Work, Write: How to Nurture Your Writing and Still Get a Paycheck

Working is a reality in my life, and it will be for a very long time. I mean the 9-5 variety, specifically. There’s plenty of other work, too. But that’s the work that takes up the big bulk of my time and my brain. I’ve been working full time and writing for a long while, now. Before it was a traditional job, it was working retail and going to graduate school. Then it was freelancing and raising a baby.

But regardless of what the job title was, the work was there. But so was the writing.

I’ve written before about how you’ve got to change your process sometimes to make things work. Also about how different visual mediums, or social networks, can improve your writing schedule.

Today I’m going to talk about something else, though. In the writing world, we often divorce our day jobs from everything else. It’s #dayjobbery, after all. Not the real us.

But, one of the things I’ve realized the longer I’ve gone on with this double life, is that your daily work matters. And more than yo sometimes think.

I recently left a job I loved after three years. Let me rephrase: I loved my coworkers. Like, big time. But the work was starting to weigh on me. Chip away at my brain matter. So at the end of the day, when I would sit down and write, it felt as if I had nothing left in the way of brain space. The emotion of dealing with customers on social media all day, the constant PR fire drills… personally, it didn’t impact me. I didn’t “take it personally” as so many people ask. But it eroded at me, day by day.

Then, in March, someone reached out from another company. Looking for someone like me. A different industry, a new challenge. After a series of interviews, I said yes.

It was a big, scary thing. I cried most of the first day after I gave my notice. But now, three weeks into the new job, I realize I’m able to leave work at work. I get to listen to audiobooks on my commute, so I’m feeding my writer brain better. I’ve got a deadline on a novella, and edits due soon on a book, and while I’m not making HUGE writing progress (I’m perfectly happy if I get 500 – 1,000 words a day) it’s still progress. And it’s focused progress.

Plus, I feel like I’ve got more patience with my kids. I’m enjoying our routine. Me, the person who hates routine… I’m finding comfort in it on some days. My garden looks lovely. The house is better put together than it’s been in ages.

Work, no matter how you look at it, is an expression of our energy and our lives. We don’t all get the opportunity to work where we want, but there are definitely some ways of putting those boundaries in place and nurturing the writer within.

Here’s some things that have worked for me:

1.) Take regular breaks. I do this in the form of walks. I try to take a ten minute walk in the morning, and then a 20 minute walk in the afternoon. I generally work through lunch (lots of writers work during lunch, but I just can’t ignore the email). Fresh air and blood flow prove to be a great way to let my mind wander. Preferably if there are green things around.

2.) Keep notes. I love my Midori notebook, and when errant ideas come flitting by, that’s where they go. I keep a nice pen in my purse at all times.

3.) Maximize the commute. I’m an audiobook nut. After a long Joe Abercrombie phase, I took a break to read some Ballard (I know, I’m all sunshine and rainbows…) and my commute is kind of the best right now. I cherish that time to focus on a story, and it makes me hate the traffic a little less.

4.) Find your optimal writing time. Obviously, if your schedule is irregular or unpredictable, that means you can’t do this so easily. But I know 10:00 – 11:00pm is my best writing time.

5.) Minimize distractions during writing (especially work ones). Avoid answering emails or checking on work stuff during sacred writing time. Once you start, it’s really hard to avoid doing it in the future. This also counts for social media. I allow myself a glimpse at Twitter or Facebook every half hour. Due to the nature of my writing right now, I’ve got to have an internet connection for research, so I can’t go dark entirely.

6.) Make writing time special. Take it out for a date. I like a glass of red wine and some olives. I sit in my favorite chair. I set my goals up in Scrivener. And I go.

7.) Understand this is your path, and no one else’s. I’m lucky enough to have an amazing writer’s group. I’ve been able to see their failures and triumphs in recent time, right next to mine. But it’s still hard when you’re working your ass off, and someone who’s able to write full time is complaining about spending a whole day and only writing 200 words because they got distracted with a video game. Eff that noise, man. That’s the jealousy monster. Your path is your path alone. Love it, rock it. You be you.

8.) Remember that it’s all connected. Just because you’re at work doesn’t mean you can’t be inspired. The people around you, the work you do, it’s all part of what feeds the writer brain. Expect to be inspired, and you will be.

Above all, my focus is on writing better and smarter. That includes things like outlines an notes, now. It’s not about word count. It’s not about badges or goals or competition. It’s me vs. me. Bigger. Better. Faster. Stronger.

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