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Professional writer’s block: goals, priorities, lost time

The end of the year excites me because I can make vision boards for the New Year. The usual suspects made the cut this year: lose weight, read more, save money. I add too much to do realistically in one year but visualization at least allows me to think about what I’ll do with my time. How I’ll spend—or in some cases—invest my time.

Investments are ironic because we have to maximize limited resources. That's why prioritizing goals is important in writing and adulting. Often, I wish it were easy to wander on a beach, or write novels in an Instagram-worthy cabin, or lay in a hammock and write short stories, but without setting goals, that will never happen. A writing goal becoming the priority means other desires are left off the table, in order to invest more time.

The reason I bring this up is because I’ve worked on a major writing goal for the last three years: At the height of the pandemic and in the middle of a severe health crisis, I lost my job. Terrified that I couldn’t work again in my industry, I began freelancing and generated revenue pretty quickly. However, my second time starting the business, I haven't been so lucky. Lots of rejections, debt accrued, and after six months of doing nothing else besides working full time and my business, I’ve generated some revenue—a promise that the second time around I can make money again.

Writing contains such a low overhead that it’s one of the few creative professions that can be done from the home; however, it has its drawbacks. While getting a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) can be as stressful as pursuing a JD, the degree doesn’t pay much and is only valuable within academia and to the degree holder, companies treat MFA graduates with healthy doses of Saturday Degree Skepticism and side-eye, making it difficult to find a job.

I’ve found writing to be a very rewarding career; however, fiction writing doesn’t pay very much. The optimistic and starry-eyed, those selected by patrons to be financially supported for the brilliance of their work can survive on an income from writing. For the rest of us, we have to find a career track that supports us well enough to write.

Instead of one career, surprise surprise! Writers have two careers!

This also means less time, so how do we prioritize what’s important?

Balancing writing, life and work

Here’s a bitter truth about adulthood: everyone has limited resources. From JK Rowling, to Sarah J. Maas, to Marcel Proust we’re all running on limited resources. Even if we have the most beauty, strength, prestige, or fame, we’re all mortal, and time is a limited resource, so we’re working against borrowed time. Priorities are much like life—it’d be nice if they came in steps but its process spirals similar to grief. It’s muddied as opposed to a clear advancement.

As an undergrad I idolized writers like Loorie Moore who received her first book publication at 26. I wanted to publish early but my self-esteem was in the gutter; so I didn’t publish until I was in my thirties. Perhaps I needed the time to work out my self-esteem, but I also needed to set aside the time to research and find publications to submit to. I’ve published a few short stories but the goal took forever to achieve.

Over the years I’ve struggled to balance my livelihood, my writing, and my general life stuff. In my twenties I had many jobs to support myself: I taught English as a Second Language, I served tables, I pumped gas. I’ll never be too good for any type of job that pays because I’m an adult who pays my own bills. However, the unstable nature of certain types of work—from school politics, to inconsistent schedules, to petty career fights—made it difficult to find the stability to sit down and write.

I worked odd jobs in my youth because I hopped between putting out fires. Sometimes I didn’t pay bills on time; others I stared at empty fridges and apartments filled with pizza boxes as a makeshift table and a couch snatched off the "free" section of Craigslist. Earlier my career was about putting out fires and surviving, but it’s starting to feel like a cross I need to put down to move forward.

What’s the Temporary Matter

Lots of us grew up in chaotic and unstable environments. Sometimes, I miss the unpredictable schedules of my childhood and even those earlier jobs because they provided excitement in my life. Now, I’ve moved on to prioritizing my schedule and organizing my life to show up as the best version of myself. Meal prepping, fitness, and managing my mental health sprinkled across my days in between working and building my business.

In other words, I’ve become boring.

As I’ve said before. Everyone loves a success story but what if you don’t make it? What if writing success comes at 45 instead of 25? What if these posts are the lead-up to that success as opposed to afterwards?

Being an overnight success isn’t something I dreamt of, or even wanted. The scary parts are when I have quick shifts between where I was at and where I am right now. My last retail job was four years ago, and while I was determined not to return I now feel like that’s safely behind me. While my self-esteem was so crushed after undergrad that I believed no one would read my work, I now have work published. And while I was obsessed with my side hustle and honestly wanted to return to waitressing as opposed to putting money towards a goalat least I can see revenue generated.

I’m not afraid of overnight success; I’m afraid of slow changes because it means progress. Progress means a change in my thoughts, beliefs, and movements. Sometimes I’m terrified I’m not up to the change.

I’m at the beginning of feeling settled in life. I have more than what I thought I’d have - mainly because I was trapped by the belief that I’d always be poor. Similar to believing I’d never be published, I clipped my own wings.

Now those possibilities are opening up based on necessity rather than a deep epiphany. To prioritize my writing I needed to prioritize my career for job stability. This meant changing my approach from obsessing over creative writing to building a sustainable income.

Writing blocks are difficult but a temporary matter. It means sacrificing fun memories for financial security. It also meant not writing for fun. Marketing services take up so much time that it leaves little to write.

But now that the first of many storms have started to pass, has it changed how I see my writing? A little.

Rollercoaster of writing life

I envy those with the privilege of family networks, spouses, and support systems who provide a sustainable living while they establish their career, their business, or their dreams. I’ve wished for that cushion but this is the lot I was granted. It's true that being independent means more freedom but it’s a limited resource in exchange for time.

Now, I lay awake and think about writing and the end of my life. What if I don’t do this job, live in this place, have this business, forever? Will it have been a waste of time? I didn’t think of this when I moved every other year for work, or when I dealt with health struggles, or when I made minimum wage. Perhaps this represents a change in my needs because I can think bigger.

To put it boldly, the only time we’ll know for sure if we’ve made all the right decisions, or decisions we can live with, is when we die. At that point, there’s no way to reverse course, and until then we’ll have the answer, unfortunately. It’s not the best question to obsess over. Let’s say if I stayed in my job for a few years but not for the rest of my life, or if I changed the business in a few years: what did I lose? What if my life improved had I stayed in my previous position (certainly not!).

Now, the hard work is starting to pay off, which leaves new opportunities ripe to come forward if I let them. It still involves a change, and learning how to prioritize that change so that my professional and writing life can come forward.

Want to learn more about Christina? Visit her page.



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