Tuesday, December 14, 2010

On day jobs and author fantasies

Sunday I got paid to go to a party.

Yesterday I got paid to “show the reporter a good time” (which, sadly, is not as filthy as it sounds) with sightseeing and excellent food.

Today I’m getting paid to do a snowshoe tour in the morning and a beer tasting tour in the afternoon.

There are many things I love about my day job. Managing PR and marketing for the tourism bureau of a city I’m damn glad to live in definitely does not suck.

But it can also be exhausting for someone with a limited capacity for human interaction. People who meet me but don’t know me well are often surprised to learn I’m an introvert. I’m gregarious and high-energy when I need to be, so I’m easily mistaken for an extrovert.

In reality, my true nature runs a little closer to hunkering down with a good book and a glass of wine and snarling at approaching strangers.

Like most authors, I’ve fantasized about being a full-time, stay-at-home writer. I got to try the lifestyle on for size last winter when my former employer laid me off several weeks before my agent landed me this three-book deal. I spent ten months just focusing on the author thing, and you know what?

I was kind of a boring person.

Don’t get me wrong, the arrangement had its perks. There’s a lot to like about wearing yoga pants all day and scratching yourself whenever the urge strikes.

But I found I didn’t manage my time as well as I did when I was working another job. In fact, I was a much slower writer without a day job to force me to budget my time wisely.

Time management aside, there’s something to be said for the way human interaction and new experience can stimulate a writer’s brain. I can sit here at my computer alone all day and struggle to come up with one good idea, but send me out into the world with strangers and deadlines and a mile-long task list, and suddenly I’m brimming with them.

It’s taken awhile for me to reach a point in life where I know precisely how much outside stimulation I need.

(Go ahead, snicker. I’ll wait).

It’s a balance everyone needs to figure out, but I think it’s especially important for writers whose creativity can be ignited or snuffed based on what’s happening around them. For me, working part-time and writing the rest of the time feels just about perfect.

It also helps to have job that sometimes feels like I should be paying them to let me do it.

Are you an introvert or an extrovert? How does that impact your creativity? How much outside stimulation do you require? How many times can I use the word “stimulation” in a blog post without it being sexual?

31 comments :

terripatrick said...

Yep. I'm the ultimate introvert and don't really have a competitive bone in my body. Yet I've been in professional situations and taken the personality profiling tests (like Meyers-Briggs) that show this and everyone is so surprised.

I just want to curl up with a good book by the fire, and cook a good meal to share with friends, and enjoy a bottle of wine, and snuggle into a blanket. A hug is huge to me.

But I'm stellar in business situations and solve shit before it gets big. Since I'm so good at that stuff that benefits others, it's what I SHOULD do, but I just want to snuggle...

Teri Anne Stanley said...

I do much better with a 25 item to-do list than a 2 item list. On the former, I'll get 23 things done. On the later, I'll get 0 done. 2 things left on the list everytime.

Harriett Starr said...

I'm an introvert in the kitchen and an extrovert in the bedroom ;)

lora96 said...

Introversion all the way.

Give me a cozy robe and a book and hot chocolate and I'll stay home forever with my dogs and be the most boring person ever. I love it.

But I'm a good talker--I can explain things to kids in ways they understand and find entertaining. So I do that and teaching keeps me from being a grouchy old hermit. Although I'm looking forward to hermit-ing over holiday break in two weeks!

Sarah W said...

Pausing for a moment to applaud Harriet Starr . . .

I'm a librarian by paid trade, which is a good blend of extro- and introverted. It's also great for research!

I don't know if I'd go stir-crazy or not if I stayed home to write. The point is moot at the moment, as I'm the primary breadwinner and the sole health insurance provider.

Good thing I like my job.

Malin said...

I'm an introvert person, and an extrovert writer. No idea why, but chatting actively to about 3 people on IMs is the best way for me to write.

I completely agree with the part time job. I just need to find one that will pay for my dream farm...

Linda G. said...

Like you, I'm an introvert, though you wouldn't guess it after a night out with me. I'm not shy at all -- I can interact socially with just about anyone. But if I don't get a certain amount of "alone time" (okay, a LOT of alone time), I tend go a little crazy. Which is why it works out so well that TG has a job where he has to work a lot of nights -- he doesn't have to feel guilty about leaving me alone.

adam.purple said...

I did have my doubts, but Typalyzer does peg your blog as being that of an introvert.

Summer Frey said...

