How to Be a Writer with a Day Job: Part 3 – Making Progress

The one thing I have been struggling with most lately, as a writer with a rather demanding day job, is progress. What do I mean by progress? To me, progress means writing a page of new words, rewriting a book scene by scene, or sending something out on submission. It means moving further along on the path toward finishing something. But lately, I’ve been standing in a deep puddle of stagnated water, the finish line far, far away.

I’ve been here before, I know how to get out of it. But when I come home from work exhausted and tired of computers (already having stared at one for 8 hours), sometimes I just want to curl up and binge watch Grey’s Anatomy (after not watching for a couple years, I’m three seasons behind and have a lot of episodes left to go! Tempting!)

As a writer with a day job, exhaustion can be your worst enemy. There are many ways to try to combat this, ways you can trick yourself into sitting down in your desk chair with your writing computer and start. Not all of the following suggestions will work for everyone—they certainly don’t all work for me. But if you try them all, hopefully, you’ll find one that works. Because one of the most important things about being a writer with a day job is consistency. Here are some small things you can do to continue making progress on your Work-In-Progress.

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  1. Wake up Really Early – I’m going t be honest, I do not do this. I am not a morning person and this would not work for me. But I know a lot of writers who do follow this practice and it works for them. This is about setting aside to write before heading to your day job and spending your best time writing before you feel wiped out. If you’re a morning person, this might be for you.
  2. Write Really Late at Night – This is my chosen method. I find that when I first come home from work, I’m exhausted. I need a break, so I give myself one. I open up my computer after I’ve had three or four hours to compress from the day job, maybe done some exercise and had supper. Then I take about a half an hour to get some work done. The key thing here is to not do this immediately before going to bed since staring at a computer screen might mess with your circadian rhythm. Instead, work up until 30 minutes before you want to go to sleep, and then switch to reading or some other calming activity. IMG_5388
  3. Write on a couple specified days a week (most likely the weekend) – Almost everyone out there says to be a writer you have to ‘write every day’. If you have a day job, this is likely not your reality and I don’t believe it has to be. Writing can mean more than sitting down and getting out words every day, it can just be thinking over your plot lines or character development or doodling in a notebook. But it is important not to let too many days go by or you might forget where you were at (on this note, make sure to leave yourself a good note about what you need to do next). Lately, I’ve been squeezing in writing time on Wednesday nights and on Saturday or Sunday, and I find this is often enough that I don’t forget what I’m writing about.
  4. Find a Writing Group – As mentioned about, I have a writing group. We meet weekly just to sit in a quiet space and write. This group is all about productivity which is what I need right now. A writing group that spends hours talking and providing feedback might not fill the same purpose, so consider what your needs are when looking for a writing group of your own.
  5. Set Goals and Track Them – This can be important, especially for those that are motivated by seeing numbers on paper. The other year, when I wrote 365,000 words in a year (only 1,000 words a day), my productivity shot sky high. I tracked my daily writing goal in an Excel spreadsheet, and seeing the running total was a big motivator for sitting down and getting stuff done. (I’m no longer doing this and my productivity has dropped, surprise surprise).

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No matter where you are in your writing journey, it is important to a writer’s happiness to see progress being made. Keep in mind that this doesn’t have to be large progress – you don’t have to write a book in a week, or even a book in a month, but you do need to move forward if you want to reach the finish line!

JEH

 

How to be a Writer With a Day Job Part 2: Don’t Let Those New Ideas Run Away With You

One of the most difficult parts of being a writer with a day job that I didn’t realize until I was no longer a full-time writer, is how difficult it is to keep your head on your current Work-In-Progress. (Aside: This month marks one year since I started my grant time, that wonderful four months where I got to be a full-time writer with no worries). When I was writing full-time, the majority of my day consisted of thinking of my characters, of writing about my characters, opening up one story and closing it off. Now my days consist of scrambling to get little ones to day care, struggling through morning rush-hour traffic, checking office emails, making clients happy—and above all, spending most of my brain power on my day job. My escapes tend to be daydreams that mostly involve new, great ideas. Because—for whatever great-cosmically-inspired reason—new ideas require less brain power than old ideas.

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New ideas “just come to me”, they “fall in my lap”, “appear out of nowhere”, “must be really good if I can already see it”, and all of these little reasons I tell myself lead to the New Idea Trap.

The New Idea Trap is the reasoning that the new idea, the one you haven’t spent any time on, is the good idea. It is the one that someone will love enough to publish and give you a large advance for. The reality is that it is only good because you haven’t done any actual work on it yet. Just like the new job you got at Burgers R Us feels like it will be an amazing career where you make lots of money until you actually have to wake up at 6 in the morning to get to work on time. Work feels easy until you are actually working. Ideas are just ideas, they aren’t a book, story, or completed series yet.

So, how do you put aside those new ideas and focus on your current work in progress?

 

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Possibly by drinking coffee and writing really fast? Maybe…

 

What I do is track my new ideas. I give myself a bit of time with them. I write a few pages of background, maybe a character sketch or two, I might draw a map or write the first scene. Then, often, the fire dies down. I begin to see how much work the New Idea is actually going to be. How much of my time the New Idea is going to eat up. And I see that I’ve already put so much time into my WIP that it is better to stay that road, and move onto the New Idea once I’ve finished my WIP, once I’ve felt that sweet, sugary bite of accomplishing my goal.

But I don’t lose track of my ideas. I keep them all tidied up a few journals, tabbed with sticky notes. I keep lists of these works. And one of my favorite parts of writing is when I finish one projects, and get to pick the next one from the list. I spend time reviewing each of my potential creations, and see which one captures my attention at that moment.

And then I get to work, again. Idea book by my side, to capture whatever stray ideas cross my path while I’m sitting at my (day job) desk.

JEH

Upcoming Young Adult Fantasy Workshop in Regina!

Live in or near Regina? If you do and you’re interested in writing young adult fantasy (or know someone who is), it’s your lucky day. I’ll be hosting a three hour workshop about writing young adult fantasy on April 14th, 2019. We’ll be working on maps, plots, characters and all around magical adventure, and discussing some of my favorite YA Fantasy titles. There are only 16 spots, so if you want one, follow the link to sign up!

https://www.reginalibrary.ca/attend/programs/1392420

Workshop