Writers: What To Do About That Pesky Old Day Job

by | Sep 26, 2011 | Uncategorized | 22 comments

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scalesUnless you write a best seller like The Help, you probably need a different kind of help—in making ends meet. This may mean holding a day job that limits your creative writing time to early mornings, nights, weekends, and holidays such as Take Your Novel to Work Day.

But what if the creative writing muse strikes you at work—perhaps just after your boss orders you to submit some silly report ASAP? Well, you can weep at your computer (and watch the salty tears explode your hard drive) or do this:

Keep a notebook in your cubicle for quickly jotting down a line, dialogue fragment, plot point, etc.

Email your thoughts to yourself. Some bosses frown on “the help” using work computers for personal purposes. Others understand that because they often force their downsized staff to stay late and/or take work home, employees should be allowed a few stray minutes for “me” stuff in the office. Heck, for many people the line between job time and personal time has blurred…but you knew that.

Smartphones and iPads. Avoid keyboarding creative writing ideas into your work computer by putting those ideas into the personal wireless device you bring to the office.

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Make your lunch hour a power hour. And work on your book, short story, or poetry during lunch hour! (That is, if you have a lunch hour or lunch half-hour or lunch one-sixtieth of an hour.) Even if you can’t leave your desk while feeding your body, a few minutes of creative writing can feed your soul. And, yes, we at Writer’s Relief know you have so many crumbs in your office keyboard that they were counted in the 2010 Census.

Commune with your muse on your commute. If you take a bus or train to the office, and you’re not squashed like a briefcase-toting sardine, work on your writing—whether you’re using a laptop, a smartphone, or the margins of an old-fashioned newspaper (check Merriam-Webster.com for the definition of that last thing). If you’re driving, you can always do some brainstorming with yourself. Stash a digital voice recorder next to your seat. Just make sure you keep your eyes on the road.

And last but not least:

Use your day job as fodder for the imagination! If you have to work somewhere for the money rather than the satisfaction, at least allow the office environment to spark ideas for characters, situations, and other content in your creative writing.

 Also, get inspired by observing fellow commuters and diners (if you manage to eat lunch outside your workplace). This social immersion can beat sitting alone at your home computer trying to pluck ideas from your memories, subconscious, and the comic strip you taped to your refrigerator door.

But be careful to heavily disguise and fictionalize your real-life office gleanings before putting them in your novel, story, or poem. Change names, locales, conversations, and $100 bills—if the resulting creation earns you enough money to quit your day job! Read more: How To Write Fiction Based On Real Life.

Until your writing starts to pay off, you’ll need to hold on to your day job. The good news is that for writers “nothing is irrelevant.” Some writers will never make money off their work—but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worthy. Read more: How Much Money Can I Make Writing Poems, Short Stories, Novels, Essays, And Nonfiction Books?

Writer QuestionsQUESTION: Do you have a day job? If so, we’d love to hear about how you juggle that job with your creative writing.

22 Comments

  1. Barnes

    I can’t think about anything while I’m at my day job except my day job. But usually I can pick up where I left off when I get home.

    Reply
  2. Kat

    I keep a notebook and pen in my purse at ALL times. I scrawl in it while I’m driving (while looking at the road, so I have lots of fun deciphering after the fact), I write in it at lunch, I write in it while at my desk if a great thought comes to mind. And the extra bonus is that when I DON’T have any ideas, I flip through it and review all those little notes, and then I can construct something from all those random pieces cuz they’re all in one place.

    Reply
  3. MugRuith1

    Howdy, Writer’s Relievers!

    Historically, I have been a big fan of the Post-it Note. Sometimes, a word — or three — is all I have needed to get back on the train of thought derailed by the necessities of the workplace.

    MugRuith1

    Reply
    • Writers Relief Staff

      Great suggestion, MugRuith1! We don’t know what we’d do without the Post-it!

      Reply
  4. Dave Lieber

    Good suggestions in this story. I just released my latest book, Bad Dad (www.BadDadBook.com) and it was difficult to focus while doing two other jobs (newspaper column and speaker). So I basically did it two ways: Stole long Saturdays, Sundays or holidays and vacation time, too, and also did it in bite-sized chunks, an hour here or there. It was very challenging. But in the end, it paid off. Best thing I ever wrote.

    Reply
  5. Suzette Standring

    A well written piece about trying to write! Definitely a notebook full of inspired lead paragraphs or ideas is valuable. But flesh out those ideas a bit or you will find yourself with jottings like “wonky fishmonger” or “weepy mustache” leaving you, the author, clueless.

    Reply
  6. David

    Some of these suggestions I hadn’t heard before, thanks for the tips. One thing I’ve started doing is establish a private wordpress blog for my eyes only, which I can access from any computer, and which now serves as my writing journal which I can add notes to from home, on my phone or iPad and – yes – even sneakily from work!

    Oh, and Kat: please quit writing and driving. Distracted driving is incredibly dangerous in all forms. If you don’t kill yourself, you could kill someone else.

