What Have You Sacrificed for Your Writing?

I was talking with a writing friend who pointed to Delany’s writing book, where in part Delany talks about “everything he’s had to sacrifice to become the writer that he is: wealth, health, friends, lovers, etc.” I’m thinking about inserting a little bit about this subject into Booklife while I do the final round of substantial edits this week.

What is sacrifice in this context? What is it you’ve given up? Do you regret giving it up? What won’t you give up for your writing? What have others given up for your writing?

Feel free to post a comment anonymously as necessary.

38 comments on “What Have You Sacrificed for Your Writing?

  1. I thought about this a bit when I first read it in About Writing, and at first my list was long because I really wanted to SUFFER! for my ART!, but then as the list got to the length of a Robert Jordan novel, I had another thought — you know, if I’ve suffered this much, why haven’t I accomplished more? I felt kind of pathetic. I mean, it’s okay to suffer if you’re going to be making deathless contributions to world culture, but what if you’re just going to be Hugo P. Nothingmuch? Of course, I think of myself as the former, but in all likelihood I’m closer to the latter.

    So then I thought: Wait a minute. Aren’t I just making excuses? Am I trying to keep one foot in a vat of self-glory and another in a vat of self-pity?

    Let’s say I hadn’t bided my time until death by writing gazillions of words, most of which no-one will ever read or would ever want to read. Would I have behaved any differently? Would I have been more gregarious, less mercurial? Would I have gone and done all sorts of things for the good of humanity? Would I have tried to be a better friend, lover, countryman? Would I have gotten that job as an investment banker? Would I have been a better NFL quarterback? Would I have stuck to my childhood dream of becoming a coal miner…?

    The people who sacrifice for a writing life (and “sacrifice” needs a lot of context — we’re not firefighters) are people who would otherwise live rather differently. That ain’t me, babe. Writing is the activity best suited to my neuroses.

  2. There are no sacrifices. Only decisions.

  3. Ha! I wasn’t really after sacrifice with a capital “S”, but I do think some people sacrifice more than others. The details are always interesting, I think. Even if it’s a small detail, or a little sacrifice. And I think you’re perhaps being a little cynical or a little blithe, Matt.

  4. JC–Isn’t that a little too easy? You mean to say you never had to give something up to write, and you never regretted giving up something?

  5. Natania says:

    I think writing for me has always come with sacrifice, but it’s never been intentional. I’ve never sat down and said, “I’m going to miss all of _____ to get this draft done.” It’s just part of my process. The problem for me, with writing, is that when I’m toiling at the forge, the rest of the world tends to fade away. Everything becomes very clear, in the context of my story, and I have a very difficult maintaining relationships elsewhere.

    Starting when I was a kid, I used to ignore my friends in the summer. I wanted to write, to draw, to create. School was too difficult for me, and in some ways my school friends reminded me of it. So, I withdrew. In order to create I needed time alone, and summers were the only time I could do that. I remember thinking that my friends must think me odd; I literally ignored phone calls/invitations just to spend time by myself to read, write, and paint.

    It still happens to this day. I have a few, close friends, but I’ve never been a social butterfly, in spite of being extremely outgoing. To write I need lots of time in my head, and sometimes being around other people means a kind of emotional osmosis; I get wrapped up in their worlds instead of my own. Maybe that’s cruel and selfish, but it’s the truth.

    Thankfully I married my best friend (someone who also cherishes quiet alone time!), and I have a handful of patient and respectful friends who put up with my kookiness (and lately making more writer friends helps in this department). I’ve definitely regretted letting the ball drop with some friendships, and I know my writing habits have a great deal to do with that. But it’s also just a part of the way that I function. I don’t know if it’s something I can change; I still pass up beer and movies to stay at home and edit.

  6. You know, I am a strong believer in work/life balance, but being a writer tends to require a day job or some other source of secondary income. And that tends to lead towards writing in “spare time”. Before I was laid off in February (*sigh*), that time came out of evenings with my husband. And it always hurt to lose that time because what if he’d been in a deadly accident the very next day and the last thing I’d said to him was, “Oh, sorry, I don’t have time for us right now–I have to write!”. And I do have precedent for severe regret involving loved ones and sudden accidents and things that were put off being said or done by a single day. So, that was a sacrifice to me. And of course, I turned down a job offer a few weeks after I was laid off. It still makes my chest run a bit tight to think I said no to a steady paycheck. But the job would have involved some very intense travel that would have affected my writing. So, yeah, sacrifice.

    And now I worry about how writing is not supporting my husband and I (short stories don’t pay so hot, heh, and the novel has editing and life to go) and how shifting away from a lucrative programming position to full-time writing is going to hurt our future if something bad/unexpected happens. Because bad things DO happen. You can’t escape them. All you can do is prepare as best as possible and hope to pull through.

