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I Ain’t Gonna Work On Maggie’s Farm No More

People always ask me when I write, their voices filled with bewilderment and wonder. I like to make up answers to this question depending on who is doing the asking. I write at dawn, I write all night, weekends and vacations, I write on the train, I write every morning for two hours, I write when I can, ha ha ha ha. I write all the time. I don’t know when I write! When does anyone write!

Full time writers need not apply. This is a post for the living the dead, the commuters, part-times, the day jobs, temps, and careerists of the world. When do you write and do you have a schedule, a routine, is your writing time sacrosanct, or is it like mine: completely permeable? Does something else always come first? Do you wonder where you’d be if you had the balls to write to full time, put all your eggs in that basket? Do you wonder if you would have produced something beautiful and redemptive or funny and fucked, a big bestseller or a cult classic? Do you level with yourself, understand that you, meaning me, didn’t believe in yourself enough, or weren’t temperamentally suited to the writer’s life. That you needed a regular paycheck and structure and health benefits to keep the shrinks of Manhattan in summer houses and Eames chairs?

When do you write and why don’t you write full time?

60 Responses

  1. If I can stay away from the Internet, I write when my son’s taking a nap. It could be 15 minutes. It could be a couple of hours. When I’m a really bad mom, I tap out a few notes on the iPhone while he’s playing.

  2. I write when I can. I heard a story that William Carlos Williams, who was a practicing MD (which I’m sure you know, Betsy), would pull out his typewriter between seeing patients and work on his poetry. so much depends upon (stick out your tongue and say Ah! Johnny) a red wheel barrow glazed with rain (How long has it been hurting you?) water beside the white chickens. I envy those writers who have the resilience to face the empty page every day. Not me. I don’t write full time because when I do I produce dreck. I’m just not a prolific writer. Oh well.

  3. I write when I need to and when I want to. The want to part is growing more difficult as I am noticing a little passive aggressive behaviour in my household concerning that.

    I don’t believe in myself at all. Isn’t that why anyone writes?

    Shrink is free thanks to USGov.

  4. I have one hour on the train ride in to the city in the morning. That’s my writing time. That’s it.
    Then full time job, the commute home I pass out on the train before coming home and being a full time mom. By the time the kids are in bed, I have nothing left.

    Yes, I always, always wonder what I could have done if I could have had more time to write. When I have a secret day off, I can write for hours and it’s so much less disjointed, the thoughts have a chance to flow and stew as I pace, then sit and write some more.

    Mine is a slow work in progress.

  5. I write in almost every spare hour lately. Carpal tunnel ftw. I get up at 7:30, write for two hours, do my Real Work (from home), jog, eat dinner, and go back to the writing. I put in between two hours (bad day) and nine hours (good day). 14 – 63 hours a week. My hands hurt 24/7. This is a relatively new routine (as of about three months ago) and I think it ends with me dead. Or selling books. Or both. I don’t really have the time to worry about it.

  6. 5 to 6 days a week in short snatches (heh). I wish I were as obsessed with writing as I am with the satisfaction of having written. Also, taking photos and editing them in PhotoShop is much easier, so that’s a huge (and also satisfying) time suck for me.

  7. What a memory…that is the exact chair I grew up with…my father’s chair, plunked in front of the TV, years before I did any writing. When I visit them, my father watches more TV than ever, which is right next to the computer. I can’t stand the noise of the TV. As far as writing goes, I write when I absolutely have to, when I can’t do anything else. I put it off and put it off, but vow that I’ll work steadily on my new novel this summer. Wish I had that chair to write it on.

  8. Wow. You nailed it. I write when I write. I have found a problem in writing notes that will I know lead to scenes which of course will lead to a fantastically entertaining book while trying to eat dinner with my girlfriend watching me across the table and thinking I might be losing it, talking to myself. So, my notes seem foolish. But, she knows me, and she gets it, but I feel I owe her my attention. So, I lose the feel of the plot at those times. And then I need to catch up after she is satisfied that I am still in the real world and with her, in body and soul. And dick. This trying to write a novel stuff is much more complicated than I had imagined. I’ll stay tuned into you Betsy, obviously, you’ve been through the ringer. It’s a fucking circus show, let me tell ya. Having written that, I do write full-time, I’m always writing—in my head or with a pen, and if it’s in my head my fingers are twitching and I get very serious asshole streaks in me that haves no compassion for the human race but love the feel of a pen making letters on a piece of paper. Ink. What a gorgeous invention

    Now, tell us all, who the fuck is August? And how do you know this person? And also, now, thanks to you, I am going to try to find an original version of Maggie’s Farm and put it on my under-read blog. Wish me luck! Bob ain’t sharin’ much no more. I guess he’s changed.

