An Experiment in Life as a Dayjobless Writer

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.

Well, WTF?

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.

All day.

But there was this, at least. The New Year rolling in with a rainbow can only be a good omen.

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?


About hawleywood40

Writer, Steelers Fan in Baltimore, Frequent Visitor to the Shot Fairy
This entry was posted in Creativity, Goal-Setting, Personal Development Mumbo-Jumbo Stuff, Work, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to An Experiment in Life as a Dayjobless Writer

  1. Marcia says:

    Great experiment, but you’re right, it wasn’t long enough to give you a complete picture. When i was working, i was so drained at the end of the day and had ‘chores’ to do each evening, so i wouldn’t have written then. I probably would have tried writing on the weekends only. As a non-working writer, discipline is crucial but something I struggle with. Just before I retired, I thought YAY! I can do anything I want any time! The first 6 months I did nothing of value, then I began writing. For a year, I tended to sit at my computer and do whatever was there to do. media, get the blog set up, more social media, lots more social media, research, buy craft books, etc. Since then a year has gone by and I’ve spent a lot of time learning but had no real structure for 6 months. The past 6 months I self-impose structure. This is my job. When my hubs sees me heading upstairs, he says ‘going to work?’ Yup. That’s what it is.
    If I get up on time (and I’ve found I have to set my alarm like in the working days), I exercise before breakfast, have a leisurely breakfast with hubby, head upstairs and tackle the email inbox for about an hour-reading blogs, commenting, responding to my own blog’s comments, etc. Then I allow 4 hours for writing–halfway through I have a quick lunch. I quit about 6pm, make dinner and hang with hubs for a couple of hours. Then I head back to my office for end-of-the-day social media.. I give myself an hour before sleep to read. The days that nothing interrupts that schedule are awesome. I’m still trying to make it better. i find I feel the need to work like this on the weekends, too. I’m not getting enough done during the week (blog posts and socia networking and exercising) So I leave little time for sharing the cleaning with hubs. he ends up grocery shopping and helping with laundry. If I were sitting at the pub with you, we could talk about this all evening and still not come up with a perfect solution. So, yes, while I have more time to work with you than you, I still have trouble fitting everything in = lack of discipline. If you worked part-time and treated your afternoons as a second job – that of writing- it might work. But you’d still struggle with the distractions. If we went to live in a monastery in solitude we could could probably get a novel written in no time, except for occasional distration of the random spider spinning a web. Good luck, Pam! (Sorry this so long)

    • hawleywood40 says:

      Marcia, I loved your response! I think that like you, it would probably take me a while to first just get the YAY-FREEDOM!! out of my system and then settle into a routine that worked best for me. You schedule sounds pretty ideal to me and you are definitely treating it as a full-time job. I think I’d like living and writing in that monastary all week and then come home to play on the weekends : ). Hopefully we will get to have that pub conversation one day. We might not come up with all the answers, but we’d sure have fun!

  2. I’m a working writer with significant amounts of time off (work in an elementary school), and it is just as easy to not get writing done when I’m not working as when I am. It’s for that reason I subscribe to the “write 15 min. every day” point of view. If I get started, I often will write more. If I don’t get started, I’m tackling dust bunnies, too. Plus, 15 minutes every day adds up to more over a year than if I try to binge-write on the weekends! It’s tough, for sure. I think you made a good point, though, that it has to be something you discipline yourself to do, no matter what’s going on around you!

    • hawleywood40 says:

      I like the idea of 15-minutes a day approach, Lara! I adopted the “500 words a day” (4-5 times a week) approach in the New Year and so far it has really been working well for me. I enjoy binge-writing but find that my writing itself is so much better if completed in smaller chunks. My “500” a day almost never stops at 500, but having that as the goal in mind gets me in my seat and going because I don’t feel overwhelmed.

  3. lynnstewart says:

    It’s pretty amazing how much this blog post resonates! I am in a lucky position at the moment where I don’t work as many hours as 40 a week and so I can concentrate more on writing, but the worry of not having enough money to live on means that I am not making the most of the writing time I do have at my disposal. I am currently looking for work that will give more hours and money, and I am hoping that this will make me feel secure enough in my free time to be able to concentrate more on writing and writing well than I do now. Whether this works or not I will have to see. I would eventually like to do writing full-time but whether this will be a viable option at some point in the future, we shall wait and see. But, like you, I will have to find some more self-discipline from somewhere and stop worrying so much!

