Writing When You Have a Day Job

A lot of people from my generation seem to consider themselves creative in some way. For many of us, the online world of user-friendly blog platforms got us into writing at an early age. I know that for me, both Blogspot and LiveJournal gave me an outlet where I could write about my day and foster friendships based around my writing. And, of course, let’s not forget the writer’s training ground that is fanfiction. But once you leave college and no longer have free time to sit in front of your computer and bang out 15,000 words about the forbidden romance between Hermione Granger and Luna Lovegood, where does that creativity go?

Even more troubling, how do you continue to call yourself a writer when you’re not actually getting any writing done? Even on a good day, “writer” is not an easy job title to hold. Unless you’ve been widely published, it can be difficult to prove that you are a writer. But so many of us write for pleasure, for obscure online publications (lookin’ at you, Persephone!) [Ed Note: The editorial staff wishes to speak to you after school], or are working toward getting published. For those of us who are not, say, Jonathan Franzen or Jennifer Egan, we are almost certain to get odd looks when we say that we are “writers.” But there is one thing you can do that will solidify your position as a writer and validate your status as a writer in the eyes of others. Simply: write!

Oh, but there are only so many hours in the day, I can hear you saying. I feel exactly the same way. But at the start of this year, I looked at my daily life and realized that I was filling those precious few hours with plenty of activities that were not writing. My evenings have been completely free, so why was I using my day job as an excuse for my floundering creativity?

“The day job” is an easy scapegoat for those of us who don’t write as often as we used to or as often as we’d like to. But I refuse to use that excuse anymore. Yes, there are only so many hours in the day, but writers fill those hours with what they’re most passionate about: writing. Here are some tricks that I think might help you use your creativity even while you’re at your day job.

In the office: Let your mind wander during menial tasks.

Let’s say you have some facts and figures that need to be transferred into a spreadsheet. This could be a horribly dull morning, or it could be time used to work out the kinks in the plot of your latest writing project. Besides, we all know your mind wanders anyway while you’re keying in those numbers. Rather than dwelling on what dinner might be that evening or the intricacies of whichever television show you’re currently marathoning, mull over your story. Think about the characters you’ve created and the world that they inhabit. Think about what might happen to them next or what kinds of conflict you can inject into their lives. When you come up with something, jot it down quickly and then get back to your spreadsheet.

In retail: Mine your customers for characters.

So, there’s a grouchy old woman who never fails to come in fifteen minutes before closing with a large order? Change her name and make her the antagonist of your story and no one will be the wiser. Or perhaps you have a kindly, old woman who chats with you as you ring up her milk and eggs. Change her name and make her your character’s mentor or her sweet grandmother. The characters you write about should be realistic and believable, so there’s nothing wrong with borrowing a few attributes from the already colorful characters in your life. Yes, they may be annoying, but the next time Joe chews you out for wearing your name tag upside down, just remember his snivelling attitude for when you’re writing that evening.

General rule #1: Use your evenings well.

When you get home from a day at work, your laptop and television are sure to beckon you to join them on the couch and spend the evening doing nothing. I know that siren call all too well and I’ve given in many times. After all, The L Word is not going to re-watch itself for the sixth time in a row. But if you want to get some writing done, your evenings are a golden opportunity to do so and you have to treat them as such. Watch an episode or two while you eat dinner and put away your laundry, and then tell yourself you can’t watch anything else until you’ve written a paragraph. Just a measly paragraph! Chances are you’ll write past that paragraph and have a far more productive evening than you’d expected. And if not, you at least got a paragraph out of that evening.

General rule #2: Budget writing time on the weekends.

Weekends are just as precious a commodity as evenings are. Here are two, whole days where you’re unencumbered by your day job. Go out with friends, play some games, catch up on your TV shows, but also budget some time in there for writing. Remember, these are two, whole free days. A couple of hours in front of the computer or with your notepad are not going to kill you. And when you start the next work week, you’ll have made some progress on your writing!

I hope these tips and tricks will help you be more productive writers even though you’ve got a day job. I’m still working on establishing a nightly writing routine, so if you have any tricks of your own, I’d love to hear them!

7 replies on “Writing When You Have a Day Job”

Good suggestions. I keep a notebook handy at work — I often have brainstorms or ideas that I’ll need to get down because I’ll forget by the time I get home — and during NaNo I keep a copy of WIP on a thumbdrive with me for quick moments of writing. But after work evenings are just not my time. I’ve more or less had to come to terms with that.

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