It’s a constant struggle for all kinds of creatives. Something has to pay the bills. And while most of us wish it was our art, the disappointing truth is that it’s often a day job. Today, I want to talk about way to write creatively, to stay or get back into the creative zone, when you’re working a full-time job.
I’ve been a writer for years. Since I was a child, really, but only in the last nine or so years would I consider myself a professional writer. I’ve written and published ten books for young adults, and I have plans to write many more. However, I also have a day job — sometimes, anyway. I’ve been lucky enough that I’ve received a couple arts grants that have allowed me to focus on my craft full-time. I’ve also developed a life where I work a day job for a while, and then go back to writing. This kind of cyclic work takes some getting used to, and still, for a year or more at a time, leaves me with the problem of: how do I keep writing creatively when I’m working 40+ hours a week for someone else?
Below I discuss five tips to get or stay in the creative zone before or after work, or on the weekend.
Return to the Basics
If you’re like me and you have an office job, chance are your eyes are completely burned out at the end of the day. The last thing I want to do is come home from working in front of a computer, to do more work in front of a computer. Good thing I have an addiction to pretty notebooks! (Seriously, I have sooooo many). But the point is that I use them. If I’ve been working on the computer all day, switching to paper and pen feels novel. And how many of us began writing because we love the feel of paper in our hands? (I’m thinking it’s most of us). Not only is paper a completely different medium without backlighting, it is also mobile. I can curl up in bed and write, I can write on the couch, I can write on my porch or my deck or in the park a few blocks away. Paper gives me options. It also smells nice.
Go For a Walk Somewhere New
Sometimes I feel that every ounce of creativity has been sucked from my bones thanks to the office florescent and my heavy workload. Writing creatively when working a full-time job can even feel like another full time job. But being a writer means that words and thoughts are in your blood. Go for a long, or perhaps even short walk somewhere new — a street you never take, a new park, a new neighbourhood, and chances are you’ll come across something new or interesting. Something that will light a spark and inflame your blood with creativity. Just remember to bring a notepad or voice recorder to record your new ideas before they fly away in the wind.
Make a Routine
Sometimes all I need to get into the creative mood and forget about office life is to return to my writing routine. This is the routine I follow when I’m lucky enough to be writing full-time. I go to my office, I light my coffee-shop scented candle, I put on some relaxing fantasy background music, and I sip a coffee. Ten minutes later, I’m ready to write. If you don’t have a writing office, you can do this at your kitchen table, or on the couch with headphones and a fragrant tea. Find physical cues for your body, something that tells it: now is the time to be creative.
Read the First Page of Your Favourite Books
Sometimes the best inspiration is the work of others. I keep a shelf of my favourite works of fiction. And sometimes, when I loose my creativity so much that I forget why I even want to be a writer in the first place, I pull out these books. It can be a fine line though. Limit yourself to one or two pages. Don’t start rereading the whole book. Save that for after you’ve written some words. Just enjoy the beginning of your favourite story, and then remind yourself that you’re writing a new favourite story, one that came straight from your imagination.
Search for Creative Writing Prompts
There are plenty of these online. I’ve also posted many in former years, and occasionally I may do so again. Or you could try these prompts from The Write Practice. Don’t settle for the first one you find, either. Keep looking for one that sparks your interest. Find a picture or a news article, or a single word that inspires you. Or think about something that happened earlier in the week and ask yourself, “but what if…”, and then just start writing.
No matter what method you choose for re-engaging with your creative spirit, remember also that consistency is key. Try to set aside a regular time each week for being creative. Make it a date night, just you and a perfect notebook, and your favourite words.
If you have an office job like I do