A Life in Writing

writing craft | Writing for Children Blog | writing for children and teens
August 11, 2016


I'm presently working on my 85th book. Well, actually I've started more than 85 books. I've even finished more than 85 books. But this is 85 books that are either published or soon to be published. I write a lot. I write when I'd rather be doing other things. I write when I don't feel all that great. I write when my life isn't exactly rosy. I write because I have deadlines, and because this is the career I have chosen, and that means doing the work.

Writing is work. It's also art. And it's fun. I get joy from it and frustration and self-doubt and satisfaction. It's a roller coaster but it's the one I bought a ticket to ride and I'm going to ride the heck out of it.

Making a career in writing means hanging on and digging in when you're absolutely certain you stink. It means not remembering what it was like to live in your comfort zone. It means doing stuff you just plain don't want to do. It means writing when you're not inspired or impressed with your own abilities. It does NOT (for me) mean that I open a vein and bleed on the page. I don't suffer that much. If I did, honestly, there are other jobs I could do. Overall, I get joy from writing. That's WHY I chose it as a career. But it's not all happy, happy. It's a job. And if I do it well, folks pay me, and they publish the book, and sometimes I even get fan mail (which is nifty, I won't lie about it).

Writing as a career means that I cannot treat writing like a hobby. I can't discard something because it isn't flowing easily. I can't do easy, not very often. I am a production writer. I line up contracts and deadlines for the year and then I produce. It allows me to plan for our finances and it lets me pay the bills.

But that means saying "yes" to scary things sometimes, and "no" to fun things sometimes. But those scary things also make me a better writer. I think it's hard to be a good writer if you've stopped doing things that scare you. It's hard to be a good writer if you've stopped stretching. And it's really hard to be a good writer if you've stopped growing in your skills.

These days I do a bit more than write. In 2016 I did school visits (which I normally don't do because it's pretty far outside my comfort zone, and I can hide behind all my deadlines). The school visits were physically tough and just plain scary for me, but I also enjoyed them. And it was a chance for me to remember being someone who was curious about EVERYTHING. Those kids could be excited about the difference between primary and secondary sources. I don't want to forget what it's like to feel that way. That's the kind of world view I must embrace and keep embracing to be the kind of writer I strive to be. So, the school visits were good for me.

I also co-led a workshop on educational writing. That is also physically taxing for me and a bit scary. I'm not an extrovert. But I leave those workshops totally in love with having done them. So I stretch and it bears fruit in my writing.

(Note from ICL: Jan also taught the critique webinar for our novel contest and was pelted with compliments throughout the entire hour.)

Nothing will show you more about writing than teaching others about it, at least it's worked that way for me. Teaching about writing requires I look deeply into it and that makes me better at it.

I'm also trying to keep some balance in my life so that I don't feel so buried by the work. Since writing is my JOB, I try to include creative things in my life that aren't writing. I draw and I sculpt a bit. I also go with my husband as he sells woodworking at markets (eek, going outside and meeting strangers). That's out of my comfort zone, but it also keeps me human, and that's part of being a good writer too. I know hermits can be amazing writers, but that probably wouldn't be true for me.

To keep up with all these deadlines, I have to have regular (fairly rigid) writing hours and I need to take them seriously. I also break down my work into "do-able chunks" of about 2000 words a day. That's an arbitrary number that I happen to know I can produce comfortably. By knowing that, I can plan my calendar of deadlines and books. So part of being a career writer is knowing who you are as a writer. Knowing your limits. Stretch them, sure, but be aware of them. Burn out doesn't produce good books or healthy writers.

So, I'll keep plugging along on this 85th book. And I'll keep feeling for my limits and stretching, always stretching. You do the same, okay?

Are you ready to take yourself seriously as a writer? Have you always dreamed of writing for children? Let ICL help you begin your career as a writer. CLICK HERE.

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Jan Fields is a full time, freelance author and an Institute of Children's Literature Instructor. Would you like to have your own instructor teaching you on a one-on-one basis? Take the free aptitude test here.

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