In my life, there is writing, and then there is writing. Writing provides a valuable service, educating busy professionals, including nurses and technology transfer managers, about an array of topics that they need to understand to be effective in their jobs. Writing also pays my mortgage and the phone bill. Writing is a creative endeavor, my attempt to tell stories that explore both ideas and characters via short fiction and creative nonfiction. Writing thus far doesn’t offer monetary compensation.
Both types of writing are time-consuming, difficult to do well, emotionally draining to an extreme degree, and sometimes physically demanding when they require a ten- to twelve-hour stretch in front of a computer. So even though they use slightly different “muscles” in the brain, it’s difficult to switch back and forth between the two on a daily basis, especially since I can’t afford a personal servant to take care of pesky things like going to the grocery store.
I sometimes think that, in an ideal world, I wouldn’t be a hyphenate writer-writer or writer². Instead I’d be a surgeon and a writer, a waitress and a writer, a fill-in-the-blank-with-any-other-occupation-besides-writer and a writer. (Being an income-earning writer along the lines of Stephen King or Nora Roberts would raise the bar from an ideal world to a dream world.)
These other jobs, as I have gleaned from how-to books and essays by writing soldiers and writing fisherwomen, not only provide a wealth of colorful fodder to inform plots and characterizations, they also give creative writers the life experience, through listening and observation, that allows them to create stories that are believable to readers. Such writers often also seem to find the emotional fortitude to write every day—a maxim that is drilled into creative writers as being the First Commandment for so-called real writers vs. dilettantes.
So when I read a novel that captures the gritty realism of police work or when a fellow creative writer tells me, “Yes, I’ve made a contract with myself to get up every day at 5 a.m. and write 2,500 words,” when I haven’t started a new short story in more than two months, I might indulge in the occasional fantasy of doing something else to earn a living. However, the truth is that all creative writers—even the fantasy-inducing Stephen King and Nora Roberts—face their own unique challenges in developing both story craft and writing process. On the positive side, all creative writers also bring their own unique skill sets to the table thanks to whatever life experiences they either enjoy or endure.
While my occupation prevents me from meeting a daily or even monthly word count as a creative writer, my life as a writer² has turned me into a stellar editor. Extraneous tangents, thoughtless word choices, and the willy-nilly use of adverbs are anathema to any type of writing. When I have the time and creative energy to write, I know how to make every word count. Through my years of doing telephone interviews, I also understand the difference between mere conversation and purposeful dialogue.
I’ve made a point to learn the rules for both story craft and the creative writing process through extensive reading and years of participation in the Great Smokies Writing Program. However, being a writer² has taught me that there are viable exceptions to pretty much every universal truth about creative writing. The key, for me, is to make trade-offs as I must and to persevere in forging my own path to put pen to paper—and to do it well.