  9. I write in the wee hours of the morning, long before the floorboards creak with the patter of little hooves. I’ve never needed a regular paycheck but who knew children could be such a time suck? Whenever I saw kids out and about with their parents, I always thought how easy it looked. There was never a back story. Oh, boy, was I wrong. One day they’ll all be grown and out of the house (insert Snoopy dance) and if I haven’t produced something publishable by then, I’m sure going to have time to start. Or who knows? Maybe I’ll be all better by then and won’t need that kind of validation.

    • Your last sentence said it all.

      No, that’s when we schedule the writer’s retreat, on a beach, somewhere warm…

    • “Maybe I’ll be all better by then and won’t need that kind of validation.”

      You are clearly too healthy for this crowd.

      But when I grow up, I want to be just like you.

    • For some reason I read it, “…and if I haven’t produced something punishable by then…” I find that I find the time to do the things that I’m committed to. Like fucking around on twitter and foraging in the refrigerator…

  10. Yesterday evening I swept a parking lot for 3 hours to make a little extra cash. Spent most of the weekend mowing and doing odd jobs. More than anything I wanted to be writing. When you’re pushing a broom you have a lot of time to think. Thoughts and ideas filled my mind. Wrote some down, forgot the rest. When I got home, dinner was on the table and my little girl was outside blowing bubbles, so I sat with her for awhile, both of us watching the bubbles float in the air or sink to the ground and pop on the grass. Later, I took a shower and went to bed, tired and spent. Today, maybe tonight, I’ll write. Really. I will.

    • Your little girl’s lucky to have you for a dad. Those are the kinds of things little girls remember–forever.

    • You’re such a good dad, Mike. I threw some food on the table, rented a movie for them and holed up with my laptop. Anything babbled at me was met with a nodding head, an ah ha and the occasional that’s good. In my defense I’ve spent a decade catering to everyone else so it was due.

      • I know what you mean, Deb–dvd’s work wonders sometimes and I find myself nodding uh-huh when I have no idea what the kid just asked me. As for being a good dad– I try; it’s one of my goals in life.

  11. I write before the kids get up and after they go to bed. I write at the day job on breaks, and scribble down stuff throughout the day so I won’t forget.

    I don’t write full time because at this point, I get paid less than bupkis to do so. I’m the main breadwinner in the family, and I need to pull in enough to support three adults and two kids , plus health and dental, and future college/trade school tuition.

    That isn’t gonna happen with the first book. Maybe not with any of ’em, or all of ’em put together. But I’ll keep working on it.

  12. I’m retired so I write when I feel like it. I do a lot of writing in my mind, and I jot things down when I’m so inspired. Since I write in several forms, I always have something to do. Short stories, novels, poetry, plays, or whatever suits me. Sometimes, it even gets published.

  13. I have four children, the youngest not yet school-age, so I never have silence or sacrosanct time.

    I write whenever I can snatch five minutes. Or one minute. I write when they watch TV or after they go to bed or while I’m cooking dinner.

    When I was commuting, I wrote during lunch hour. I wrote on the subway. I wrote a short story during one-day job as a receptionist with a temp agency and submitted it to an anthology and got it published; not bad for one day’s work.

  14. I get up, piss, weigh myself, pull on some clothes, feed the cats, then make my breakfast and take it to the study where I write for as long as I can before other duties receive my attention. Sometimes I write in the afternoons, too, and sometimes in the evenings. My wife knows that when the study door is closed, I am not to be bothered.

    For my part, I accept a life that requires of me more than shutting myself away in my study. I do not come from money. Being in the world as something other than a writer or an academic feeds both my writing and my studies, not to mention my stomach. I am of the temperament that needs predictable income. I’ve done starving artist and it sucks. It is not for me.

    Long ago, my second wife (I am now on my third) supported me for five years while I wrote. It was a fiasco. I couldn’t write worth a damn, but damn, I could sure drink. Now I can write worth a damn, but damn, I don’t have much time. Not that anyone ever does.

    At a certain basic level, I am a coward. I live a coward’s life. It is the life I chose to be chosen by. Regrets are for fools. And in this life I chose to be chosen by, though it has for the most part not been the life I had imagined for myself, I have on more than one occasion “produced something beautiful and redemptive.” No one can ever take that away from me. And it can’t be purchased for any amount of money.