    Reply
  7. Lisa M. Hase

    Nice list of tips. Practicing using a hand-held recorder while commuting is my latest goal. Now days, I don’t have a regular 9 – 5 job, which makes it easier to slip in 30 minutes of writing here and there without feeling guilty or worried about getting “caught,” but it a took years and years to finally get this schedule, and who knows how long it will last. Now if I could only secure some health insurance…

    Reply
  8. Alma Delia de Lira López

    Hola, muchas gracias por su mensaje, me encantó y creo que lo pensaré muy bien , ya que a mí me gusta escribir situaciones por las que he pasado y también cosas sobre las que imagino y nunca había podido descargar lo que me atrae, no tengo ninguna educación sobre cómo escribir, y más bien diría yo que son relatos y no tienen relevancia pero me gustaría compartirles mis escritos y que alguien más los leyera sin aspirar a ser una grande escritora, sólo por el gusto de ver mis pensamientos impresos y que alguien los lea, gracias y lo tendré muy en cuenta, saludos y felicidades.

    Reply
  9. Kim Stacey

    I loved Suzette’s remarks – “weepy mustache”- what a hoot! Honestly, as a full-time freelance writer, I find that I still have to get up darned early (today it was 3:00 am) to find that truly quiet time to write. Once the phone starts ringing, and client emails are coming in…forget it. Too many distractions. Dave has it right: grab that hour, that half-hour; and BACK UP YOUR FILES! (Yeah; a lesson learned years ago, which I’ve not forgotten.)

    Reply
  10. Pooja Jain

    Hey!! Nicely written tips for working hard………However I have a nice idea……..Divide your lunch hour for your lunches and a power nap…….Just 20-25 minutes of nap will give you enough energy to stay 2 hours extra at night to satisfy your writer’s soul!!!!

    Reply
  11. Bonnie Vanak

    Great tips! I write for Harlequin and I work a demanding day job. I’m a writer for a large international charity and use many of the ideas you suggested. I also have an Alpha Smart that I use to write on long trips in the car (when I’m not driving, lol). The Alpha Smart comes in handy as well for jotting down scenes. Because it’s powered on batteries and more durable than a laptop, I take it to the beach after work and write while my DH combs the sands with his metal detector. It’s a nice way for both of us to relax after work.

    When I travel for the day job to other countries and I get an idea, I’ll jot down a few words in my notebook and flesh out the idea later in my hotel room. I’ve also found a digital tape recorder in my car can prove very handy. I’m considering purchasing voice recognition software so I can translate digital recordings into text.

    Reply
  12. Jodi Aman

    I multitask. Mostly I get inspiration while I am walking and record my thoughts into my ipod right away!

    Reply
  13. Hannah Karena Jones

    I have a super long commute to work and I’ve noticed that my three most recent short stories have been about characters driving. I wish that so much of my job didn’t leak into my writing…

    Reply
  14. Janet Whitehead

    When I worked in a ‘day job’ not of my own making, I used the ’email myself’ method often.. knowing I had an option to put the creative thoughts somewhere actually allowed me to stay at least a little bit in ‘right brain.’ Your post reminded me of a true story: a co-worker was a writer, and spent much of his ‘work’ time actually writing stories. Most of us co-workers didn’t mind.. he was funny, his stories and quips were almost genius and a person couldn’t help but love him. And he seemed to get most of his work done, despite the forays into writing. Then the bosses came down on him and there was to be no personal anything at work. He changed so drastically that now, even 20 years later, there are few people in that workplace that have any use for that once brilliant and funny man. If he ever wrote again we didn’t know about it. Sad but true. And back then, there was no such thing as a coach, nor one who ‘gets’ creatives to help him find his way to still show up to his passion. So.. people.. please use the great tips in this post – the world needs your creative spirit! (smile)

    Reply
    • Writers Relief Staff

      Janet, Thank you so much for sharing this story. A writer who can’t write…we very much could see how a person’s personality could drastically change if writing was taken out of the equation. It breaks the heart.

      Reply
  15. Paul Burns

    I’m a mild mannered REALTOR by day, but by night,… usually still a mild mannered REALTOR! Working 60 hour weeks does cut into the writing time, but, since my time is also my own, I find time whenever and where ever. I always carry a notepad, plus the guts of whatever manuscript I’m working on. Waiting for clients, or mannig an open house is a great opportunity to sneak in a few extra lines. Plus, and it’s a big plus, I make more money selling real estate than bussing tables so it makes a great combination!

    Reply
  16. Bob Koehler

    For a writer, everything is grist for the mill, no matter how banal and ordinary, which is how a day job often seems. Another advantage of a day job is that it eliminates the problem of too much unstructured writing time. I’ve always done better in short, desperate bursts of available time than when I’ve had whole days available to me to write.

    Reply
  17. Jori

    I am a housewife, which sounds like a great job for a writer. It can be, but I need to take advantage of the down time I do have, which is usually in the early afternoons, after making lunch and before the second round of chores and making dinner. (That must be why the stations all have their soaps at that time, which I’d never put together.) Speaking of TV, we don’t have one, which helps tremendously. The other thing that helps is getting out of the house to write, away from the never-ending chores.

    Reply
  18. Rachel Firasek

    This is exactly how I get thhrough my day job and still write 30k every three to four weeks. Great post.

    Reply
  19. Anthony Martin

    I sneak off and write at work, I’ll admit. I keep a little scribble pad (company issue) for the aforementioned fragments that I don’t want to forget. Maybe it’s wrong to take company time for my creative pangs.

    I don’t care.

    –AM

    Reply
  20. Katy

    Whenever I have a thought, despite what time it is, I almost always write them down. The people around me complain about the amount of space my notebooks take up. They also complain when I take a notebook to Christmas rush hour in the store. Hey! You never know when a perfect idea pops up, like a girl gets sucked into a black hole sort of thing, that’s actually someone’s memories…hey. I should write that down! 🙂

    Reply

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