What would be more accurate (and it’s something I do sometimes say) is that I have a handful of interrelated part-time jobs.
For two to four hours a day, I write fiction. There’s another one to two hours I spend teaching writing, via the UCLA Writers Extension Program. I review books and write articles about pop culture within the SF/F field (my recent Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch on Tor.com, for example). I sometimes pick up one on one mentoring gigs, helping writers work on completed novel manuscripts.
Part of what makes it possible for me to have this lifestyle, which is rewarding but also a bit catch-as-catch-can where income is concerned, is that I am also the primary homemaker for my two-person family unit. This means cooking, cleaning, and grocery shopping mostly falls to me. (As John Scalzi says, in his brilliant essay about writers and money: “Don’t be a heavy metal bassist.” )
But wait–there’s more! I have one job that amounts to about six hours of week, a counselling-type set-up that has nothing to do with writing. This last job gets me out of the house, gives me a weekly refresher on being available to other human beings… and unlike everything else I do it comes with a small regular paycheque.
Why am I telling you this?
All of these little slivers of my fragmented life have purpose and benefit. I decided to do reviews to ensure that I was exposed, as a reader, to books I might not necessarily choose myself. With that goal in mind, I began as a volunteer reviewer, for Tangent, before moving to read for the site now known as Syfy, for Locus, Strange Horizons, the Internet Review of SF and lately Tor. Reading more widely makes me a better writer. Thinking deeply about the books I read and saying why they’re great, or less than great, benefits my own work.
There’s a similar payback from the teaching: it’s exciting to help new writers, of course, but the learning also goes two ways. I learn an immense amount from my students. Articulating how a work in progress can be made better–communicating the principles of effective storytelling–helps me see those principles in new ways and apply them to my own books.
Taking on multiple roles like this can create a lot of juggling. It takes a good deal of time and mental energy, and I generally work a seven-day week. This is not necessarily a strange thing. If your sole takeaway upon reading this essay is “artists work extremely hard,” you’d be right.
As you construct your own intricate web of paying gigs, important obligations, and writing time, keep an eye on this question: What is your writer brain getting out of book blogging? Your regular volunteer activity? Your crit group? Are you doing too much? Not enough? A little bit of juggling and running around might be a good tradeoff if it enriches the time you spend staring at the screen or blank page, trying to invent characters with depth, irrational-seeming contradictions, and very full lives of their own.
A. M. Dellamonica has recently moved to Toronto, Canada, after 22 years in Vancouver. In addition to writing, she studies yoga and takes thousands of digital photographs. She is a graduate of Clarion West and teaches writing through the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program.
Dellamonica’s first novel, Indigo Springs, won the Sunburst Award for Canadian Literature of the Fantastic. Her most recent book, Child of a Hidden Sea, will be released by Tor Books this month. She is the author of over thirty short stories in a variety of genres: they can be found on Tor.com, Strange Horizons, Lightspeed and in numerous print magazines and anthologies. Her website is at http://alyxdellamonica.com.