    • Jeez, Tetman, go smoke a joint or something, maybe write a Bible. And pull up your pants, man–your neuroses are showing.

    • You sound like the exact opposite of a coward to me. Cheers to you, I say.

    • And your fabulous cat story will have us cheering. I am being earnest!

      • The only problem I had with your paragraph is tou started specific and then wrote my other duties. what are those? great books, and I haven’t written one, mind you, are ALL detail. They are long and hard work, apparently I’m exhausted. Details, details, all the way through and lo and behold you hold in your hand a book.. That’s the way I’m looking at it. Well, my story is good. but we won’t get into that until I’m finished and some business man forks over some cash. We can deal. Printed is good.

  15. i’m the cliche, lawyer who retired after the third kid, came up for air when the diapers and vomit and tantrums slowed to a trickle and realized she’d all but erased her soul in a desperate attempt to atone for her mother’s sins of neglect and decided to get an MFA so she wouldn’t end up in rehab…seven years out of the MFA program still writing but it could hardly be called full-time (compared to the 80 hr wks I put in as a securities lawyer). I write most mornings, fingers on keyboard (internet disabled) maybe 60-90 minutes, read probably too much, and claw through the rest of the day (hunting and gathering) with the 1000lb unfinished book on my back…

  16. I don’t write full time because poets never get paid and because I’m chickenshit. As someone once said, “the problem with being a poet is figuring out what to do the other 23 and a half hours a day.”

  17. Happy Birthday to Bob Dylan.

    I am a business writer by day and a creative writer by night. My own writing time kicks in after the kiddo is in bed, and I work at it a little bit every night.

  18. I write early in the morning before work, I write in the evenings with my writing buddies, I write on my lunch hour at work, I write not at all when life overwhelms me. I write when I can write, or, more accurately, when I actually schedule the time to write.

    I have actually been beating myself up a little lately on this very subject — why did I immediately grab a comfortable job with health benefits right out of college? Why didn’t I just write instead? Or why am I not just writing NOW? Damn the security of a regular job. But I figure if I can’t write around my 9-5 job, then I’m not going to make it anyway.

    Some day, maybe, I’ll see what it’s like to write full time. That sounds kind of scary though, doesn’t it? Even more pressure than now.

  19. I write in between Latin 6 and English 8. I write when my students are taking tests and composing their middle school composition masterpieces. I write after school, while my kids are playing in the forest, unsupervised with airsoft rifles. I write after the kids are in bed while my husband writes his grant proposals. Lately, I get to write at the same table at my tween writer son, which we both love.

    I write in the blind spots of the day. When no one else is looking and I can get away with it.

  20. I don’t write full time because I like food too much. And because my landlord is the kind of asshole who likes to get paid in full, on time, every month.

    So instead I write in the margins when I’m sitting in a meeting, on the subway, after work with a glass of wine at the bar (yay for living in a university town), while I’m watching bad tv, in bed when I can’t sleep, sometimes in the morning when I wake up. It’s never enough, of course. Still holding out hope for a rich and eligible bachelor to appear on the horizon and make all my worries disappar, because: might as well dream big, right? I figure that’s as likely to happen as me making a fortune from writing. Maybe even more likely.

  21. I write in my head constantly — when I’m doing my two miles with the dog every morning, when I’m doing something at work that only needs half a brain, when I’m lying in bed. And I’ve finally, late in life, figured out that if I write it down immediately, or turn it into a voice note on my phone, it can be worth something. Otherwise it’s just me talking to myself. I do my actual physical writing in the evenings after dinner, and weekends, and at work when I’ve got nothing else pressing.

    I don’t write full-time because I’m not sure what that would entail, what exactly I’d be writing. If I had a strong sense of that I’d be tempted to jump, but as it is this suits me fine for now.

  22. I write full time, usually more than 50 hours a week, and work just enough to cover bare essentials–at home for the clients who pay the most and complain the least. A day off is a luxury. A vacation–what’s a vacation? My only regret is not doing it ten years earlier because yeah, it’s tough to think what I might have done with an additional few million words under my belt. But all there is to do is keep at it.

  23. I think about writing far more than I actually write, all the time, including when I should be thinking about my ‘real’ job. That job takes up about 60 hours a week, when all I really want to do is write. I don’t fear writing, or worry about whether I will become a successful writer, but unfortunately I need to make a living at something else before that happens, or while it is happening.

