How To Write When There’s Work To Be Done

When I first started this writing blog, I had a simple goal in mind: keep a clear, consistent schedule. Once a week, I would put up a new post. It didn’t sound like a bad idea at the time. I had lots of potential subjects to choose from, and I considered myself pretty good at writing quickly when circumstances called for it. I could do this without a problem.

So imagine my surprise and horror when I pulled up my statistics one day and realized I’d gone a month — a whole month! — without a full post, or an apology/excuse for my lack of activity.

As a writer, failing to stick to your schedule is an awful feeling. It makes you feel inadequate, because how can you get anywhere with your writing if you can’t get it finished on time?

(I don’t know. Ask George R. R. Martin, he doesn’t seem to know what a schedule is, and people still like him just fine.)

It’s true that being a writer does involve meeting a lot of deadlines, no matter what kind of profession you put your skills to use in. Contracted authors, journalists, even bloggers trying to build and keep a fanbase. Success requires a steady flow of work. But the unfortunate reality is that sometimes, life just gets in the way and keeps us occupied with other tasks. All writers deal with most forms of distraction at some point, and the most insidious kind is the kind that we all deal with: the dreaded full-time job.

Every writer has dreamed the unattainable dream —  kiss your day job goodbye and spend all your time working with words. A select few might attain this dream, but for most of us, it remains just that. We all need to have money in our pockets, one way or another. So you’ll be trying to work a job and keep up with your writing at the same time, and it will drain you. You’ll come home exhausted, not wanting to do anything but sleep. Your work will go untouched, your daily routine will stagnate, you begin to wonder if you’ll ever do something meaningful with your life or if this is all there is. If you’re like me, your mental health will be hit especially hard because you’re happiest with growing and creating, not just processing.

Simply put, it will suck. But it doesn’t have to suck forever.

You can indeed have a full-time job and keep your commitments to your writing. It will take a restructured schedule and roughly a metric ton of self-discipline, but it’s possible. Here are some tips on how to successfully be a writer who works:

  • Early to bed, early to rise. You may balk at this advice, especially if you don’t like the idea of coming home from work and going right to bed. But while turning in and getting up earlier may not make you healthy, wealthy and wise, it will make you feel a lot better in the mornings. The haze of sleep will wear off sooner, you’ll become productive earlier in the day, and — most importantly — you’ll have a lot more time to take advantage of that productivity.
  • Set up a morning schedule that works for you. You probably won’t feel like doing much writing when you come home from a long day of work, so for maximum productivity, you’ll want to do most of your writing before you head out for the day. Figure out what you’d like to do with your morning, what you need to do and how much time you have to do all that. Your essential tasks should come first, whatever those might be. After that, you can use what time is left for the tasks you still want to get done.
  • Create manageable writing goals for yourself. You might find yourself tempted to race against the clock and put down as many words as you can before it’s time to leave for work. I wouldn’t recommend this method. When you treat your writing time as a race against yourself, the overall quality of your work suffers and you are left feeling like you could have done better no matter how many words you put down. That’s why I don’t define my writing goals as “Get a certain number of words done today,” but as “Spend a certain amount of time with my projects today.” Writing, especially a first draft, should be about exploring your own ideas and ensuring that you fully understand them yourself. That’s why I like to keep my daily writing goals small and simple. Try going back to the basic Pomodoro method: 25 minutes of work with a 5-minute break, and an extra-long break after four work sessions. You might start off by saying “I want to get four Pomodoros done today,” or could go as simple as just doing one. Pick goals that work with your schedule. Once you’ve met them for a few days in a row and feel comfortable with them, you can try expanding them.
  • Know when to be mean. Sometimes there will be days when you have the time to write, but you just don’t want to. Those are the days when you have to be just a little bit hard on yourself. You have to get out of bed and say, “I promised myself I would do this now, so I’m not going to put it off until tomorrow.” Even if you can’t do the full amount of work you set out to do, a section of work is better than nothing at all. Doing just a little bit every day might not seem like much, but it all adds up.
  • Recognize your limits. Unfortunately, the reality of writing is that life gets in the way sometimes, and we can’t always accomplish everything we set out to do. Sometimes you can’t get out more than a few words, and sometimes you just need to take a break entirely. And you know what? That’s perfectly fine. There’s no reason to beat yourself up for missing a personal goal every now and then, as long as you’re still doing work that you enjoy and are proud of. Which leads us to my final point…
  • Love what you do. If you’re writing on the side just because you want to be famous or something like that, things aren’t going to turn out the way you’d like them to. You’re going to be miserable, and there’s a good chance you’ll quit. In order to pursue personal projects while working a full-time job, that personal project has to be something you really believe in and love working on. Goodness knows there have been times when I’ve felt the stress of trying to write under those conditions, and I’ve wondered if the end product would be worth all the trouble. But if I were to stop writing, I wouldn’t be happy. I have a need to create, discuss the process of creation and share my interest in the creations of others. That’s what drives me to keep working on my stories and reviews even when it’s tough to do so. You shouldn’t let the grind of daily life destroy your love for your favorite creative pastime. If anything, the monotony of work means you need that pastime now more than ever.

As I finish up writing this, I have about an hour and a half before I need to leave for work. I won’t know how the day is going to be until I get there and start working. But I can feel a bit better about myself when I do, because I’ll have finished this post. Even a small victory is a victory nonetheless. Stay positive, guys!

–Dana

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