“Back” to Work?

Angry bird is angry!

A few months after my oldest child was born, I became a freelance writer. Over the subsequent eight years, I wrote articles late into the night, scheduled phone interviews during nap times, and answered client emails on my Blackberry while my kids played in the sandbox. I got over my paralyzing fear of “networking” and reached out to former co-workers and bosses and others who might have projects for me.

I got to be a pretty damn good freelancer, if I do say so myself. Most years, I’ve managed to bring in nearly the same salary that I was bringing in at my last full-time office gig—if you count the fact that I’m not paying for transportation, dry cleaning, or child care, my family has probably come out ahead.

Meanwhile, I got to keep the parts of my office job that I liked (writing, editing, and researching) while getting rid of the parts that I didn’t (meetings, committees, meetings, departmental budgeting, meetings).

Last fall, my youngest started “all-day” school, meaning that both of my kids are gone for nearly seven hours a day. To me, this means the chance to pursue more and bigger freelance projects, to finally write the novel I’ve always wanted to write, and to spend fewer nights tapping away at the keyboard well into the a.m. hours.

But apparently, to some others, my kids being in school means that it’s time for me to go “back to work.” I’ve been asked this a number of times in the last few months: “When are you going back to work?” “Are you going to get a ‘real job’ now?” One of these queries came from someone whose organization pays me thousands of dollars each year—I’ve written for nearly every division there. And yet I apparently do not have a “real job.”

Here’s what I would like to say to those people (but did not, because see above—thousands of dollars): Writing is not my hobby, dammit. It was my hobby when I was ten, but then I went to college and graduate school to learn more about it. Every job I’ve had since graduation has been a writing job.

And yes, I like writing, but I don’t write for entertainment. I don’t noodle around at it for fun. I sit down each day and write articles and software manuals and press releases and book chapters because that is my job. I’m good at it, and that’s why clients pay me (in some cases, quite well) to do it for them. Just because my office is the kitchen table does not mean that this isn’t real work.

So no, annoying questioners, I’m not going “back to work.” I can’t go back to something I never left.

Photo: Courtesy of ToNToNi, Wikimedia Commons

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7 Comments

Filed under life, writing

7 responses to ““Back” to Work?

  1. Yup. I get it. It’s because writing is “mysterious” and “inspirational” and somehow just happens to a select few. I decided to “be a writer” and people scoffed – apparently you can’t chose. The muse chooses you. Well, nuts to that. With a bit of work I’ve got enough paying gigs in the last few months to be scoff back at the scoffers. Oh – and – if I get something published I’m lucky, or talented…not that I’m a hard worker. :-S

    • Yeah, I don’t know if it’s the freelancing part that people don’t get, or the writing part. Probably a little bit of both.

      One problem, I think, is that writing is one of those things that most people believe that they can just *do* (and most of those people would be wrong). They don’t understand that to be a good writer takes work, just like it does to develop any other skill.

  2. Jon Nilson

    And even more puzzling to non-writers is the fact that we may look like we’re staring out the windown but in that moment we are working!

    But what’s so awful about meetings? :) :)

    • And when we are looking out the window, non-writers may think we’re gazing at a rainbow or some such nonsense waiting for that bolt of inspiration to strike–when what we’re really thinking is, “OK, how am I going to transition from point 1 to point 2 in a way that makes sense, and still squeeze in points 3, 4, and 5 while still meeting my word count?”

  3. Debbie

    There’s a more fundamental question: Why is it anyone’s business what you are doing with your life? Are your kids happy and healthy? Is your family in dire straits? If the answers to those are yes and no (and even if they weren’t) it is no one’s place to tell, ask, coyly question any decision you have made. It so happens that I agree that you are a working mom, and it so happens that so am I, but if I weren’t and you weren’t we wouldn’t be wrong either.

    • Also an excellent point, Debbie. In this case, the two people who have pestered me about this the most are “work until you die” types–they can’t imagine why someone wouldn’t want to work, regardless of circumstances. So since I knew they were coming from that mindset, my annoyance was more with the fact that they apparently don’t consider what I do “work.”

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