Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Pros and Cons of Prose (Or, why I don’t give myself sick days)

See? We were all getting along so well, and then someone came up with THIS subject. Jeffe just explained why, when she’s sick, she allows herself time to recover. I can dig that. I just don’t live by that philosophy.

You say you’re feeling under the weather? Got a case of the sniffles? Maybe, God forbid, a serious case of the flu? Fair enough. If I have the sniffles I’m working through them. Listen, when I blew out my knee and had surgery, I gave myself the day of the surgery off and the next day me and my laptop were working around the Passive Motion Device that was forcing my leg into uncomfortable positions so that I could write away. It’s true that some of what I wrote at that point was…murky…but by and large I wrote every day and worried about cleaning up the messes later. Why? Because I had deadlines. I always have deadlines. I hate missing deadlines, too. Why? Because it’s unprofessional. True, most publishers are wise enough to program in a little time to compensate for the fact that writers (most creative types, really) can be a wee bit unpredictable, but even so, I’d rather work under the assumption that my career is over the first time I screw up their deadlines. I know that, in fact, my career will not be over the first time I screw up. If that were the case I would have lost my career a long time ago. But I still like to make certain I understand how tenuous things are.

Why? For the same reason that I set my alarm clock to go off ten minutes earlier than I really need it to. I like to plan in for fate trying to screw me over. Listen, I’ve worked at Starbucks for almost seven years now and in that time I’ve called in sick a total of four times. Two of those days were because I injured myself on the job. The other two were because I had a stomach bug turning my digestive track into Mount Vesuvius and being more than five feet away from the closest commode was a bad idea. I didn’t write that day, either, believe me, but the exceptions are rare. I work a job where I am on my feet and in constant motion, but I also work at a job where, if I’m feeling a little under the weather, I can crank up the caffeine levels and fake it.

And the reason that I do this is painfully simple at the end of the day. I like having a roof over my head. I’m on my own. No roommates, no significant others, no one to foot the bills for my place but me. If I want to pay my rent, I have to get paid. If I want to get paid, I have to meet my deadlines and keep up with the day job. I’ll do you one better: my day job allows for sick time. I have a pool of personal days I can draw from if I’m forced to call in sick. My publishers do not continue to pay me if I don’t deliver. As much as I would love to say that my publishers will understand and support me through my toughest times, I know that they will not. Oh, it’s possible that they’ll forgive me being behind on a project or two. Certainly they’ll allow an extra day or so, but ultimately, I am going to have to either deliver what I’ve contractually agreed to deliver, or I’m going to be screwing over my editor and very possibly, depending on the mood of the aforementioned editor, my career.

I allow myself days off. About once every other week I give myself permission not to write. Sometimes I take a day trip, sometimes I catch up on all the chores I’ve been ignoring. On rare occasions I might even go crazy and do both. But once that day is done, it’s done. And if I get sick between those days of leisure, I lose the day of leisure. The sick day takes its place. It’s not fun, but I have to be strict with myself about the deadlines because, it’s true. I’m not the most fun to work for. I don’t care how I feel. If I can move and I can type, then I can write. I write for a living. It’s a lovely thing. To me it hardly qualifies as work. You know, until I have to negotiate the next contract or write another damned outline—Have I mentioned how much I hate outlines? I do. They are work, damn it, and I hate them.

At the end of the day, as is often the case with writing and creative endeavors, however, the final decision is you. I don’t like days off. They make me feel like I’m playing hooky. I would rather snuffle my way over to the computer and sit down and start writing. Sometimes my characters might not want me to write when I’m feeling under the weather, however. See, misery loves company and if I’m gonna suffer, there’s a damned good chance the characters I’m working with are going to suffer too. 


  1. You and my husband would get along great. He pretty much has to be dying to take a day off. I think his last sick days were due to what we assume was the swine flu. When I had a paying job, I was like that. Nowadays? :shrug:

  2. I had a headache that just would not go away - for two months straight. So I gave my character that same headache. At least I knew how she FELT! And even though I felt miserable, it never occurred to me NOT to write (and I don't have deadlines - yet). I guess if you like what you're doing, not much is going to stop you.

  3. B.E. And that's the difference, really. I think having the need to pay the bills makes me ignore an occasional minor bug. Bed rest is lovely, really, but has to wait (unless I am truly dropped by a bug and then all bets are off.).
    Stacy: Yep. Nailed it. I am not a kind and loving god as it were. I suffer, so do my characters.