The first time I was able to write with any kind of regularity was my second semester of college. Before, I’d either had only the time to write or the ideas for what to write, never both. That semester, I had a looser class schedule and a story idea that wouldn’t let me ignore it. I stole moments to write it, not really keeping to a strict schedule, but finishing a novel all the same. It wasn’t until my second book, a year later, that I got my act together. I scheduled my classes around my best writing times, electing to keep my mornings free and vowing to get at least 2000 words done before noon.
It became a ritual of sorts, each morning of what remained of my college career. Set up my laptop in the campus coffee shop. Sip a mocha. Write. Repeat. It wasn’t perfect, of course, especially when I would distract myself with my surroundings and eavesdrop on a few too many surrounding conversations, but it worked for me. Then I graduated.
After I left college, a haunting void extended before me. I knew I’d have to find a job soon, something to show for the three and a half years and over $40K spent on my degree. I knew with a job like that I wouldn’t have as much time as I’d like to write. Gone would be the mornings spent with coffee and word documents, and there’d be no more maneuvering my schedule to fit my needs. I resigned myself to the 9-to-5 lifestyle and started thinking about whether I’d rather wake up at 5 a.m. to write or work on my stories into the late night. Oye.
But then a miracle happened. I got a call back from one of the places I’d applied to, a news station with an opening for a night side position. I’d work from 2 in the afternoon to 11 at night, which would leave my mornings free. Seeing as it wouldn’t be too much of an adjustment from my college life (I would often work on homework until nearly midnight each night, so I didn’t balk at the hours), I was glad to be able to continue my writing schedule, uninterrupted.
But there were - and have been - issues. If you know anything about working in news, then you know each day is as unpredictable as where a drop of water will roll off the back of your hand. Some afternoons I’d walk into a quiet newsroom, with not much besides press releases for upcoming events in my inbox. Other days, I’d enter a madhouse of ringing phones, breaking news stories, and surprise trips to crime scenes for on-site reporting. I’m a digital reporter, and in this digital age we live in often our first notice of news is through our phones. As such, “Breaking News” has become my middle name.
Over the year, I’ve dealt with my fair share of crazy stories, from political scandals to severe weather coverage to violent crime reports. I’ve learned the language of police scanner codes and followed criminal cases from the moment the investigation begins to the day the suspect is captured and stands trial. I love it, all of it. I love the fast paced nature of journalism, and I love working on something different each day. And I love that I get paid to read and write news, which is close to what I’d be doing if I wasn’t employed (I write fiction based on news stories). But unpredictability in your working life does not a steady writing life make. I’ve worked late some nights waiting for breaking news information, I’ve come in early to help with election coverage. Severe weather sometimes has me coming in on days I hadn’t expected to work, and I’ve worked through my break time more often than I can count. It’s nothing I didn’t sign up for, but sometimes… it’s a lot.
Still, I persisted. I didn’t let setbacks, well, set me back. Despite sometimes having to work on my off days, coming in early, or working into the early hours of the morning, I managed to finish a full-length novel and start my website, A Writer’s Life For Me, last year. At the beginning of this year, when my work schedule shifted, I adjusted my writing schedule to match and held so much hope for what the coming months would bring. A few weeks ago, I planned out my schedule for the week and I didn’t worry about what the news might bring. I knew better now, how to manage my time, how to take the blips in stride and progress no matter what came my way. I was ready.
The day after I made that week’s plan, I went to work and didn’t leave for 44 hours.
See, I work in news in the South, and I work in news in the South during winter, and if you’ve been following the news you know we’ve been getting hit with some real winter this season, rather than just the occasional thirty degree days followed by spring like conditions. Ice and snow mean something different here than they might in more sane areas of the world, and when those types of weather conditions hit this region, everything pretty much shuts down. Which means first responders, nurses, and journalists are needed until the area thaws out.
After spending nearly two full days taking calls from every home daycare that wanted their closing announced on the six o’clock news, updating the traffic situation across our coverage area, and sleeping on a tiny couch in the station conference room, I have a newfound appreciation for southern heat, regular school schedules, and a shower at my close disposal.
Again, nothing I didn’t sign up for. But whoa.
Adaptation is an important quality to have, no matter what you’re involved in, and that’s what I’ve done. Adapted, constantly. I’ve been playing catch up the past few weeks, and I didn’t finish my January goals, but I’m not discouraged. This is only the first month of what I hope to be a very productive year, and I’m always learning new ways to improve. I write so much at work, maybe it’s time to start incorporating that writing in my own story pursuits. The bottom line is creating a writing life is hard work. Being a writer with a full time job, especially one so unpredictable, is hard work. But it’s what I want, and I’m willing to take the curve balls when I get them, knowing eventually they’ll lead to that home run.