Pretty much what Linda said. When I got hurt at work a year and a half ago, it grounded me for the first time ever, and I have to say--I've hated it. I feel bad for all those people who want to be stay-at-home writers, because I'd trade with them in an instant.

I'm finally working on getting back in the career field, but it's still some time off, as I'm going back to school for a new degree. But the promise is there, and it's a siren song.

Matthew Rush said...

I'm generally pretty shy and introverted, but get me in a group of people I know and love, and get me a little tipsy, and I'm a blast! Or so I'm told, I usually can't remember.

Seriously though it sounds like you have an amazing job. Personally I have a soul sucking corporate day job that takes 50 hours of my life every week, that I will never get back, but you do have a point about more focused writing in the little time that is left over.

Patrick Alan said...

I'm an ENFP.

I'm also still snickering. That's because I don't really like Milky Ways.

Laura Maylene said...

I too fantasize about not having a day job and writing full time, but I also know that this would probably backfire on me. I manage my time better when I have to actually *manage* it.

I imagine my schedule as a full-time writer would include 4-hour blocks of time for 1) cookie eating 2) cat petting 3) staring into space and 4) more cookie eating. Not good.

I'm a total introvert. But I also know that I sometimes need that outside interaction, too. I just spent 4 days away from the office, working from home and barely stepping outside, and I started to go crazy.

Leah Petersen said...

I could have written this post. As much as I don't have any ambition in my current field, it's not a bad job and I know I'll always need that structure to my days. Always have.

But I'm also an introvert. Thankfully, my day job doesn't put me out there schmoozing much though, like you, I can totally turn it on when I need it. I'd still rather be alone with my book and my laptop.

The only substitute I've found that seems to work well for me is to take my laptop to the local pub and write there. This helps structure the writing time and also provide some limited interaction with others.

It's just that it involves a lot of beer too...

Tonya Burrows said...

You totally read my mind with this post. I haven't had a job for almost 5 months now. (Nobody's hiring and because I have a B.A. I'm "overqualified" for a minimum wage job. Go fig.) I thought I'd love it--spend all my time in sweats at my computer writing--but I'm discovering my creativity has taken a big hit. I did manage to finish a rewrite I've been working on forever and a day, but now I'm struggling for new plots. I wrote more last winter when I was a full time student & worked 35 hours a week! Don't ask me how.

As much as I hated my last job at a call center, I almost want it back. The whole time I was answering those phones, I was also working on my story in my head. When I got home, I felt recharged & ready to tackle any problem my WIP could throw at me.

I still think I could enjoy the stay-at-home writer life since I'm the definition of introvert.*If*--big if, here--I had the money available to get out of the house once in a while. Yanno, go out with friends, hit up the mall, take some sort of exercise class, etc. But being jobless, I barely have money to pay the bills.

Catherine Stine said...

Good post, as I think a lot of writers struggle to find balance between the isolating necessary to produce fiction, and the interaction with people that a writer needs simply for fun, and also to inspire more storytelling!
I joined a writers' space, where I hear everyone typing around me, and that motivates and fuels me-knowing that we are all in it together. I also teach freshmen lit. I love my students and love talking about good books with them! We just finished Orwell's 1984, for instance.

Sharla said...

Introvert ALL the way. I can suck it up and paste on a smile and plop myself into a social situation, and put on the funny and people think I'm all out there. But I'm cringing the whole time. I went to my first writing conference last year, and I was petrified, but I mingled and stepped outside my "I'm not good enough" box.

LOL...give me a chair and a blankie and my laptop and a notepad and pen...and a book...and I'm a happy girl.

I also got to experience writing full time for a month and a half in the summer after major surgery...and I must be the minority because I LOVED it. I was able to finish my book, and start editing, and it killed me to have to go back to work. I work full time, and come home to a crazy house of people needing me equally full time, and a teenager that isn't driving yet so I'm the taxi. So writing time is hard to come by. Nothing new, I know that describes many of us.

But I could go back to that full-time writing thing in a heartbeat! :)

Melissa Sarno said...

I think I'm all over that place when it comes to how I'm stimulated (it's hard not snicker over the use of the word) Most days I just want to be by myself and not have anyone bother me, but then I crave being with people. However, a large group of people completely freaks me out and I wither away like a dying flower. I'm really awkward in large groups.
I just figured out that I have vacation days leftover at my job that I'll lose before the end of the year, which means I've planned three days of full time writing. Since it takes me a long time to get into the groove when I write, I think this will work well for me, but I don't know if I could stay home alone all the time. We'll see... maybe someday I'll be able to test it out... Have fun this week at your day job! :-)

Nate Wilson said...

