Friends, Writing, and a Job

There is an old saying in college, “Academics, sleep, and friends, pick two” that I think applies to being an aspiring screenwriter. Now for me it is “Friends, writing, and a job, pick two.” Think about it, if you find a job that actually pays the rent, even if it is in the entertainment industry, it will necessarily be full time, and you can’t spend much time writing if you are at work all day. But if you choose to spend your evenings writing you are sacrificing any social life, however meager. Then again, if you are spending all of your time writing and hanging out with friends, unless you have a serious trust fund or a relative willing to put you up for the next five years, forget about the shelter thing. And if you have friends and a job and a writing gig, and that job is your writing gig, well, please call me because we need to hang out.

In my experience, my best writing periods have also been my loneliest, the times when I couldn’t find anyone to spend time with. This June in Ann Arbor I spent all day writing, because there were no distractions, of course, I was also living with my mom, which negates the whole “job” thing. Nor did I have any friends in Ann Arbor, but we’ll dismiss that fact to maintain my theory here.

Now that I have three jobs, and I am here trying to pay for an apartment in Los Angeles, I am hard pressed to find any time to write. I have brief snatches of time, but then I get distracted by the internet, a book, or a phone call from my girlfriend (not that I mind that, so please don’t stop calling). I am happy to say that I have friends and a job (I hope writing that doesn’t jinx it) but I don’t have any writing time.

I am one of those writers who needs to get in “the zone,” that means at least three hours in front of the computer staring into space thinking before I am ready to commit words to paper. Three jobs make it hard to find that time. I remember reading James Agee, who said that he did most of his writing in small snatches of time between various things in his life. I wish I could do that, James, but I find my focus is lacking when I am, say, on line at the grocery store. My hands are tied, I need these jobs to pay for things but I need my time to write. Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden that “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation” and I can’t help but imagine he was thinking of all the writers who needed to give up their passion to afford a Boston apartment and a few drinks at the pub each night.

It comes down to this: I either need a wealthy benefactor or a writing job. If you can offer either of these things, please comment on this post. If you can’t, it’s OK to comment, we are in this together, but just know, I may not be able to respond for a couple of days because, you know, well, I have work.

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11 responses to “Friends, Writing, and a Job

  1. Of those three, I had to sacrifice the friends one, probably seeing them once a month, if that. I still follow them on facebook for a bit.

    But writing is paramount, and with my job cutting my hours, even looking for side, freelance writing gigs have become paramount.

    In a way, it’s a good thing. My friends aren’t exactly… encouraging when it comes to writing.

  2. Yes, life happens in threes. You have your job, love life, and social life. These things will never be all equal all the time. As a writer myself, I need no distractions as well. The internet makes me want to check my facebook and my twitter. I think people may be gettinga nnoyed by my constanty updates. It only means that I am having trouble writing. It’s easier to write a funny status update then it is to craft a story. I have always been about taking the easy way out. However, I am learning that hasn’t gotten me where I wanted to be, so it’s time to change plans.
    I used to believe being an artist was about making choices and sacrifices. I am not too sure I believe that anymore.
    Three jobs and trying to write is a tough gig. I wish you well with it.

  3. “phone call from my girlfriend (not that I mind that, so please don’t stop calling)”

    I’m glad that you clarified with a parenthetical note.

  4. It seems to me that trying to “find time” never works — you just have to do all the things you want, and trust that enough time will exist. Also, to me, mental energy is just as important as time. When I worked in the entertainment industry, the jobs were so exhausting that I barely had any brain cells to devote to writing at the end of the day. Now I work in the much calmer and more straightforward environment of a university, and I can get real writing done in the evenings (or even my lunch break).

    This line concerns me: “I am one of those writers who needs to get in “the zone,” that means at least three hours in front of the computer staring into space thinking before I am ready to commit words to paper.”

    I think that’s what you need to work on the most. I used to think that writing time had to be very separate and sacred, and as a result I did less of it. These days, if I have 20 spare minutes, I can do 20 minutes of writing. Obviously it’s preferable to have 2-3 hours to devote, and I try to do that as often as possible — but adding in all those little auxiliary bursts helps enormously.

  5. Nick, I totally agree. I could only write essays in college if I had a whole afternoon blocked off. There are so many distractions! I wish I lived 20 years ago before the internet, cellphones, etc.

    Well, I did live 20 years ago. I was two at the time. I should have written something.

  6. Sometimes I wonder if being so involved (a job, a boyfriend, a dog, friends & family, sports, alumni group) is hampering me. But then I think, I don’t want a life where I can’t have those things. So I have to fit writing in. Don’t get me wrong, I do compromise — part time job instead of full time, don’t see/talk with friends/family as much as I’d like, etc. — but I’m determined to “have it all,” even if I can’t have it all as much as I’d like. 😛

    (Er, to be clear: I agree with your hypothesis. I think if you don’t pick 2, you end up getting fractions of all 3. You know? So maybe I won’t be as good of a writer as I could be? But I think I can still be a decent writer.)

  7. Hey, Kristan, that’s an interesting hypothesis! I never thought you could reduce the “three life factors” into decimals. I think even the saddest and loneliest writers in the world have some sort of social life–thanks to the Internet.

    Present company not included, of course. 🙂

  8. Great post and comments
    I enjoyed this one.
    It is a battle against distraction
    that what it comes down
    to a million ten second to ten minute holidays
    or a few hundred pages
    You make the hardest choices if you avoid the distractions

  9. I know–how lucky am I to get so many perspectives on this? Only on the internet, right?

    Well, we all have our favorite distractions. The only way I get any work done is by disconnecting the internet these days.

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