Monday, December 31, 2012

Wordcraft -- Resolution IV: do something else

This is the final entry in writing resolutions for 2013. Before you throw in the towel -- or your notebook -- I’m not talking about quitting as a writer, but about doing something in addition to writing.

It’s a topic more than usually on my mind because the adventure classics discussion Wednesday will be about a physician-writer who’s never given up his nonwriting job. Dr. Oliver Sacks is still in active medical practice nearly forty years after his first literary bestseller, Awakenings, turned into a popular film.

In another post (“The importance of being employed,” January 18, 2012) I noted that most writers can’t support themselves solely as writers. After a string of popular and critically-acclaimed books, Dr. Sacks probably could afford to drop his medical career. But he knows the value of having a day job as well.

I considered making a list of all the doctors who maintained practices while writing. Or all the dentists, lawyers, teachers, civil servants, business people and others who continued to write, and write well, while practicing their “day jobs.” But it would fill all the room in all my posts for the coming year.

For now, I’ll just hope you’ll seize all the advantages your day job offers for your writing in the coming year.

I trained and worked for several years as a journalist, then spent nearly twenty-five years of my working life in customer service work because my family needed the regular hours a nonwriting job provided. But even as a journalist I’d never have learned the breadth of information I did as a customer service rep. In the course of talking about their financial issues, callers gave me a wealth of information about their personal lives, ways of speaking and making a living I couldn’t have learned in a lifetime of researching articles.

How else would I have known what it’s like to be a welfare mom, a truck driver, an accountant, a prisoner, an immigrant student? Heard how many dialects there are among Southerners, Midwesterners, New Englanders? Or what it’s like to be very old or disabled?

Since retiring from the bureaucracy of a large government agency with the (fulfilled) intention of writing more, I’ve volunteered at a nonprofit organization that provides therapy through horsemanship. It reconnects me with a love of horses developed from early life on a working cattle ranch. And it’s opened even more possibilities for characters and settings.

For 2013, embrace your “day job,” whatever working hours it entails, for itself and its applications to your writing. And consider volunteering or pursuing a hobby outside of writing. You never know where it may lead.

(Need more -- or different -- writing resolutions? See my previous year’s list, “Resolution 1: subscribe,” “Resolution number 2: Join other writers,” “Resolution 3: Get out there!” and “Resolution 4: Pay it forward,” from 2011.)


I can’t end another year of blogging without acknowledging readers from dozens of countries on six continents who have viewed these posts more than 10,000 times, including the ten brave souls who read my first post in August 2010. Thanks!

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