One of the biggest hot button issues among writers–a constant battle for us–seems to be the never-ending and elusive struggle to find a work-life balance and manage our own writing while working a 9-to-5. Granted, some writers work retail or service industry jobs to earn a living and support themselves and, in most cases, their family–not all writers have what is traditionally considered a career in a corporate environment. Many writers have a string of odd jobs and go from temping to semi-permanent positions. The point is, we all have different ways of going about it, but most of us have realized and accepted that it’s unrealistic to expect that our book sales (or projected book sales in the case of yet-to-be-published writers) are going to afford us the ability to quit our full-time jobs and just write for a living. Many writers, especially those who are fortunate to be full-time writers, have pointed out over the years that they are among the lucky few and not the majority, and that writers need to reconcile themselves to the fact that they will need to keep those day jobs.
A few months ago, frustrated with my inability to a) find a set writing time that worked for me and fit into my schedule and get over what I thought had to be the worst case of writer’s block I’ve ever had, and b) choose a consistent place in which to get writing done, I turned to the web for support on other writer blogs and fora, and while I did find helpful articles with some helpful tips, they weren’t things that I could actively implement, so I reacted with much delight when I found out about the book Writer with a Day Job by Aine Greaney, which contains helpful exercises, chapters devoted to tips on if you’re a morning writer as well as if you’re a nighttime writer, and Aine offers actual, implementable solutions both to common quandaries, as well as responses to common excuses that writers make for why they can’t write, including exhaustion, family commitments and obligations, etc.
She also suggests that writers get into the habit of keeping a daily journal, not so much in the sense of “Dear diary, Shirley that biatch in accounting was so rude to me today. Argh!” But more along the lines of “So, I’ve been considering the scene in Chapter 5 when Amanda and Rick uncover the Bateman dossier and make some starting discoveries. What if…” which I think is infinitely useful, and if you’re struggling for ideas or aren’t sure what to write about, she has some prompts for every day of the week. Don’t knock something unless you’ve tried it, basically 😉 And far from being an exercise in navel-gazing, keeping a journal helps writers have a clearer sense of where they’re going in a manuscript. You can also keep a travel journal and dedicate it to the world in which your novel is set, historical details, period costumes, etc. And what better way to get to know your characters more intimately–and write them more convincingly–than to keep a journal writing in their voice?
Far from being a slap-you-on-the-wrist type of writer’s guide, Aine thankfully abstains from the negative reinforcement that many prescriptive writing books dish out to writers, and says writers need to break the pattern of guilting themselves into asking why they couldn’t write for two hours today and instead re-shifting one’s perspective to smaller increments of time.
Now, I’m notorious for hating mornings. I am absolutely not a morning person, and don’t see myself being able to get up earlier to do some writing, but it does make sense to write first thing before the day’s events have had a chance to sully our mental landscape or clutter it with our day-to-day worries, but some view night-time writing as a way to unwind. In fact, Aine suggests that one of the excuses writers give for not wanting to write in the evenings is because they just want to chill out/relax, and she advises that maybe one can incorporate writing as one’s chill out/relaxation phase.
Of course, the biggest component of making a writing/work relationship to function involves sacrifice. Although every single writing publication and writer blog/website routinely shouts at the top of its lungs about how important an online presence is, and being in tune with social media, which I agree with, there’s an extent to which it becomes useful as a promotional tool but with most writers, I find it reaches a point where it becomes a platform not for increasing their book sales but rather a) whining and complaining about rejections, b) whining and complaining about not having enough writing time when perhaps the issue is that the writer needs to realize that by being online and devoting time to this, it’s taking away from their writing time, c) constantly tweeting multiple times a day about how they’ve increased their word count (this is a personal irritant–some writers find it motivating to track their progress in this way, and if it works for them, I say go for it, but if it’s constantly inundating their twitter/Facebook feeds with “look at how productive I am” it becomes a bit bothersome imho), d) posting negative/sarcastic comments, and the list goes on. I do think it’s important for writers to show their personalities online and not just be robots with automated tweets about buying their books, but again, as with most things, there’s a fine balance.
I also recently read this blog post that chronicles the experiences and suggestions of one writer with a day job that I found particularly insightful. Publisher’s Weekly also recently did a piece highlighting writers who never quit their day jobs, which I found to be interesting. I think we need to dispel this romantic notion of “Oh, if only I had the time, and if I had the hours on end that I need to be productive…” Actually, many writers on blog comments have noted that when they were between jobs or for some reason had an opportunity to write full-time for a short stint didn’t get more writing done. In fact, they got less done and procrastinated more. There’s also a need to dispel another romantic notion of the lone wolf writer, furiously scribbling away in a cabin in the woods away from the civilization and brilliantly churning out manuscript after manuscript and not ever doing anything in support of his or her novels, leaving the promotion up to the publisher.
So much has changed in the past twenty years when it comes to author promotion, and most authors have found that due to a lack of publisher support, they’ve had to take their promotion into their own hands whereas it used to be that the publisher would build an author as a brand (for the top-tier writers, anyway). But that’s the subject for a different post 😉
If you are a writer with a day job and you’re at the end of your tether, desperate to find a way to reconcile your work and writing lives, check out the articles I mentioned, and definitely get yourself a copy of Writer with a Day Job.