Mindee Arnett
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What I Wish the Nonwriters in My Life Could Understand

Warning, this is not a happy post. It’s also very personal, something I rarely do online and don’t feel very comfortable with doing.

But it’s also a post I have to write. It’s a weight I need to unload into these words and onto this page. Even if no one else read this, I need to get it out.

It’s no secret to those who know me that one of my biggest wishes is to be able to quit my day job and write full time. Okay, who am I kidding? If I’m being honest and unfiltered, it really is my single biggest desire, even over all the other way more important things I should long for, like a way to heal our shattering nation.

The desire to be unfettered by the daily, and often creatively-draining demands of my day job is one I think about often, even though I try not to. For the record, I have a great day job, and I’m supremely grateful for it. My job is good to me. My employers and coworkers are supportive and giving and wonderful, and nothing in this post is a criticism about any of that. I like my job. I really do.

But I love writing more.

It’s that simple. Writing stories, having them be made into books—that is what fills me up. That’s what satisfies me in a way the day job never could. Writing pays me in a lot more money. And I’m very fortunate that I get to do it at all. I’ve had five books published so far, and I’ve a new series coming. I’m blessed in so many ways

Except for one.

Time.

I live my life in a constant deficit of time. Have you ever not had enough money to pay your bills? You know that sickening, hopeless feeling you get that you’ll never catch up? Never have a reprieve? That’s often what it feels like for me, except with time instead of money. The thing is, I publish and write by choice. It’s a willful commit and sacrifice, and as much as I love it, it can be so so very hard to do both.

Like this past week.

Because keeping my day job isn’t a choice. It’s a requirement. I have to keep it. I need to be able to support my family. At least, I have to for right now. It’s possible in a few years that might change. I’m trying to put myself in a position where I have more choices about my working life, but that times time. (Debt, debt, debt, never enough time). Or maybe I’ll have a book hit big enough that I can afford to quit (and for the record, most writers don’t make enough to support a family on. We just don’t. It’s the nature of the business, and if you’re a writer who has to work, don’t feel like you’re somehow less. You’re not. You’re not, Mindee. You’re not. I swear).

Yet it always feels like less. The thing is, in my life, the writing never gets to come first. The day job does. Always. That’s how it should be, of course. It’s just not how I want it to be. And the thing is, even though I have a day job, I still have the same demands on me as a fulltime writer. I do book events. I market and promote. I have deadlines and edits and everything else. I’ve got huge plans for this upcoming book, and I’m excited about them, and I eagerly want to put time and energy into doing them. But no matter what, those activities will always be second.

Anyway, the point I’m trying to make here, the thing I wish the non writers in my life understood, is how hard it is when I have a week like this past one, where I didn’t get any writing done. At all. I’ve been trying to find a metaphor that works. The best I’ve come up with is this:

Imagine that you were a bird born in a pet shop. You have wings, but you’ve never used them because you’ve lived all your life in a cage. But that’s alright. The cage is comfortable and safe, and for the most part, you’re happy there

But then one day you get out of the cage and learn to fly. You realize you were made to fly. It’s the best thing ever. It’s your heart desire. But because you are a bird born in a pet shop, you’re only allowed to fly for small periods of time. Most days, you can live with that, the couple of minutes you get to soar free are enough to sustain you the rest of the time, enough to hope and to dream that maybe one day there’ll be more time. The cage doesn’t feel so much like a cage if you can escape it for a little while.

But then there are days, and sometimes even whole weeks, where you don’t get to fly at all. Those are the times you resent the cage, when you feel it all around you, closing in and getting smaller by the second, and wish you could be a bird that wasn’t born in a pet shop. That you could be a bird who could fly all the time. Whenever you wanted. Whenever you needed.

There. That’s what it feels like. Fortunately it’s not all the time. Most days, most hours, I’m happy and content, but sometimes I’m not. It’s no one’s fault. No one’s problem to fix or to heal. Really, all that any of us can ask when we’re hurting or struggling is simply for understanding. That’s all.

And I do feel better now, having said it. So long as I get to fly a little, I can keep on living in the cage. Thank you for reading, and for understanding. Happy fun times will be coming back soon. I promise.

In the meantime, I want to leave off with this quote. All my writer friends and readers, this is how you make me feel:

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  1. Lori t
    I completely understand where you're coming from (even though I'm still not a published writer.) A full-time day job takes up so much of our time, and once we're home, it's time for family and pets. Then before you know it, it's late and you're drained. It's extremely hard to find those precious minutes or hours to write after such a long day. And for myself, I've put off getting a Master's because I had to weigh my options: work on my Master's and not write period (because who'd have that kind of extra time?) or write in hopes of getting published. I opted for writing because it's what fills my heart. Sadly, over the past six years of writing, I've accomplished writing three unpublished books (and still no agent), all while people wonder why I didn't just go for the Master's and give up on writing. It's impossible to explain to non-writers. Time; it often seems impossible.
    • Yes, this. It really is such a sacrifice and so much of it is made just on hope. Even for those of us a little bit further down the line on the publishing road. But really, if it fills us there's no choosing any other path. Hang in there!
  2. Wow, this is me, every, every day. I can totally relate! But the simple fact is, I must write to keep my sanity. Like the bird, I need to escape my cage and enter into another world. Very well said!
    • Thank you! And yes, that sense of escape and freedom is so crucial.