    I hate being unprepared. And I hate not supporting myself financially right now. Letting go of that bit of control is super hard. So I’ll consider that a sacrifice as well (I’m a bit anal about being self-supporting after my parents had to declare bankruptcy when I was younger)(at least they let me know in time so I could push extra hard to make sure I secured enough scholarships for my college education)(yay?).

    But even these sacrifices are balanced. I DO pay attention to my loved ones and try to shove all my goals into the timespan alloted me. Because working for the sake of work alone just doesn’t feel right to me. Again, work/life balance.

    So yeah. Not near as much sacrifice as some folk out there, but it’s not really a contest, is it?

    On the regret side of things, I try to regret as little as possible. Some things are impossible not to regret (aforementioned accident involving loved one and the news they never got to hear because of my procrastination), but nothing involving my writing is regrettable yet. Just wait until the bad things happen and I can’t handle them because of my writing choices. Then we’ll see about regret there.


  7. Bad Natania! Never pass up beer for editing! :)

  8. Larry says:

    I feel like such a wuss when reading people’s responses to posts like this. I went the opposite way – I sacrificed my Ph.D History track just to escape from spending those 24-48 hour stretches working on my research papers, trying to learn enough German to be able to read some of Hitler’s speeches in the original, etc. Looking back, not surprised that I burned out on non-fiction writing for 10 years (the time between my MA and writing regular blog entries and reviews), but I wonder if I had read sites like this back in the Era of Netscape if I could have somehow soldiered on through to the other side.

  9. Hey Jeff — thanks for the pushback. :) I’ve certainly made countless decisions about writing (and promoting my writing) that have greatly impacted my life, particularly during the past five years. I have become a homebody of the greatest order, watch very little television, rarely travel to my home state to see family, have worked during every vacation (or more commonly, “staycation”), etc. I don’t know how typical this is of novelists, but I spend nearly all of my free time creating and championing my work in innovative ways. I suspect my life is no longer an avergage one by popular standards.

    I do not regret these decisions, which some might consider sacrifices, because along the way I learned far more about myself as a storyteller, creator and promoter than I would have otherwise; I gained invaluable professional experience; made a great many friends and allies; built a robust and evangelical fan base; and will soon attain my life’s dream of being published and seeing my work in bookstores.

    Perhaps I am myopic in my definition of the word sacrifice and/or decision, and perhaps I’m not as introspective as I should be (or as introspective as you’d like me to be). I simply can’t imagine living my life any other way. I’m hungry to tell tales for a living. A great many of my decisions hinge upon this professional and personal goal.

  10. I think perhaps the word “sacrifice” is too heavily loaded with Alamo-like connotations.

  11. Indeed, Jeff. Perhaps the word “trade-off” might be less — ahem — loaded.

  12. I don’t think the word sacrifice is loaded. Look at these responses. My own would be similar. It boils down to time. Writing=time. Time writing is time spent not doing everything else.

    And time, of course, is the best thing any of us have.

  13. On the most basic level, I’ve traded off thousands of hours to sit before my computer when I could have been outside in the sun, or exercising, or… doing anything else, I suppose. I think if I had poured all those hours into learning the piano, or swimming, or learning a programming language, or anything, I’d have a whole new proficiency. But then the same question would apply to that new ability.

    So in the end, I don’t feel that I’ve sacrificed anything. This is my number one priority. This is what I want to do, such that spending time outside in the sun or whatever would feel like sacrificing my writing, not the other way round. Does that make sense?

  14. This is subsumed into the reading/blogging thing in addition to writing fiction:

    Sleep – training myself to make do with less. I normally need 8 hours but lately 6 hours or even 5 hours is the norm (with power naps within the day).

    Gaming – less time to play RPGs. Even gave up on the midnight-to-morning LAN games because it screws up my sleeping pattern. Deleted most of the time-intensive (Minesweeper’s still installed…) video games in my computer.

    Social Life – not really. I wanna mention it but I didn’t have one to begin with and I don’t think not writing is going to change that.

    Money – been reading significantly much more as of late and those are special orders so if I’m not able to retire by 50, well, I know where all that money went. Then there’s the issue of promoting the books here and mailing them to various people makes a significant dent in my wallet.

  15. Cat Sparks says:

    My art. I opened the cupboard door the other day and was confronted by the sight of all the art materials I no longer use. I still do a bit of graphic design but I’m talking about the art I used to do for fun and love. I do consider this a sacrifice rather than a trade-off. Writing after work at night and through holidays and weekends — that’s a trade-off, but the art was love and I miss the part of myself that went with it.

