I’ll admit it. I’m one of those writers. You know the type – maybe you even ARE one too. We plod along at a snail’s pace on our works-in-progress. We bounce from project to project and it takes us forever to finish anything.
Every now and then, we slap our hands to our foreheads and let loose a long, melodramatic sigh.
“If only I didn’t have to work a day job, I’d have that book finished. And another one too,” we say.
OK, I don’t slap my hand to my forehead and go all drama queen. I’m more of the straight-up bitch-and-moan type. But even in what has been the best writing stint of my life, I have fallen time and again on blaming my job for not writing more, better or faster.
That’s not entirely unjustified, of course. When you work 40 – or usually more – hours a week, your time for other things IS limited. And when your job is of the problem-solving variety that lingers in your brain during non-work hours, it zaps even more time and energy. So my excuse does come with a hard-core element of reality.
I’ve heard writers weigh in on both sides of the spectrum. Many, like me, feel their day jobs hamper their writing progress. But others argue that their non-writing work provides a structure and regimen that helps them stick to their schedule and gives them experiences to write about.
I’ve met quite a few people through blogging who started out as day-jobbing writers like me. Over the years, their circumstances changed and they no longer work full-time. They may be moms or dads and/or homemakers with working spouses now. They may have retired or been able to cut back to working part-time. They are living my dream.
The thing is, they write about the same struggles I do. Their battle to carve out enough time or inspiration to write really isn’t that much different than mine.
Since I work at a college, we get the week between Christmas and New Year’s off. This year, I decided to put myself and my excuses to the test. Between December 24th and January 3rd, I didn’t have to go to work. That’s 10 long days of freedom. What better opportunity to pretend, for just a little while, to have the life of a day-jobless writer and see how I did? Would I fare better than my non-or-part-time-working writer friends, and prove that I’d could live my dream if I had the same opportunities?
Here’s out that turned out:
Saturday, December 24th
I kicked off the day by organizing and wrapping the Christmas gifts I hadn’t yet gotten together. I drank gobs of coffee and savored that indescribable sense of relief and freedom that happens when I stare down a meeting-and-work-free week.
At 1 pm, Lee and I tuned into our dualing football games – the Steelers game for me and the Ravens for him. There were big playoff implications, and we were both nervous wrecks. At halftime, it looked like my win was under wraps, so we went up to the pub to watch the second half of his game with friends. Then I went to my parents’ house to spend Christmas Eve with my family.
Sunday, December 25th (Christmas Day)
We went back to my parents’ house for our traditional present-exchange frenzy and ginormous Christmas breakfast. We lingered into the early afternoon, then Lee and I left and headed to my Grandmom’s. We spent some time there chatting and enjoying the holiday together, then headed home and took a deliciously long nap. We woke up refreshed and spent Christmas night watching “Cowboys and Aliens” and “Captain America.”
Monday, December 26th
Other than taking breaks for food and a shower, I wrote all day long. The floodgates were open, and I let the waters flow. I lost track of time and enjoyed myself immensely. Other than a few brief breaks to get some fresh air, I was indoors all day. I never went farther than my own backyard. I went to bed that night feeling on top of the world.
Tuesday, December 27th
In the morning, we went back to the gym and got an extra-long, easy-paced workout in. I took my time really getting back into my gym routine. Then I came home and wrote my heart out for a few hours. After another 5 hours of writing, I still felt good, but also drained. So I jumped in the shower and headed off for girl’s night out at the pub.
Wednesday, December 28th
I slept in quite a bit after staying out late the night before. I grabbed a cup of coffee and sat down to write in the morning, and was distracted by the dustbunnies all over my workstation. So I tackled them. Then I noticed that my ferret Vin Weasel’s cage was a little dingy, so I tackled that too, in addition to clipping his claws. My mini-cleaning frenzy motivated Lee, and before I knew it he was scouring the fridge. So I jumped in and helped him with the rest of the kitchen.
Somehow, we moved on to the kitchen cabinets, and then the bathroom, and then the walls and ceilings in the rest of the house. “A few odds and ends” became a serious cleaning frenzy that lasted all day.
I did no writing that day, but still felt marvelously accomplished as I looked around my sparkling clean home. All those neglected chores hadn’t bugged me when I was at work all the time and barely home to notice the fallout. But in my few days at home, the state of my household had subconsciously bugged me, and having the mess tackled felt good. So I celebrated with downloading Stephen King’s 11/22/63 on my Kindle and curling up for a long winters’ read.
As he has a million times before, SK kept me up long into the night.
