Face it: very few writers are able to make a living on writing alone. This fact used to depress me when I heard it in college. How could these brilliant artists have to suffer the indignity of moonlighting as teachers, technical writers, or office assistants? What hope was there for any of us when even serious writers couldn’t make bank?
Now I realize that this is actually encouraging. Writers aren’t some rarefied breed…any of us, even those of us with day jobs, can be writers! We are not all Jonathan Franzen (and thank God for that). Writers don’t all sit in some immaculate home office all day and type from sun up till sun down. Writing isn’t just for the rich…it’s for all of us! Even us working slobs!
Of course, this brings up a question that people sometimes (okay, like two times) ask me: How do you find time for writing when you have a day job?
To be honest, I don’t have a great answer to that one. I constantly feel like I’m not getting enough done. Between my day job, my blog, my freelance writing, and, oh yeah, that book I’m writing, it seems like there’s more work than I can ever possibly do. I feel guilty ever spending a second not working, and my way of dealing with guilt is by wasting time (I didn’t say I made sense). I’m not perfect, but I can tell you what I do to get a decent amount of writing work done while still clocking in at my 9-5 gig everyday.
1. You don’t find time, you make time.
Okay, I know this is a dumb saying, but it’s true. We all have the same 24 hours in a day. You’re not just going to magically stumble on another secret hour you can use to write. You have to make that time yourself. You can do it by waking up early, staying up late, or just spending the time you’d normally spend watching television on writing.
2. You have to sacrifice something (and that’s okay).
I’ll admit, I don’t really understand the concept of balance. If you want to pursue anything creative while you have a day job, your life isn’t going to be balanced. Something has to go. It’s up to you to decide what to jettison. This is going to make me sound like a crazy asocial weirdo, but I have almost no social life, which is great for writing. I have wonderful friends, don’t get me wrong, but I’ve never really enjoyed going out. Typically when I get home from work, I have dinner with my fella, then I get to writing or reading. Every night. It’s not “exciting,” per se, but it’s the life I want. If your social life is super important to you, then find something else you can cut out! Is it TV? Is it sleep (okay, don’t cut out sleep, but think about how much you actually need)? There’s probably something taking up your precious time that you can cut out.
3. You have to let yourself do it.
I’m my own biggest obstacle. My self-doubt and laziness are always what get in my way, and I know a lot of writers are the same way. It’s impossible to ever get anything done if you don’t admit to yourself that what you’re doing is worth doing. If it’s important to you, then it’s worth doing. It can seem like a waste of time to do something that makes little or no money, but doing what you want to do with your life is never a waste of time.
4. Cut out the distractions. I’m still trying to figure out how to do this one. I don’t watch a lot of TV or go out, but I do have an internet addiction. As I wrote this post, I checked Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. Wasting time isn’t cute, and it’s a struggle for me. One thing that works is using Freedom. Seriously, I can’t recommend it enough. It disables your internet for a predetermined amount of time, meaning you can’t refresh Tumblr or Facebook stalk someone you hate. You have to write. I’m also a fan of writing in a notebook, that way I can’t get distracted by everything else on my computer.
5. Sometimes, you need a break. Okay, I know I said earlier that you need to sacrifice and cut out distractions and blah blah blah. That’s all true. But sometimes, you really do need to go out for drinks with your ladyfriends or watch a movie or make a really elaborate meal. Consuming art, creating things with your hands, or engaging in interesting conversations will only help your work! You need to fill up the well (The Artist’s Life reference alert!) and recharge.
6. Write down the ideas when you have them. Carry a notebook (or use your iPhone) and write down the ideas, phrases, etc. you think of throughout the day. You’ll forget them otherwise. Even if you think you won’t, you will! Personally, I get a lot of inspiration for new pieces when I’m working on something else (it’s weird how the brain works!), but I can’t just drop what I’m doing at my job and start working on writing. So I make a note to myself and come back to it later on when I’m home.
7. Get a ritual. Sara Zarr talked about this a little on her podcast, This Creative Life. Her ritual when she got home from her day job used to be having a glass of wine and a cigarette. It helped her mark the transition from day job to writer. I’m not suggesting your ritual involve cigarettes, but it can help to have something you always do while writing. Lighting a specific candle, drinking coffee, or listening to a certain album or Pandora station can all help. Or maybe putting on the newest Taylor Swift album and listening to it on repeat (that one may be a personal example).
8. Get a job you like or a job that’s easy, but don’t get a job you hate. Nothing will sap your creative energy like a negative work environment. If you wake up dreading work and grumble and complain your way through the day, you probably won’t be super excited or motivated to work when you get home. And if you have bad coworkers, you’ll spend precious energy hating them that could much better directed towards your work. If you have a job you like, you’ll mostly wake up happy(ish), you’ll enjoy yourself during the day (or night), and you’ll come home in a good mood with a good attitude. I love my day job, and I love having a chance to flex different muscles during the day. It doesn’t drain me or depress me, so when I come home, I’m ready to work on something else.
And if you have a job that’s easy, even if you don’t like it all that much, at least it won’t take up a lot of mental space, which will give you time to daydream about writing. And sometimes you’ll even be able to write on the job (but I wouldn’t recommend this for a job you care about! Do this only if you’re at a truly dead end job!).
Obviously, you can’t always help what job you have. You know your work situation better than I do, and you know if this crappy job is truly your only option. But if you’re just hanging onto a bad job because of fear or a sense of obligation and you sense it’s hampering your ability to create, by all means, get out now!
9. Don’t let yourself make any excuses.
So maybe you have a day job. Maybe you’re a mom. Maybe you have two jobs and you’re a mom. It doesn’t matter. Always remember that someone out there who’s busier than you is doing more work than you. That’s a fact I have absolutely no evidence to back up, but I believe it. Excuses just let you give up before you even tried. Even if you only have 15 minutes a day, you need to take that 15 minutes and use it and not complain that you don’t have more. Nothing good ever comes to people who spend their time complaining about all the breaks they don’t have. Sure, maybe you don’t have a trust fund so you can’t just stay home in your yoga pants all day and write, but you know what? Very few people have that. Don’t let yourself make any excuses. None! If you’re reading this and you want to write, you can do it. This is another dumb cliche, but you’re the only one standing in your way.
10. Don’t beat yourself up. None of us are perfect. Some days, you just won’t get that much done. Try not to feel too guilty about it. Start over again tomorrow and get back to work!
What about you guys? How do you manage to write when you have a day job? Let me know in the comments! And as always, feel free to shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you just want to chat.