  16. Bob Lock says:

    A goat, I read its liver and it said ‘Don’t give up the day job.’

  17. I know I’ve lost girlfriends over writing. When I’m really into something on a Saturday morning, I tend to be late Saturday Afternoon, and very distracted and a little grumpy that I’m being dragged away when I’m in the proverbial zone. Still, I blame the fact that most of these women were more boring than a good book, so I don’t really think they count.

    That said, the older I get (and I’m not actually remotely old), and the more experienced I get (Again, not remotely), the more I think the notion of “sacrifice” is a trait of the young writer. Part of maturing as a writer is developing the fine balance between all the things that could fall out of balance at any moment, because many of the things oft’ sacrificed for writing are also necessary components in the creation of quality Art.

    For instance, it is important to go to a bar/cafe and toss a few back with your crew. It may seem like wasted time when you’re on a deadline. But, that larger social connection is the heart and soul of human creativity. Many young writers – I know I did this – go nuts at the idea of sitting in a bar, doing nothing but chit chat aimlessly for two or three hours, when you could be writing. These days, I make sure to prioritize this sort of stuff lest I lose touch with the very reason I’m writing. (To impress women in bars! Wait.. No… The love! Yes, the love of humans and humanity and the inherent wonderfulness of being human among humans!)

  18. A big question. For me it’s tricky to speculate because I cannot see the future and I cannot see alternate futures, either. Would I have more money if I’d gone with some kind of office gig? If I’d stuck with illustration? If I’d not been dissuaded and gone on to film school? If I’d played that lottery ticket? If I’d kept my mouth shut during this meeting or that? Truth is, I don’t have that many stories where I, for example, didn’t buy lottery tickets because I stayed home to write. I’ve never missed a wedding for a poetry reading.

    I know I had savings in the bank when I started my full-time career in writing and design and I don’t now. I know that I left a city I love for cities where I continue to feel like an alien. I know I’ll probably never be a jet pilot.

    I know for sure that I’ve sacrificed opportunities by not writing out of fear of not writing well enough.

  19. RN Lee says:

    A lot of days I might otherwise have spent masturbating wistfully over times past.

    Other than that, nothin’. I never intend to. Life is full of enough requiring sacrifice – if I ever feel like I have to do that to write, I’ll quit and find something more fun to do.

  20. Cora says:

    If I wanted to be dramatic, I’d say that I sacrificed having a partner and children for my writing. But the truth is that I decided I did not want children early on, before I began taking my occasional scribbling seriously. As for a relationship, I must admit that I was always worried that a potential partner would not support or even undermine my writing, since I have seen more than one aspiring writer giving up writing as soon as they entered a new relationship. But I’m actually content being single, so it’s not a sacrifice.

    As for time spent socializing, I’m an introvert anyway, so I’m not sure I would be socializing more if I wasn’t writing.

    Regarding for actual sacrifices, I could probably have gotten my MA degree earlier than I did if I had concentrated less on writing fiction and more on my thesis. And maybe, if I had gotten my degree earlier than I did, I might have a better paying job by now. On the other hand, I might still be stuck with a badly paid job and much less satisfied otherwise.

    Some of my other creative pursuits have taken a backseat to writing. I crochet less than I used to and haven’t quilted in ages. I stopped blogging to concentrate on fiction writing. I also used to belong to a local filmmaker group and stopped going there, but that was as much due to troubles inside the group than to writing.

    One thing I really did give up for writing was playing videogames. I have never been an active gamer anyway, so giving up videogames wasn’t much of a sacrifice. Quite the contrary, it was the least important thing in my life, so I gave it up. I know many writers give up television, but I couldn’t do that, because watching TV helps to fill up the creative well for me.

  21. It’s a bit fluid for me, this sacrificing of things, of time. It takes time to write; alone time. So I give up things that steal away time for writing, or thinking about writing. I’d love to sacrifice my day job, but often it’s a source of ideas about human behavior and dialogue and (besides sleep) it’s a time for story fermentation. So I watch very little television, I don’t go to the movie theater much (there was a time I saw everything), I do not play computer games and I’m not out to start a relationship (I’m divorced and my children are young adults), mostly to avoid the drama that tends to come with that, so I don’t socialize much, except when my oldest son wants to get me out for a pint or two. But look what I get in return: time write or think about writing. Then, there’s all this time needed for reading, which is a great joy to me. So for me, I sacrifice time that I would have just wasted, but it’s fluid; next month I might do things I wouldn’t do this month, or vice versa, depending on how I feel such activities, or what-not, might hamper writing/writing-thought/inspiration/research time.

  22. jeff ford says:

    My good looks.