Thursday, December 29th
I slept in way too long again. After all, Stephen King and Jake Epping had kept me up even later than my girl’s night out had the night before. When I got myself together, Lee and I headed out for some shopping. Once home, I spent the rest of the afternoon catching up on blogs, dying my hair and researching my upcoming laptop purchase. Then I curled up and hung out with SK and Jake some more while Lee played his new Madden Football game.
Again, I hadn’t written a thing.
Friday, December 30th
First things first, of course. I spent the morning checking in with the Life List Club for our New Year’s Milestone Mania. Then I felt a bit of the writing bug returning, so I bonded with my thoughts and my keyboard for a few hours. Then I curled up on the couch for some more time traveling with Stephen and Jake.
Saturday, December 31st
Wouldn’t you know it? With just 3 days left in my vacation, I woke up with one of those writerly brainstorms. Not the push-comes-to-shove kind you have when you know you’ve got to meet your word count goal or a deadline. I’m talking that full-force, baseball-bat upside the head flash of inspiration. A story. A big story.
I spent all day with it, other than a trip to the gym. When we headed out to the pub to bring in the New Year, I was on top of the world. There is nothing like the feeling of something GOOD grabbing your muse, twirling her around in a happy dance, and saying “Write me … write me NOW!”
Sunday, January 1st
Oh, football, how I curse you for distracting me.
Monday, January 2nd
I spent the morning with my new brainstorm project, writing away. By the afternoon, the reality of “I have to work tomorrow” had set in, and I started to get distracted. Oh, ok, I got bummed. I always told you guys that kids who throw temper tantrums about going back to school have nothing on me. My inner writer and my inner slacker were both a bit peeved about their reign coming to an end. So my creative mojo for the afternoon got eaten by the SulkMonster.
So, how exactly did that all add up? Will I fare better as a writer if I can ever give up day-jobbing, or will I fall into the “I’ve got all the time in the world” trap and accomplish no more than I do now?
First of all, I admit that my experiment is flawed. Having 10 days off when you’re used to spending all your time at a job is NOT the same as not working. There’s so much to catch up on in the realm of both chores and fun. Your mind and body crave rest and relaxation and the chance to savor your freedom in a way they might not if you have more constant flexibility. And as lovely as they are, 10 days off are still not enough time to figure out what routine would work best for you if “this was the rest of your life.”
Still, I did learn quite a bit from the test run.
If I ever get the chance to be a full-time writer, I’m going to have to get better at discipline than I am now. I did write quite a bit more in my time off than I would in an average 10-day stint. But the extra writing didn’t reflect having 40-50 extra hours in my week by a long shot.
The days I went on long writing stints seemed to zap my mojo and lead to me skipping writing on other days. I’m OK with this in my day-jobber’s life. If I spend an entire Saturday at the keyboard and then don’t feel like writing again until Wednesday, who cares? After all, I’m busy at work anyway, and actually got more writing done in one day than I would in an hour here and there during the week.
But if I ever become a full-time writer, I think I will restrict myself to writing 2-3 hours a day, always making sure I am fresh and revitalized for the next stint. I’ll spend the other “working” hours on research and networking.
I also realized that I am not as productive when my closet night owl takes over. If a job doesn’t force me out of a bed at the crack of dawn, I will need to learn to drag my own butt out from under the covers if I don’t want my writing and fitness goals to suffer. I stuck with writing and working out on the days off that I chose to get up early anyway, and slacked off like a fool when I slept in.
Overall, I’ve concluded that I do need structure, deadlines and a certain amount of routine in my life to stick with my goals. But that doesn’t mean I need all the obligations I have now. I would probably flounder, at least for a while, as a writer with nothing but free time on her hands. But I believe I would thrive as a writer who had a part-time job doing something else – preferably the kind of job I could do, then go home and leave behind until my next shift.
For me, I think working 20-30 hours a week would be ideal. It would give me structure, ideas and inspiration without zapping all my time and energy.
I’m not sure how to get there, other than to keep doing what I’m doing and hope it pays off. But I’m glad I did this little experiment anyway. I have a more solid understanding of how and why my non-working writer friends struggle with the same obstacles and issues I battle myself. I know what I’ll need to work on if I ever get the chance.
Besides, if I hadn’t done this experiment, I probably would have spent my whole week off watching chick flicks, hanging out at the pub, reading, and taking naps. It would have been fun while it lasted, but I’d have seriously wanted to kick my own rump for not getting any writing done.
What about you? If you are a working writer, how does your job impact your writing? Do you dream of leaving your current career behind to pursue writing full-time, or do you think doing so would actually hurt your creativity? If you are a full-time or non-working writer, how do you keep yourself on task? If you’ve done both, which works best for you?