Heh heh. You said "stimulation."

I'm much more extroverty than I used to be. And I like to think that I'd manage my time more wisely if I were writing full time. It wouldn't happen, but I like to think that. (And usually when I should be writing instead of thinking.)

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Harley May said...

I'm right on the extravert/intravert line. It doesn't take long for me to get overwhelmed and if I'm going somewhere that recquires a lot of social energy, I have to REST UP.

Great post, Tawna. Funny and insightful as always.

Tere Kirkland said...

I'm exactly the same! I'm extremely introverted but my job forces me to do "the dancing bear routine" as I like to call it.

But as you say, I'm much more productive when I have to squeeze writing into a busy schedule than when I've got all day to write, and much more creative, for sure.

Great post!

Angela Perry said...

Proud INTP! (I love the Myers-Briggs; I've analyzed everyone in my office, although they don't know it.)

I have the dubious pleasure of being married to an extrovert. At home, he's generally mellow and sleepy. Get him around people and he becomes this annoying energy vampire. We've finally come to terms with each other--we drive separate cars to events :)

Jeffe Kennedy said...

I've often thought that if I got to be a full-time writer, I'd get some kind of part-time job, just to get me out of the house. My boss calls me an introvert with extrovert skills - I suspect those skills could become *quite* rusty if unused for long...

abby mumford said...

i'm a well adjusted introvert. i'm quite social and love it, but i have to have my alone time to recharge. if i have too much of one or the other, i become drained or i bounce of the walls of my own mind.

neither is pretty.

Leona said...

Every time I take that M&B people's test, I come out extrovert. Nobody is surprised as I'm vivacious and can socialized if forced to.

What they don't realize, is I am split, usualy like 4/3 when it's the seven part testing system they use. I have to have my alone time. I'm a homebody who likes to have outside contact. Wait, is that the definition of computer geek????

I prefer long hot baths and reading books to partying. I prefer a snuggle home to being out on the town. Yet, my tests usually fall to the extrovert side.

Sigh. I'm so conflicted... LOL Nah, not really. I understand that I'm a nice person who needs recharging in order to be stimulating... pauses for the snickering... waits, yeah, I know, I did it said recharging and stimulating together. Couldn't help it, but I did erase the "whose batteries need recharging before being stimulating" and changed it. *G*

Great post as always.

Deborah said...

I am a self-diagnosed introvert; I prefer to stay home and write. And would I could I would. One day soon, I will.

DA

Jeannie Moon said...

I'm an introvert. I don't mind going out, especially with people I know, but I do admit constant interaction exhausts me.

I work in a school so I interact all day with students, teachers, parents, administrators...sometimes it's all I can do to keep from crawling under my desk and yelling leave me alone!

I'd love to do the full time writer thing. I don't think I'd be boring. I'd be more relaxed, but not boring.

kd easley said...

About eight years ago I got a job that was seasonal. I worked from August until right before Christmas, and January or February until the end of May. I was thrilled. I could write until my fingers turned blue. I would wear out my keyboard, it was heaven on earth. I wrote three short stories and one full length manuscript. I found that without everything else going on, and no pressure to get my writing done, I was able to waste an amazing amount of time on the internet and get a lot of nothing done.

I'm with you Tawna. I need to work and get out amongst the world to keep my creativity flowing. Even though my preference is for a cold beverage, a hot book and a comfy chair.

Queen Mab said...

I am an introvert! I say this with pride...but like you Tawna, I work in a field where interacting with people is a must: Hospitality.
I use it though, people who are living from one hotel to the next crave interaction with others (they don't care who); so I meet a lot of different types of people and use that to create characters.
Plus, every once in a while a story will come to life from one...

Tawna Fenske said...

Wow, love the comments here (and I especially love hearing where everyone falls on the introvert/extrovert spectrum). I'll admit I'm a big geek for personality tests like Myers-Briggs and Strengthsfinder. I'm an INTP, in case you're wondering.

Thanks so much for reading and commenting, guys! It really means a lot to me.

Tawna

Jason said...

I'm an introvert too. I'd much rather stay home with a book than go out, watch the game on TV rather than attend in person. I get enough of the writer-needed fodder just by going to the grocery store. Maybe more on the drive there.