from the collected notes of Barbara Jean Hicks
On Balance in the Writer’s Life
Author Caroline Hatton posted a great comment on the SCBWI listserve for the California Central Coast chapter last month that I think deserves wider circulation. It’s about balancing a professional non-writing life and a professional writing life, and was written in response to another writer’s concern that a new employer might discover her online writing presence and worry that she was not fully committed to her “day job.” I particularly like the third point Caroline makes; it made me stop to think about my own reasons both for writing and for teaching. What is the common thread that underlies the work I choose to do?
I have three suggestions:
1. Be proud of everything you do because it will move others to respect you for it and to respect everything you do.
3. If possible, figure out a way to describe your two quests to show that they emanate from a common force in your life, as two expressions of the same mission. Help people see that your two careers make sense together, as opposed to your being a jack of all trades and master of none. For example: "Both as a [insert day job] and a children's writer, I want to help people of all ages find the best path for them to navigate through life."
What each employer or publisher primarily cares about is whether you can do the job they need and whether they'll get their money's worth. Do your best to exceed their expectations, and don't give them any reason to feel that they're getting gypped because you're distracted or overcommitted.
I'm a scientist, translator, and children's writer. I do each of these part-time. I do feel like I am the best person for each job I get, and I do my best—as good as or better than anyone else could do. And I receive professional recognition.
After being a scientist all my adult life, at age 39 I began studying children's writing. I didn't want to hide a secret life, but I fretted about what it would do to my reputation and career, so at first I felt defiant ("I'm gonna write for children, so there! Take it or leave it!"). I received all smiles and enchanted looks in return.
Look at other writers who have dual careers: Cris Peterson authors photo-illustrated non-fiction books about dairy cows and other agricultural or food production subjects, and she is a dairy farmer in the Midwest. Marty Crump is a university ecology professor and author of a photo-illustrated non-fiction book about the scientific research process and Komodo dragons.
On the light side, when I googled "authors with day jobs" I found a list of strange day jobs famous authors had before they became famous, including John Steinbeck, who ran a fish hatchery at Lake Tahoe!
Many thanks to Caroline for giving permission to re-post her thoughts here. As proof that her advice to maintain a proud and professional attitude works, as opposed to just being wishful thinking, it's interesting to note that she has been invited as a scientist to give talks at several national and international scientific conferences, and the hosts who introduced her spontaneously mentioned her children's books as deserving of a "Wow!" In addition, a medical foundation recently gave Caroline a Special Recognition Award for her work as a scientist AND children's author AND science career advocate for youth--in other words, for everything she is and does.