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Competing with Myself
Written by
Hope J Lafferty
October 2017
Written by
Hope J Lafferty
October 2017

My biggest challenge as a writer is that I make my living as a writer. Dream come true, right? Yes and no.

I own a writing and editing consulting firm where I specialize in medical and science writing. I also teach writing to nonwriters (scientists, physicians, and engineers) who write for their jobs. I love my work and I've built a profitable business.

I also have had some success as an essayist and have been working on a memoir for the better part of the last decade. I submit pieces to journals and contests as regularly as I can, and I've been fortunate to surround myself with artists from many disciplines (musicians, actors, and of course other writers).

As a business owner, I understand the importance of networking and marketing. As a writer, I know the importance of telling a clear story that people can understand. My main problem lies in how to build a platform that honors both parts of myself. In other words, how do I market both my writing and my business without confusing people?

When I self-published my first book in 2000, the sense in writing circles was that if you were known in the nonfiction/business world (my book was about getting organized), there was little hope that you could crossover into the literary world. This was before e-publishing and blogging really took off, so I'm not sure how this change in landscape has affected this bias. But I've carried this message with me and I'm gun shy. 

My friends and colleagues have weighed in on my dilemma. My business colleagues either have successful nonfiction/business books about their work or think it's cool that anyone can write at all. My artist friends are either publicly aligned with their art (ie, further along in their careers) and/or fund their art with a day job (ie, for a company that doesn't carry their name or in a capacity that doesn't conflict with their art of choice). Everybody's supportive (thank goodness), but I still feel alone.

Plus, I've read everything under the sun about work-life balance. I feel like I'm struggling with life-life balance. Both my work and, uh, my work hold great and equal importance to me, distinguished only by the fact that one pays the bills today. As the principal wage earner of my household, this distinction is not insignificant.

This tension between business owner/writer and artist/writer has plagued me since I went out on my own 6 years ago. This tension has caused me to limit myself on all fronts. I didn't want to have a website for my company because I didn't want that to dwarf my nascent career as an essayist. I didn't want to blog because I didn't want to lose credibility with my medical writing clients. I didn't want to spend time on my own writing because I needed to make a living.

We all have excuses (I don't go to the gym as much as I'd like to either). Last month, I got so sick of equivocating that I placed my chips on the business. But that does not mean that I've stopped betting on my essay and memoir writing. It might be too soon to tell, but as a professional identity, is this trade-off real? Am I hurting my career by having a career?

Let me know if you share the same dilemma. I look forward to your comments.


* This post was originally published in March 2015.

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  • Hope J Lafferty

    Samantha - Managing existential crises seems like part of our job description as writers. And perhaps that's part of the allure. Thanks for weighing in.

  • Samantha Wilson

    How well I understand you.. Life balance is such an important thing that we cannot simply avoid it. I've been struggling with myself for the last 7 years already. And even when I feel like writing, I need some time to reassure myself that it's worth it. Am I a bad writer then?

  • Hope J Lafferty

    It's nice to know we're not alone..

  • Jan Stone

    I find myself reminding myself to be okay w/that particular truth often -- sometimes several times a day. When I'm doing well, it might be only several times a week. In the meantime, I certainly enjoy your musings on it. I'll keep an eye out for you as a friend w/the same affliction ;)

  • Hope J Lafferty

    Jan - What wonderful, thoughtful insight. Embracing the Type A identity---and forgiving myself for both possessing it and denying it---has proven my biggest challenge in recent years. I thought I was so relaxed, until the day my massage therapist told me that all of her clients were Type A. That's why we're all getting massages (duh!). The more I name my truth---that I'm Type A, that I'm conflicted, that I'm restless---the less power it has over me.

    The Competing post came out of many discussions, internal musings, and a lot of consternation. Now that it's out of my head, I've been more productive on all fronts. And to follow your kind suggestion, I also can give myself permission to be less productive if I want. I'm getting okay with all my truths.

    Thanks for your great response.

  • Jan Stone

    I'm not sure there's anything much harder for a woman with passion, ambition and success than that allusive work/life balance. Maybe it's the classic Type-A syndrome: we're not happy unless we're doing our best and giving our all to everything important to us. Even whittling that down to one job, one passion, one family--there isn't enough time in a single day to do all of those to the high standards some expect from themselves. A career is a great place to build credibility and authority for a voice that's valued. I don't know that there's any other choice but to juggle. Maybe you can take a break from your personal writing, but it's as much a part of your life as work and life so you revisit it when you can. A very wise person once told me my personal writing will be far more credible with years and experience behind me--the ingredients of wisdom. Maybe that can give you a comfortable pause. But I bet even when you're not writing for yourself physically, you're doing it in your mind -- consciously or not. Good luck!!!