write. I can barely wake up ten minutes early to do my makeup nicely. Someday I’ll be badass enough to do it and not complain.

About the Author

Vanessa-Levin-PompetzkiVanessa Levin-Pompetzki is an alumni of the Professional Writing program at Michigan State University. She currently works as the Marketing Project Manager at Redemption (please excuse the website, they’re redesigning) in Greenville, South Carolina. Tweet her at @vanessalevpom or check out her blog.