When Writing Isn’t Your Day Job

When Writing Isn’t Your Day Job

Perhaps one of these days I’ll earn enough money as a novelist to live comfortably off that income. I’ll get up in the morning, brew some coffee, pet the cat and sit down at my desk – still in PJs perhaps? – and write.

Yeah…that day isn’t here yet.

Most of us writers (wait…should I say most? Yeah, I’ll stick with it.) Most of us writers don’t do so full time. We have jobs and relationships and maybe kids and lives and all that sort of thing. We work in offices or behind counters or in restaurants. We turn down dinner invitations, watch our friends have social lives, wait for movies to come out on rental but never rent them, DVR our favorite television shows for the rare block of binge watching, and calm pissed-off pets who are fed up with their empty water bowls and dirty litter boxes.

And we do it all with a smile, mostly, because we love to write. We have to write. It’s our identity and our passion. Well, at least it is for me.

To get specific, I’m a communications director at a university. It’s a great gig, and I get to do a lot of writing in it, even if it is mostly journalistic in nature. So I sit at a desk, in an office, staring at a screen from nine to five. Then I get to go home and sit at a desk and stare at a screen until bedtime (on a good writing day, anyway). Of course, that’s after dinner, maybe some laundry, housekeeping, a workout, etc.

Does it sound like I’m complaining? I sincerely hope not. I actually feel quite blessed about this dual “day” career and budding other career I’m balancing. But it a struggle at times. There are days that I’m so over staring at a screen during the day I don’t write a single word when I get home, which subsequently bums me out for not making progress on whatever book I’m writing. So I skip the next day’s workout or social invitation to devote to writing, which bums me out for not exercising or seeing my friends.

Wait…I am complaining, aren’t I? Sorry.

There are posts all over the place offering tips on striking the appropriate balance between Writing Life and Non-Writing Life. They’re mostly common-sense stuff like keeping a written schedule, getting up a little earlier, setting specific writing goals, and so on. I’m not interested in sharing or seeking tips on how to keep the balance. I’m more interested in knowing if other writers are up against these same issues. Just knowing I’m not alone in the battle is enough to keep my head up.

Writers: What’s your day job? Do you ever feel like you aren’t writing enough? Is there some secret key to the balance that keeps everything and everyone in your life satisfied? Okay, maybe that last one would be a tip after all. Forgive me…I’m stressed out!

17 thoughts on “When Writing Isn’t Your Day Job

  1. Great Piece.


    I'm a teacher by day.  I, too, would love to be able to just write all day, but alas, tis not to be…at least not yet…maybe when I retire? I do wish I could have more time to write but RL gets in the waay more often than not. My "secret" to a balanced life is like one of the lines a flight attendent would say when talking about the oxygen masks. "Please tend to yourself before helping others." One of the ways I 'tend to myself' so that I'm emotionally available to everyone else, is to write (and draw and do crafts, but still). That rejuvenates me so I do that so I can take care of my family and my students.

    1. Love the flight attendant bit. Admittedly, sometimes I've felt a little selfish in turning down invitations so I can focus on my writing, but, hey, being my own first priority will get the work done, right? 

  2. I ALWAYS feel like I'm not writing enough. And I'm currently writing my fifth novel. So I get stuff done, but I never measure up inside my own head. And of course, most writers I know (including myself) have problem with finding balance in many areas of our lives 😉

    1. Have you ever tried to quantify what would be "enough"? Maybe that'd be a fluxuating number, though. In a general sense, if I've hit 1K words in a day, I feel satisfied when I stop – but that's daily. In the bigger picture, yeah, I never feel like I've done enough!

  3. Hey, Matt! I'll play. I'm a junior high librarian from September through May and a writer from June through August. I wrote my first book the summer of 2009, and I've had much to say about my process since then, most of which has proven to be utter bullshit. As it turns out, every summer, every book has been different for me. My first I wrote willy nilly crazy-like, 2600 words a day no matter what, with no idea where I was going with it but determined to get words on paper. I knew very clearly where the second one was going and wrote an almost perfect 90,000-word draft over a period of six weeks. The third I struggled with mightily, rewriting it again and again and again over a period of three years. The fourth, ugh. I wasted my entire three months last summer trying to get something, anything on the page. I managed about 20,000 words of crap, and that was it. I tried to stick with a schedule, hit a certain word count each day as I did with each of my other books, but it just wasn't happening, and the summer became long and stressful. Now I actually fear writing full time! Can you believe it?

    I actually love the stimulus of my day job, and I the great ideas my colleagues inadvertently bring my way. So, I'm no longer aspiring to be a writer full-time. I honestly might go mad if I were! All I really want is a great idea that I'm dying to write and some time to write it.

    1. I love the notion of not aspiring to be a full-time writer! So glad to hear your day job provides you so much stimulation. I mentioned in the post that my day job consists of a lot of journalistic writing. That means I have to exist in these parallel spaces of news writer and creative writer, flipping them on and off like a light switch as needed. It isn't hard necessarily, but something that does require effort and can become tiresome.

      Ultimately, your last sentence….I think that about nails it! 

