Writers Have All Kinds of Skills by Sydney Salter

My writing life has become more isolated now that my children are adults - I no longer get that lovely rush of teen gossip and angst hitting at 3PM every day. My longtime writing group dissolved when the sole survivor moved out of state. My mother lives in my basement providing me with sporadic and often strange interactions throughout the day. Think Jane Eyre - with more margaritas and MSNBC. I know this will feed my writing someday, but not when I'm in the thick of it.

I found myself needing something more than a messy WIP to get me through the day.

I needed a side hustle. 

Everyone suggested writing related tasks. I'm good at editing college papers. While I enjoy learning about all kinds of topics, the editing leaves my brain exhausted. Especially if I'm in revision mode in my own work. I tried online tutoring, and loved chatting with my first client, a brilliant little boy who provided me with some of the best conversation I'd had in weeks. But the parent in me wasn't comfortable with the pressure put on this kid by a system of elite private schools and hyper-driven parents. It felt icky to contribute to that sickness in our culture. I also hated begging for jobs. Pick me! Pick me! I get enough rejection as a writer. Teaching English to Chinese children would have combined all of the downsides of online tutoring with a 4AM wakeup time. No thanks! 

I've watched my freelancing friends struggle to find the time - and creative energy - to work on their fiction. Again - writing related tasks seem to interfere too much with the fiction writing I want to do. 

I wanted to feed my creativity, not use it in the same way. 

Writing fiction has given me a unique set of skills, aside from the obvious ability to communicate. I read a lot of psychology to understand my characters. I'm a people watcher. I look for the complexity in a situation. I look for the complexity in people. I can't take sides - my antagonist needs to be just as nuanced as my protagonist. I possess an abundance of empathy. 

It turns out that all those skills make me a good small claims court mediator. 

No one knew what to make of me during mediation training: the children's book writer in the room full of lawyers. I wore colorful clothing. I hammed up our practice scenarios, not afraid of looking silly. I felt like such an imposter, but as a writer that feeling is familiar, if not comfortable. I also realized that my ability to think creatively was an asset. 

I love mediating! 

I get to see people in a raw emotional state. All kinds of people. So many strange disagreements. Helping people feels really great, too. I get to help people save their credit score. Revise the terms of a bad contract. Or save a friendship. Or repair a neighborhood relationship. And sometimes it all collapses in a manner worthy of good fiction.

My side hustle leaves me feeling energized and ready to keep up the often lonely work of telling stories. 


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