How My Day Job Saved My Writing Life

June 6, 2011 | By | 10 Replies More

We don’t all start out as writers. Some of us may not have thought that writing was even an option.

I came late to writing fiction: I was in my forties, thinking of doing an MBA to further my career in telecommunications policy in Geneva, Switzerland. I signed up for one module with the Open University in the UK: Planning and Managing Change and attended a residence course there. At Victoria Station I came across a writing magazine and read it from cover to cover.

The author Sylvia Petter in 2011

Sylvia Petter, the author of Back Burning and stories in anthologies for disaster relief support - for Haiti, Pakistan, Queensland and Japan

Back in Geneva, I thought through all the hours after work it would take to get the MBA, that I’d be 50 by the time I was finished only to have to retire at 60; it wasn’t worth it. I wanted something that I could do till I died. I took out the magazine and began writing a ghost story for a competition. I wrote and wrote, I couldn’t stop. I wanted to know how the story would end. I thought that I now had my answer.

So I stepped out of a career and into my writing life.

The early days, though, were filled with doubt. Did I have the right to write? Could I even regain my mother tongue which was not my mother’s tongue? I spoke French at work, German at home, and conversed in a trilingual mish-mash.

I joined a local writers’ group in Geneva, but the monthly meetings were not enough,  so I went online – those were the pre-web days of the early 90s – and I wrote.

I’d get up two hours earlier, go to work, come home, and write till midnight. Stories poured out of me.

I became so good at collecting rejections that I could even read between the lines. Soon they stopped hurting.

In 2007, I took early retirement. I was free to write.

A collection of stories of mine had just been published by IP, an independent press in Australia. And I had a PhD in Creative Writing at UNSW in Sydney to finish; I’d started it in 2004 with the motive of seeking good feedback on my novel, without realizing that I would have to learn how to write academically for the critical component. So the writing time was eaten up by study and redrafting, and readings and promotional work.

Back Burning by Australian author Sylvia Petter

Australian author, Sylvia Petter's collection, Back Burning

By 2009 we’d been hit by the FiCri (financial crisis) and, going on 60, I went back to work. I now have a part-time job in a university research unit, am surrounded by a team the age of my daughter – all under 30.  For the first time in my life, I am content in a job I can keep until 65. And I get up two hours earlier again and go to bed after midnight – my writing time.

The good thing about getting older is that I don’t need all that sleep  anymore anyway. I don´t need a career. Not even a writing one. I am free to write what and how I please. The odd rejection still comes and I shrug. There’s a whole new world of change out there. Mobile apps for byte-size stories, eBooks, self-publishing, sharing, participating.

Recently, I’ve had stories accepted in a string of charity anthologies where sales proceeds go towards a good cause : 100 Stories for Haiti, 50 Stories for Pakistan, 100 Stories for Queensland and the forthcoming New Sun Rising – Stories for Japan from Books that Help.

I’ve gone back to revising my two novels with the benefit of distance from them. I lead writing workshops here and there.  And I write. I write stories with the pressure of submission deadlines I may or may not meet. I set my own deadlines.

I don’t want writing to become my day job, I want writing to be the life I step into when I enter my “souk”, the name I gave to my writing room, as delightful as a bazaar, my very own “room of my own”. (Editor’s note, see more on this in this interview with Darcie Friesen Hossack on her blog What Looks In.)

The new day job not only helps pay the bills but keeps me in touch  with a younger generation and a new area of interest; it lets me cross-pollinate and play with words, albeit in an editorial context. It also lets me be greedy for my writing time and makes that time so very valuable again.

How does your day job affect your writing life?

Leave a comment for Sylvia and the other readers of this post and share what you liked about it, or what your experience is. Follow Sylvia Peter at Mblobs on Twitter. Visit Sylvia Petter’s website – Subscribe to Sylvia’s Blog. Check out her book – Back  Burning:

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Category: Australian Women Writers

Comments (10)

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  1. Jo Carroll says:

    Sylvia – you are an inspiration to us all!

  2. After 50 yrs in CH & wrting about it, got suddenly kicked out of our swiss flat so jean and I decided to move to Provence for keeps. Wish us luck! Mavis

    • Sylvia says:

      Oh, Mavis! What a shock! And you´ve done so much for CH through your writing about the place and its hidden treasures. Best of luck and a good future in Provence. I´ll email you.

  3. Hey, Mitzi! Thanks for the thumbs up!

  4. Great interview, Sylvia! Write on! <3

  5. Sylvia, thank you so much for posting with us! Really appreciate hearing your story of coming to writing later in life, and reading the passion that you have for it. Your attitude is especially exciting – you sound free and enjoying a life you love.

    Didn’t know about charity anthologies – and you’re in quite a few! We added the links for you, and the added support for those projects. You have such a rich international life with being Australian but living in Austria.

    • And thank you so much for this site and for putting in all those links. Well, I don’t know if I belong anywhere anymore. Maybe I’m just a kangaroo in Austria (despite what they say on the local tourist t-shirts that there are no kangaroos in Austria) or an Austr(al)ian. I’m proud to have work in the charity anthologies – it’s maybe a writer’s way of contributing to relief efforts not only through funds raised but through words that might touch or amuse or provide a different sort of relief.

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