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

How to Be a Writer With a Day Job Part 1: Making Time

At the beginning of January I announced that I would be doing a series this year on being a Writer with a Day job. I planned my first post for January 2019, but here it is, February 1, blizzardy and cold, and I’m just getting round to it now. Ah, the realities of being a writer with a day job.

Last year, I had the amazing privileged of being awarded a literary grant, which gave me a full four months to work as a writer with no other distractions. Then, when July came, I returned to my demanding day job and this gave me an entirely new perspective on what it is be creative and to work at a regular 9-5 where you have a boss, and assignments, and things to do that must get done, none of which have anything to do with crafting fantastical universes. When I returned to my job, I was struck with one particular wallowing grief: how will I make time for my art now???

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If you’re like me, wanting to create day after day, wanting to figure out how you will ever find time to finish your novel, your short story, your poems—or heck, even start those projects in the first place—then I’m glad you’re here. Because today that’s what I’m going to talk about, albeit rather briefly, because I have a day job to return to (Ssssh, don’t tell my boss).

#1 Search

The first thing you need to do, if you are a writer or artist working a day job, is take a long-distance look at the time you have every day for everything: regular work, home life, friends, television, the gym, sulking. Lay it all out and then move in really close and find those places you can block off just for writing. It might be that every Saturday morning you nothing for the first three hours. Why not book off one or three for writing. What about your lunch breaks? Are you really using them productively? Maybe instead of using the time to browse Facebook posts that you’ve likely already seen five times before, use ten minutes to squeeze out one hundred word on your work in progress. Take a look at your time and figure out where writing can naturally fit in. It might not be a lot of time, but a little bit adds up over a year or two.

#2 Cut

The next thing you can do is cut. Cut ruthlessly. Cut out mind-trash, and instead create a little of mind-building. In other words, stop watching so much television. Stop binging on NETFLIX. Stop watching stuff you aren’t paying attention to anyway because the characters are all immature and whiny and terrible. When people ask me how I fit in time for writing, my first answer is “I don’t watch television anymore”. You know what everyone tells me, “Oh, neither do I. Except for Black Mirror, Riverdale, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and Grey’s Anatomy. I mean, I down to like only six or seven shows.” That’s six or seven hours a week you could be writing! In fact, if you even just picked your two favorite shows, that four hours a week you could be writing. Four hours that you could be working on the world you really want to be in instead of numbing your mind with someone else’s creation. Honestly, I maybe watch half and hour to two hours in a regular week. And yes, I do binge on occasion, or watch a new release movie I’m really interested in, but I’m ruthless with my time, I want it all for my writing. All of it. But I know I should find balance, too.

#3 Marathons

A few years back I found this amazing writing group. It’s amazing because it’s a writing productivity group. We get together regularly on Wednesday and writing straight for three hours (it’s come and go so you can really just be there for as long as you choose). We don’t talk much. We just write. I get a lot of creative work done on Wednesday nights. But another thing we do a few times a year is marathons. We find a Saturday or Sunday and book off a day, a whole day, for sitting together in silence and writing. It may sound strange, but there is something about being surrounded by other writer’s writing that keeps you honest. You can’t slack off and watch Netflix, you can’t start cleaning your house, you can’t lie on the floor and wallow in writer’s block. People are watching (well, not really, but they are noticing), so you have to work. You have to spend the whole day working. And it’s amazing where one long day dedicated to a single project can get you.

JEH