Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Writing With a Day Job

Door Watch update: The door is installed! He was supposed to have been here at 9:30, he called at 11 to say he'd be here in an hour to an hour and a half, and he showed up at 2:20. In addition to ripping out the old rotted doorframe and installing the new door and frame, they also gave the interior a coat of paint and confirmed that the roof repair must have worked because there were no signs of a leak after all the rain last week. However, The Project That Will Not End isn't over yet. The new door didn't come with a doorknob and the old doorknob is rusted through, so he has to get a doorknob and come back this afternoon, and there are a couple of things he needs to do to the water heater to tweak the rather insane configuration in that cabinet. I did get the sense that I'm not the only one he has time issues with. Just after he'd told me that they'd probably finish here in a couple of hours, I overheard him on the phone with someone else saying they'd be wrapping up in 45 minutes and heading over to the next job. That actually turned out to be more accurate than the two hours he told me, but that next person did probably end up waiting longer than anticipated.

After the previous writing post about when to quit the day job, I got some questions about writing with a day job. Most authors do start writing while holding down some other job, since there aren't exactly entry-level novelist jobs and sleeping indoors and eating are important. Here's some advice based on my experiences and what I've learned from other writers. This isn't a one-size-fits-all thing. You need to find what works for you in your life. I never had to hold down a day job, have a family and still have time to write, so I can't really address that other than from what I've observed from friends.

One thing you'll need to become good at is time management. Being more efficient about the things you need to do will help you carve out more writing time. It may help to analyze the way you spend your leisure time to see if there's anything you can painlessly cut out. You probably will have to make some sacrifices to make more time to write, but it's best to start with the time that isn't a sacrifice.

For instance, if you record TV shows and then skip commercials, you can painlessly save nearly 15 minutes out of an hour-long show without having to give up a favorite show. Or there's the time wasted with commuting. When I had a day job, my commute home during rush hour was generally about 40 minutes to an hour for a trip that was about 20-25 minutes at other times of day. I was able to carve out a lot of extra time just by avoiding that rush-hour commute. If I spent half an hour or so in my office writing after work, then I'd get home not much later than if I left at five, without the traffic headache and having produced something. Some days, I could meet my entire writing goal for the day before I left the office, so I could just go home and relax. I suppose you could do the same thing in the morning if you were a morning person -- go to work before rush hour and then spend the time before work starts writing. If you can't do that sort of thing where you work, find a place near your office that's not awful to get to during rush hour, like a coffee shop, library, etc.

Two things you shouldn't sacrifice are sleep and exercise. Studies have shown that you perform better, think more clearly and are more creative when you get at least six hours of sleep a night and get some daily exercise. Spending that time will more than make up for any writing time you lose. A lot of creativity in the subconscious happens while you're asleep, so if you don't sleep enough for that to work, you're missing out on a big part of what your brain can do for you.

Get to know how you work best and take advantage of that. Are you a morning writer or a night writer? Do you work best in quiet solitude or in some kind of chaos or noise? Can you toss off a few sentences whenever you have a spare moment, or do you need to get into a groove to really accomplish anything? I've known people who could write a paragraph or two in random spare moments throughout the day. I don't seem to work well that way, so I tried to cluster things to give myself bigger blocks of time to write. In those random spare moments I might do some brainstorming of what to write later, or I might use that time to get other things out of the way. I found it better to do all my errands on one night and forget about writing that night so that I'd have an uninterrupted block of writing time later that week. I found it worked better to have two to three hours a couple of nights a week than half an hour every night.

It may help to schedule your writing time and take it seriously as an appointment. For me, Friday nights were my writing time, since trying to schedule going out after work was difficult and I could sleep in on Saturday mornings. I'd come home from work, have dinner, watch The X-Files (I had my priorities), then make a pot of tea and write until I couldn't keep my eyes open any longer. While you're at it, schedule the other things you want to do and share that schedule with the people in your life. I've heard from writers with families that this helps because the family feels less neglected if they know when you'll be doing things with them and if they know when a writing session will end.

It may also help to ease into trying to keep a writing schedule instead of diving in head-first and trying to write a novel in a month or two. Start with a night a week and maybe a couple of two-hour blocks on weekends. When that becomes easy, doesn't feel like a sacrifice and you find that you're making progress in that time instead of staring at the computer screen, maybe add a night and increase weekend blocks. Ignore the people who say that to be a real writer you have to write every single day. As long as you're making steady progress and producing something instead of just talking about writing, you're a real writer, whether you write a few minutes a day or do a weekend marathon.

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