  4. I'm an 8th grade writing teacher by day, commute three hours between house/kids' school/work/kids' school/karate/home each day. I leave my papers at school, my writing at home. I can't cross the two or my worlds would implode. I have to wait until the kids are in bed to write, and then my computer is in the room next door so the little knocks and the "Mommy? Are you writing? Can you cuddle me while you write?" always pull me away. It's hard. The balance is very very hard.

    Right now, I'm not sure I'm doing a good job at it at all. 🙁

    Sorry to dump on you, lol!

  5. I'm a project manager by day. At the moment I'm setting up a new project, which includes recruiting staff, hiring sub-contractors, planning out activity for the next 5 years, sourcing office space and a whole lot of other stuff. Although I love my day job – it gives me lots of variety and I get to meet a wide range of people – it doesn't provide me with any regular structure. One day I can leave home at 7am and get home at 7 pm and the next could be shorter, or longer. 

    For me that is the biggest problem in finding the 'space' to write. I don't have a regular enough routine to be able to get myself into the right frame of mind to write actual coherent paragraphs or chapters. 

    The plus side to my day job is that it involves lots of travel and one or two nights away from home a week. For most people these are boring things, but for me they are the chance to sit down and get creative. So I can use a night in a hotel or the two hour train journey to plan out what I will write. When I get the time to write it. 

    In some ways I'm quite lucky. Not having children and being single means that I only really have myself to attend to, to look after and to organise. Meaning that most of my writing is done at the weekends (guess what I should be doing right now?). 


    One of the things that I promised myself early on was that I'd focus on quality over quantity. So I'm not too bothered if I only manage to do 500 words in one day. As long as they are a good set then I won't have to go back again and again to work over them to knock them into shape. 


    I'm not in a position to offer tips and hints. But I know what works for me – a schedule that helps create the time and space to write, separate time to think and create from the time to write and a focus on what I want to achieve rather than what others are achieving.

    1. "…focus on what I want to achieve rather than what others are achieving."

      This last line brings National Novel Writing Month to mind. Have you ever tried it? Blades of Grass was born out of it and I found it a rather jarring and, in ways, unsatisfying experience. I was racing to meet word count goals, and seeing all these other people on the site talking about their amazing progress just threw me off. I didn't want to know what others were acheiving, but I couldn't stop myself from looking! I finished the month then scrapped the entire manuscript and started over.

      1. I did try NaNoWriMo last time around. I did quite well on it for the first 10 or so days. Then life got turned upside down and the house move that I had been waiting on for months happened. So I started the month with a plan, ended it in a different city but with around 10,000 words written. I was actually quite happy with most of them too.

        But like you I thought it was a mostly unsatisfying experience because it's working to someone else's schedule. I'd rather do it at my own pace. I must go back to that piece of work once I've finished the one I'm working on now and see if the words that I have can be used or not. I know its a good story and I want to do it justice, so taking my time on it will be rewarding.

  6. I think there is NO right way to write. What works for one will not work for another. Not only that the way I write changes constantly. Right now I'm not writing. NOT one word. My husband passed away two months ago after a lengthy illness. My thought when I realized he would not always be with me was, well the only good thing will be that I can write. Ha ha ha. As someone said losing someone is like free falling out of an airplane, the preparation isn't anything like the actual event. You cannot plan how you will feel. So with that said, I have all the time in the world and I sit here staring at my computer. My three unfinished novels and the story almost ready for Kindle. I want to write. And I realize once I start I'll be hooked but I'm having trouble making that first step. I've decided it doesn't matter what our distractions or reasons for not writing, it all boils down to putting your butt in the chair and putting your fingers on that keyboard. Good luck to all of you who are working full time jobs. KEEP writing! Well figure it out as we go. One step at a time, as I am doing.

    1. Barbara, what you're saying here is so true:

      "I've decided it doesn't matter what our distractions or reasons for not writing, it all boils down to putting your butt in the chair and putting your fingers on that keyboard."

      The Internet is full of advice from authors on how to make progress in your writing goals. I mentioned a few of them above – waking up earlier, making schedules, etc. – but the fact is it's simply a matter of just doing it. We all have time, because time is all there is. It's a matter of choosing to spend that time writing instead of doing all those other things.

  7. I relate to this problem!  I teach all day.  I come home to my marriage, 3 kids, dog, household.  All of them want attention before writing.  It is frustrating because I cannot be everything for everyone at the same time.  Lately I am writing on my lunch break so I can me "there" in mind and not just body.  I keep trying to find a way, but really I am holding my breath for summer vacation!

  8. By day, I am a Medical Assistant, wife and mother. I definitely know how you feel. My plan is always to come home and immediately begin writing. Cooking, cleaning and housework keeps me away from my writing until the middle of the night. I stay up late to get some writing done, or atleast I try. I try to carry a small pocket notebook with me throughout the day to take notes on my lunch break and whenever I can. That has helped a lot. I even have a tape recorder in my car so I can capture some notes as I drive. It works for the most part, but I still have to get the work typed around everything else I do and that's the hard part.

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