Can I write and work too?

They want me to manage this restaurant but I don't see how I can and also be a writer

By Cary Tennis

Published October 1, 2012 12:00AM (EDT)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       (Zach Trenholm/Salon)
(Zach Trenholm/Salon)

Dear Cary,

I'm 25, living in a city I love, working a job I love, and writing. Writing has been my dream more than my passion for most of my life, but I'm good at it and I've finally gotten the discipline to put my butt in the chair every day and bang out a few words. Unfortunately, I'm good at my job, too.

I work in food service in a demi-managerial position (at a recently opened mom-and-pop joint where job titles are a bit of a joke) and am the most reliable and competent person who works there, aside from the owners. It's not hard. I work a schedule I like, I do work I like, I'm not as young as my co-workers and I take what I do seriously. But the owners would love me to do more. What exactly "more" is remains undefined. They've given me multiple raises in the six months since the cafe has opened -- small ones, but a raise is a raise. It's nice to be working somewhere I'm appreciated, making (slightly) more than minimum wage, doing something I love. But.

Writing is what I love, it's what keeps me going. I can't write and manage this cafe. I don't know how to broach this with the owners, who are clearly set on grooming me to take on some of the day-to-day managerial duties from them. Help!

Not All Work Is Created Equal

Dear Not All Work ...

You say you cannot write and manage this cafe. That is not true. You can write and manage this cafe. What is required is a routine. You have to create the time and place to do your writing.

You can do it. I would suggest you start now. Get out a calendar. Look at your work hours. Look at the time that is left where you are not working. Sketch in some hours to write. Try out various hours. See what works. If you are tired after work, you are tired after work. If you are groggy in the morning, you are groggy in the morning. You can still write. It might not be your favorite time but if writing is important to you then you can do it.

One way to build it into your life is to do morning pages as suggested by Julia Cameron, who wrote "The Artist's Way."

If you find you cannot schedule time to write, or you schedule it and then do not follow the schedule, keep at it. Keep trying. If you do it once, congratulate yourself.

Read about time management. My two favorite books about time management are "Time Management From the Inside Out" and "The Lifelong Activist." Find a book about time management that speaks to you and then do what it says. There are also people you can contact who will help you. Find them.

Join a writers group that concentrates on keeping people writing. If it doesn't help you keep writing, stop going to it. If it helps you write, keep going to it. If you don't know if it's helping or not, keep going to it until you find another group and maybe it will start working. Find a group that works. Then keep going to it. Keep writing. Write on the bus. Write in the bathroom. Write in the kitchen. Write on breaks at work.

The most important thing with writing is to do it regularly over a long period of time. The actual time period that you write may be as short as one hour, or even half an hour or 15 minutes or five minutes. The main thing is to build it into your life so you are doing it every day.

Do the arithmetic. If, for instance, you write one short piece twice a week for five years, you will have 500 pieces written. If you write two pages twice a week for five years, you will write over 1,000 pages.

Plus, with the job, you will have lots of material. You can write about your job. Many fiction writers today have never worked in a restaurant. They only know about school. So you have some valuable knowledge.

I say keep the job and keep writing. If you are too tired after work to write, then write before work. If you are tired, do it anyway.

You can do this.

You will have thoughts about why such a plan is not workable. Keep writing when these thoughts come to you. Write about why such a plan is not workable. Write about the thoughts that come to you telling you why you cannot write and also manage the restaurant. Write about a person who writes and also manages a restaurant.

Changes in your life may temporarily derail your writing routine: Losing the space that you regularly write in, interruptions due to vacations, illness, holidays, deaths in the family, etc.  If you write in a favorite cafe and the cafe closes or changes ownership or clientele, or changes the favorite chair or table where you used to sit, or if, for instance, the Mead Paper Co. changes the composition of the stiff cardboard backing on their Mead Five-Star One-Subject spiral-bound notebook or their Mead 100-page Student Lined Composition book, just for instance, you may be temporarily flummoxed. Watch out for these things. For instance, if you happen to write while sitting in the single seat of a certain light rail car made by Boeing and if your local transportation agency were to, say, buy a new fleet of cars made by Breda that does not have this cherished single seat where you could gain just a few minutes of cherished peace every day to and from your boring and despised corporate job which you worked for years because you could find no other job, for instance, just for instance ... you might get thrown off in your writing routine because you are not comfortable writing in your Mead 100-page composition book sitting in a double seat with a passenger to your left because of the fear that your work may be read, plus the fact that the seats are a little too small and so your right elbow is too scrunched in as you try to write toward the bottom of the page, meaning that the good, comfortable feeling you count on to motivate you to keep writing is absent and you are in danger of losing the necessary daily practice ... when things like that happen, you have to recognize that before you stands a grave danger to your soul, and you must adapt.

Things like that happen. It's your job to find a solution.

Over a long period of time, you will get a lot of writing done. You will learn. You will get better. It will work out.

Cary Tennis

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