    • hawleywood40 says:

      Hi Lynn! I so agree that stressing over money can be just as bad or worse for writer’s block than working too much. I’m on that quest for making writing the way I earn a full-time living too, but like you I need to make sure I’m financially secure in the meantime. Some writers do great work when worried and angst-ridden, but I’m not one of them : ). I hope you find work that will give you the financial security you need and still leave you with time and energy for writing – thank you for coming by!

      • Lynn Stewart says:

        You’re so right! At least I know what I’m aiming for. I enjoy reading about other people’s experiences, I always find it helpful to know other people are going through similar things.
        This blog is great for that, so I look forward to more! Thank you. 🙂

      • hawleywood40 says:

        Thanks Lynn – I look forward to getting to know your blog better too!

  4. Aine Greaney says:

    Interesting discussion. Like Lynn, I also found that worrying about money was actually way more distracting than actually working. I also found that the more time I had, the less I actually got done. All this said, I would love an extra day per week to write, but feel pretty lucky to have a four-day-per-week work schedule.

    • hawleywood40 says:

      A 4-day per week schedule does sound awesome, Aine! I’d definitely fall into the “I have all the time in the world” trap if I didn’t have other obligations, but I would love more time for writing. Guess it is all about finding the perfect balance. I’d even take being able to work at home more to turn the time spent getting ready and commuting into time at the keyboard : ).

  5. Well, when I’m at home, the toilets call to be scrubbed and my twenty-two year old daughter is always babbling. So I usually end up at Starbucks to write lately. So I know what you mean.


    • hawleywood40 says:

      LOL Shelly! Yes, the constant babble part would send me off to some other location too! One good thing about my workspace is that I can close the door at lunchtime and squeeze in some quiet writing time.

  6. I keep looking for my round tuit!

  7. I know there are authors who write 8-12 hours a day, but I’m not one of them. I have to split it up into 2 to 3 hour stints (this includes social media too). Otherwise, my mind goes numb and my body feels like it’s 100 years old. I use the in-between time to straighten up the house, run errands, and as of 2012, working out. I admire anyone who can hold down a full time job and still write a novel. I’m lucky that I don’t have to.

    • hawleywood40 says:

      I could hit the lotto and be a mega-millionaire and never be one of those 8-12 hours folks. Or if I did, I’d have to spend twice as much time on editing. I find what I write during the first hour or two on a longer stint is crisp, clear and solid. Anything after that always ends up getting cut up or tossed and rewritten when I come back to it with a fresh eye.

  8. T. R. Kolbe says:

    I am lucky enough to be a dayjobless writer and I do find it very difficult to sit down and write sometimes. In addition to writing, there are so many things I like to do–reading, running, yoga, walks with the dogs. I can spend a whole day reading and not even realize it until it starts to get dark out. And then there is the time that gets sucked up by the internet. This time of year is especially hard because it’s cooler outside and not as windy as it is in the spring/summer, so I prefer to be outside. My husband also works from home and that can be a huge distraction. If he takes time off of work, I basically take time off from writing because I can’t seem to get anything done if he’s not working. Maybe if I were more disciplined it would help.

    • hawleywood40 says:

      I experience some of the same distractions as you do on my weekends or days off. I can lose myself in a book for hours, and since I’m cooped up in offices and conference rooms all week I’m always anxious to spend at least some of my off-time outside. I’m trying to make myself a more mobile writer with a laptop so that I can at least take advantage of sunshine AND writing time when I’m not in the daily grind. I think if I ever do get to work-part time or not at all I am going to threaten myself with “if you don’t write at least 2-3 hours a day, I’ll make you get an icky full-time job again!” : ).