    I could be very happy writing full-time, all day, and would have no problem filling those hours with the process: research, outlining and actual writing. I would revel in it, know I’d found my bliss, feel blessed and have no doubt that is what I was meant to be doing. Why aren’t I doing that now? Finances, based on prior lifetime choices, and being the only provider for a family. I will find a way to change it. I’ve never put myself first. Putting myself first has always sounded too selfish, but if not now, when?

  24. I write occasionally. With my coffee and Danish in the morning, I sit at my desk and watch all the workers rushing off to their jobs, the kids embarking on the school bus and the dog walkers stopping at my mailbox to make K-9 deposits.
    Writing is such a simple and pleasurable pastime I would hate to make it a job with critiques, rejections and deadlines. I write… I don’t publish.

  25. I subscribe to the lifestyle suggested by Hugh MacLeod in “Ignore Everybody and 39 Keys to Creativity.” I work for six months and then take time off and write. I like to work and be part of the herd, and then take time to write and be a lone wolf. Both lifestyles are great, and both suck. When I’m working I start to hate group mentality and organizational politics. When I’m writing I start to hate myself. I love bonding with the people I work with (production is very bonding), and I love being alone. There’s no answer. It’s all hard. It’s all good. I’m grateful to be able to make a living, and to write. Someday I’d like to merge the two, but this works for now.

  26. Mornings when I’m being good. Sporatic weekends and afternoons when I’m not. I’ll write full time as soon as I can find a way to get paid for it.

  27. After I sweat a little, have some caffeine and before my day job and the chatter of the world sucks every little bit of juice from me.

    Today, I got in an extra hour at the page because I fired a client and felt empowered and entitled, which is to say, I grew a pair and let the work-divorce fantasy spill into onto the nectar of my day.

    I flirt with writing full time, but my self-punishing, martyresque ways are continually plotting their sabotage schemes.

  28. I wrote on my first novel, which I think is beautiful and redemptive piece almost every day from 4am util I had to go to work at 7am. On weekends I woke up at 6am and wrote until I got sick of putting word in the computer. which was usally by 12.

    I kept my day job because frankly I would have starved trying to be a full time writer . Would still starve now even with a book out there.

    I’m on the same schedual to write the next book only i take some time to help market the first book. it’s working for me so far.

  29. I wish I wrote, but can’t, while walking. Some people space out and are able to sort out the knots. But I can’t focus with trees, flowers, dogs and garden gnomes demanding my attention.
    Any hints on how to use this time creatively?

    • I don’t really write while walking and gardening as much as I allow all the facts and research and sentences and quotes to tumble around in my head on gentle cycle, and somehow, even in that “idle” time, things settle, and when I finally sit down at the computer, the orphaned socks have come together into pairs.

  30. It’s good to begin writing just before yoga class so that I can convince myself that I’m getting such great work done that I should keep at it and skip class.

    In other words, writing is best when it’s done instead of something else.

    If I *have* to write, well, then housework starts to look appealing.

  31. Darn. This post scared me yesterday, and here it is again today. It scared me because I had just the day before made another one of my resolutions to write every morning, which scared me into not sleeping well and getting up so late that I couldn’t justify it. Then I read this post and it scared me, cuz this is what I do all the time, self-sabotage I guess they call it, and after repeating a few rounds of “If not now, when?” I sat down and wrote 10 pages. (My goal is ever only three, handwritten, to keep me away from the seductions of the Google.) This morning I woke up afraid I wouldn’t be able to keep up this terrific momentum but I’ve had an idea for what happens next, and after I finish this cup of coffee I’ll go write it down. But if this post is still here tomorrow I’m going to be really creeped out.

  32. I don’t write full time because I’ve rearranged my whole world so that I can.

  33. I write a weekly column for a chain of driveway newspapers. They pay me a few bucks, and it lets me kid myself that I’m a “real” writer.

    I don’t write fulltime because I dont need the income, for now. I sold my house for a bundle a few years back, and now I’m coasting. I’m very old, so I’ll probably croak before my nest egg runs out.
    I’ve started a dozen or more novels, before running out of gas. Early on, I bought into Samuel Johnson’s idea that only blockheads write for anything except money. Now I wish I could write for the joy of writing. Is such an epiphany likely to happen to me? Seems unlikely. But I have no complaints. I chose journalism and p.r. to avoid heavy lifting, and succeeded. I enjoy Betsy’s blogs.
    My sweetheart (age 74) is a writer. Women writers are sexy.

  34. I need the stimulation, income and human contact of the outside world. I was always ambivalent about not writing creatively full time, but then one of your posts changed that.

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