September 16th, 2018

Writing with a day job

When people tell me their dream is to write a book (something about a writer inspires people to announce this). I generally take an interest and ask what part of the process they are in, but I should know better because if someone is using the word dream they mean “not reality,” and inevitably they say they have not made any attempt to write anything and have no plan to do so. Sometimes that’s not the case but I’m gonna generalize here. The worst example of this conversation was an acquaintance who had her whole book mapped out in her mind, but she never wrote it because she’d “always had to make a living.” This was awful because she said it standing in front of our two desks–we had the same job, and after that conversation we both went back to it. But she knew I’d written a book and was working on another–she knew the job wasn’t preventing me from writing, and yet some cognitive dissonance made her say that to me.

Look, I get it–I have had considerable privilege in my life and that has helped me to free up time and brain space and energy to put into writing. What’s more, everyone is different, and even someone with equivalent opportunity might have different processes that require more or different time or energy or brain space, and not be able to make it work with the slivers and bits of time I have, and that’s totally legit.

But here’s the thing–I think if you really want to write a book, if it’s your actual goal and not just something to say, you should try! I mean hard-core, working seriously, assembling all the bits and slivers of time, sacrificing things you like but not quite as much as writing, and then see where you are. And try for a while, until these things become habit because writing is hard–it won’t feel fun, just like starting a new job or exercising for the first time in a while doesn’t feel fun, and then it’s tempting to say it’s the wrong fit and you should stop, but maybe it’s just new? If you do it for whatever a habit-forming while is for you and it is all drudgery and no gentle euphoria when you look at yesterday’s nice paragraph, ok, yeah, maybe it’s the wrong fit, but then that’s one more thing you know about yourself and your writing process. Here’s some suggestions from me and the many many other writers I know who do the 9-5 thing and write. You’ll be able to strike some out right away–some are not suitable for those with caretaking responsibilities, short attention spans, long commutes, etc., etc. But I bet something at least could work for you–at least worth trying?

  1. What if you brought your notebook on the subway or bus and wrote on your commute? Or your laptop? Or if you jotted things on your phone in the Notes app on your phone and then transcribed…every evening? One evening a week? If you commute by car, what if you tried dictating your words and then transcribed every evening or one evening a week? What if you tried a text-to-speech app–those are easier than dictation if they work for you, though they don’t work for everyone.
  2. What if you ate at your desk and wrote through your lunch hour, either in a notebook or in Google Docs or Dropbox or something else that would allow you to save your work remotely from your work computer? What if you took a walk at lunch and dictated your writing into your phone, or took notes per above?
  3. What if you kept a Word doc minimized on your computer all day and jotted down any cool thoughts or lines that came to through the day, then stayed 15 minutes late to try to synthesize them a bit, then sent the doc to yourself?
  4. What if you stayed an hour late every day to work on an ongoing writing project at your work desk? What if you came in an hour early?
  5. What if you got up an hour early to write before work? Or two hours early? What if you went to bed an hour or two later?
  6. What if you just stopped watching TV? Or even everything except that one super good show?
  7. What if you just cooked one giant thing one day a week and the other days your writing time was the time while the leftovers were reheating? Or what if you found some convenience food you could live with nutrition/cost/packaging-wise and your writing time would be while those were heating?
  8. What if you didn’t go anywhere on vacation but just wrote, and with the money you saved not going anywhere, you could order more takeout and write even more?
  9. What if you applied to a writing residency and that was your vacation?
  10. What if you went to your parents’ house and asked them to cook your meals and be nice to you, and all the rest of the time you were writing in your childhood bedroom and that was your residency/vacation?
  11. What if you gave up a hobby/rec league/book club/volunteer organization and took a writing class instead? Or what if you got together with a writing friend once a week and wrote for two hours and that was your writing class?
  12. What if every night before bed, no matter how late and how tired you were, you opened the document where your story lived and just looked at it and saw if there was anything you could do for it before the day has to come to an end. This one is my current modus operandi, and while it isn’t perfect, doing it always makes me feel better than not doing it.
  13. What if you knocked your hours down to part-time for while and used the former job days as writing days? This is obviously a bigger sacrifice financially and a more permanent one in many cases, but if it works it can be perfect–you’re already in work-mode on those days, so just work on something else.

I do think it’s worth fighting for more ways of making creative work pay in our society–it is so hard to have a job to support your other job. But it can be done and saying only rich people get to write it is the death of having the good and interesting books that I, for one, want to read. So maybe it’s a personal desire to read the books that get written in-between-times that is making me post this. Please try to find the time–look at your day and find one non-life-sustaining thing that you like less than writing, and get me that book!!

3 Responses to “Writing with a day job”

  • Emily Saso says:

    YAS! with this post, RR! Woot woot! “What if you didn’t go anywhere on vacation but just wrote, and with the money you saved not going anywhere, you could order more takeout and write even more?” This is gonna be me come the first two weeks of October. Best. Vacay. Ever.

  • Frederique says:

    This was a very thoughtful thing to write. I’m sure many people will find something useful in there. Just like your 40 at 40 post. You should give advice more. Also, I am not planning to write a book but the whole “give up a vacation to free up your takeout budget” idea is gold.

  • Rebecca says:

    Emily, that sounds like a dream vacation–have a fantastic time and I look forward to reading the result!

    Fred, thank you so much for the encouragement–but watch out or I could start advising ALL THE TIME! Also, YES TAKEOUT! It’s about priorities!!

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So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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