  23. I don’t feel like i’ve sacrificed, I feel like I’ve only gained. I sat down in about 2002 and thought, fuck it, I’m going to start writing a novel every year or two, and keep writing one until I damn well sell one or die. I’d made one previous attempt in the mid-Nineties, never published, which did at least get me an agent. I was lucky, and the first novel I wrote after making this decision sold and I’ve never looked back. The money from that first deal was enough to pay the deposit on a flat. I’ve published regularly in the years since then, and I’ve been intermittently full-time. If I made any sacrifice, it was an implicit preparedness to sacrifice any other life goal on the altar of professional publication and making at least part of my living as a writer.

    The only sacrifice I can think I made, and it is something of a sacrifice, is any notion of a stable income. My books could fall flat on their collective faces tomorrow. Or people’s tastes may change. Or I may not be sure when my next cheque is due. So I’m always thinking in terms of being prepared for the future financially. With a normal nine to five job you have the security of steady and predictable income, life insurance, a pension, all that jazz. Writers don’t get that. It would be nice to have that, to have that financial security. But I could never live the life i’d need to in order to get it.

  24. I take the J. C. Hutchins viewpoint.

  25. realmcovet says:

    The only thing I think I have “sacrificed” is my thoughts. I’m like an open fucking book to everyone around me now. NOTHING IS SACRED!

  26. Lane says:

    I sacrificed going to shows. Which sucks, because it was just in time for my town to become a decent hub for touring bands I used to have to drive hours to see.

    Oh wait, I didn’t sacrifice that for writing, I sacrificed going to shows for my son.

    My son, then, I sacrificed my firstborn son.

    Wait, that doesn’t seem right…

  27. Terry says:

    If I had the courage to really dedicate myself to writing, to really, really do it, it would be my legal career — the shards of my legal career, really, because I want so much to be doing something other than practicing law that I’ve destroyed myself with depression and anxiety and can no longer practice law full-time anyway. But rather than simply pitch in and write, I just spend all my time beating myself up that I’m not earning what I used to earn practicing law full-time.

    It takes so much courage to write, it seems to me — that and self-discipline, and self-esteem. I still think that authors are some sort of special creatures akin to dragons and knights and fabulous heroes from tales of long ago. I’m practically afraid to talk to you guys at cons. So remember, as you type in your loneliness: there are still those of us out here who think you are magical. And for us, please keep writing.

  28. I sacrificed my writing for food.

    Okay, so I know this is totally going the other way, but, perhaps it will provide a useful contrast.
    There was a time that I wrote at what might be generously called a “professional level”. By that I mean that I’d sold a story. Unfortunately, I sold it to a magazine that promptly ceased publication after complimenting me on my work, but before they could actually publish it. About that same time, I fell into a job in IT. I knew just this side of nothing about IT, so I started to read up on it. And, sadly, I started to go into deeper debt buying, among other things, books on computers to facilitate my “day job”. But, quickly, my day job required longer and longer hours to pay the bills and there was less and less time for writing, which had become quite secondary to paying the bills.

    Now, seventeen years later, my writing is far from the “professional level” that it was and I find myself trying to start over with fiction.
    At this point, I wish I’d sacrificed a little more in the beginning of my writing career, such as it is. Then, it might not hurt so much now to try and flex those unused literary muscles.

    So, to sum up, I sacrificed nothing for my writing, and in the end, mostly sacrificed that.

  29. Mediocrity, man. Mediocrity.

    Seriously, though, this summer I’m putting a 9-5 steady income on the altar to make a go at the scribbling full-time, so if you ask again in a year I may have substantially more to contribute. Ramen City, here I come.

  30. Nick Mamatas says:

    wealth, health, friends, lovers

    Yes, all of those.

  31. I think I sacrificed a goat once, but the memory is quite hazy. It might have been one of those motorized shopping carts.

  32. Bob Lock says:

    As the goat I mentioned above was sacrificed some time ago I thought I’d get an update and therefore sacrificed another last night and once again read its liver. Progress at last! This time it said:

    ‘Eat me with some fava beans and a nice chianti…’

    I really feel I’m getting somewhere now.


  33. Bob, are these goat livers in the public domain or must I have permission to clone them?

  34. Timblynod says:

    My corneas. It’s a terrible thing to be stricken with myopia before you hit puberty. I’m convinced the ancient monks and scribes spent their days stumbling into each other, hapless and lightforsaken.

  35. Bob Lock says:

    Sorry Bill,

    I sautéed them with onions, but you’re welcome to the kidneys (which are nearer to the pubic domain anyway )

  36. Bill Ectric says:

    hehehe…yes, they are.

  37. B. Smith says:

    Money. As a young writer, I can say that writing doesn’t pay. And it pays less at my age the more I write. What the huh.

    I went through college; I could have been something!


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