  9. I’m retired, so my job is anything I want it to be. Right now, it’s blogging nearly full time, even though I post not nearly as many times per week. Keeping up with everyone else’s blogs is A LOT of work. Writing my own stories that will form the basis of my book keeps me busy for a about three half-days a week. I thought I would have more time for organizing my memoir, fleshing out chapters from prior posts and polishing other posts for short story competitions. NOT! The day vanishes. I also want to quilt. Not doing that either.

    I used to pride myself on time management. Retirement has a way of screwing with organizational skills, in my humble opinion. Doing what I’m doing right now for nearly 100 blogs takes up 50% of my days easy. I may have to rethink the number of blogs I subscribe to in order to get this memoir done. But I love the connection I have with my blogger friends. Whoo boy. It’s a conundrum.

    • hawleywood40 says:

      Lorna, I so feel you on how much time reading and commenting on blogs can take! The thing is, it is also fun and I always learn something, get an idea or laugh when I do bounce around to the list of people I follow or visit frequently. I’ve had to force myself to realize that as long as I’m writing, working and trying to hit the gym regularly I’ll only be able to visit everyone once a week. I try catch up on all the recent posts of my faves when I do but I know I miss awesome things sometimes : (. And I’d say my goal is to keep up with about 20-25 “regular reads” and visits others more sporadically – I can’t imagine keeping up with 100 even if I was retired too!

  10. LOVE your honesty and spunk. I’m a working freelance writer, which poses some challenges as far as the whole balancing routine. But since I work well with deadlines and under pressure, I make sure both remain constant. (LOL) If ever I feel that my fiction writing time is falling to the wayside and no deadline is in sight, I take myself somewhere with no internet, plunk my butt down and write.

    Different strokes certainly work for different writers… Day jobs have never gone over well with my psyche. 😉 I do believe that when we fall our passions and work our tooshies off, the money and stability comes. So far, so good. *all digits crossed* Hope you’ll keep us posted!

    • hawleywood40 says:

      Thanks August! In the past, I’ve occasionally done some freelance writing (mostly web content), for some extra income. During those periods, I didn’t work on my fiction at all. Of course, I was balancing the FT day job and the PT freelancing. But still, as much as I’d like to transition into making freelancing a career so I could at least have more flexibility in my schedule (and waste less time on commutes and makeup : )), I don’t know if I could do it. I think I’m one of those writers who would lose some zing in my fiction if I also wrote other things for a living – I get 2-3 hours of “totally on” creativity a day and then, although I can still write “well,” I don’t hit my own personal mark anymore. I really admire a writer who CAN do both, and have a lot to learn on you how you manage it because I haven’t totally given up moving in that direction : ).

  11. Aurora, HSP says:

    As a true “dayjobless writer,” I can share that my days are spent seeking work. However, in light of what one of the other comments mentioned, I found in my other day jobs over the years, I had nothing left to write nor did I even want to see a computer screen again when the day was done. This time I am trying to find physical work, hopefully helping the elderly live independently as long as they can in their own homes. I think it might be the “right balance” but since I am not there yet, I can only speak the fact that I live in fear a lot of the time. Fear that rent is due yet again, fear that my bills are due another month, fear that I may not find a job soon enough to avoid running out of credits which is thinning rapidly as I write… Still, if it weren’t for writing, I may well have jumped right over the edge long ago. Good for you for trying the experiment, you are one of the most dedicated dayjob writers I’ve ever known, Pam 🙂

    • hawleywood40 says:

      Aurora, I so admire that you continue to write as much and as well as you do with the stresses of looking for work and worrying about money hanging over you! Being a “dayjobbing” writer (especially one who IS on a computer all the time) does make things hard, but I think what you’re dealing with is even harder because of all the uncertainty and constant shifting and change. Your maintain such a bright and forward-looking attitude and I know it will pay off eventually! I think your idea about finding physical work is a great way to strike a balance, and your experiences and the stories you hear working with the eldelry might actually inspire your writing! I know the health care professionals and assistances who have done just that for my grandparents made such a difference in their lives and continue to do so for my Grandmom.

  12. Jess Witkins says:

    I dig your challenge, Hawley. I’m cashing in my last week off of the fiscal year, so here’s to some productive writing on my end too!

    Glad to see you back, friend!

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