Monday, January 9, 2012

Writing and The Day Job

I've spoken a lot - OK, exclusively - about goal-setting this year. I've admitted that I am a person who makes wildly unrealistic goals ('I'll write the last 20,000 words in a day! I can do it!. . . oh, wait, I can't.').

I am also a person who wants to be a writer, but has to work full-time for financial reasons. I don't talk about my day job online, but I will say it is the kind of job where some days are sedate and everything moves at a gentle, manageable pace, yet other days - or weeks, or months - can be very intense and stressful.

Time management is an issue for every writer. My old favourite way to carve out time was to bring my netbook to work and write during my lunch hour (my office has a really nice recreation space with a great view - when I write there, I probably have the best view of any writer in Dublin, unless a tourist is scribbling in the corner of the Gravity Bar).

But that only works on a relatively stress-free day. If I'm very busy, it's hard to find the motivation to work through lunch, even if I am working on something I enjoy.

There is now the added complication that spending too long in front of a computer screen doesn't help with my new-found tendancy to get migraines. I depend on looking at a computer screen to earn a living. That hour away from it in the middle of the day helps a lot. Also, if a migraine does descend, one of the nasty side-effects for me is that total inability to use the English language the following day. Anything I write the day after a migraine (and I include emails in this) will be unusable porridge.

Writing after work is usually easier, but that is vulnerable to the demands of family, friends, relationships, socialising, exercise, housework, cooking, laundry and all the other things we do to ensure we can get up and go to work the following day.

I once read - have forgotten where, if you know please tell me - that the modern working week in Western society evolved ina  time when every worker (the majority of them male) was assumed to have someone at home (usually female), whether wife, mother or landlady, to support their role in the workplace. Workers worked, but they didn't cook, clean, wash clothes, look after children or shop for groceries. Now, both male and female workers are trying to fulfil this role for themselves on top of a working week that, for most people, is getting constantly longer.

I'm incredibly fortunate in the latter regard - my workplace does not suffer from a culture that rewards people for working long hours, and it is understood that working longer does not necessarily mean you're working better. I'm thankful for this every day. But like everyone else, I do have demands in my personal life, and balancing these with work is challenging. Balancing them with writing sometimes feels impossible.

For me, the easiest thing to sacrifice is my health. Spend my lunch hour in front of the computer and leave work frazzled, tired, with the beginnings of migraine aura in my peripheral vision. Stay up later, and drag myself out of bed no matter how desperate I may be for more sleep. But that doesn't work for longer than a few days.

Trying to cut out cooking or exercise doesn't have the same short-term health impact, but long-term, eating take-aways and never exercising will catch up with anyone.

How do you guys find the right balance? What gets cut to allow for writing time?


  1. I think about this all the time! I don't even try to write on days I work at my day job, because that job is simply too mentally and emotionally draining. I am fortunate to be able to set aside two full days per week to write, and I also write on the weekends when the kids are occupied elsewhere. And ... I don't watch television--that was the first thing to get cut! Good luck in finding a balance you're satisfied with!

  2. I think the easiest thing for all of us to sacrifice is our health, often without even realising.

    I've also struggled with keeping the motivation to write during my lunch.

    One of the things I started doing last year was getting up earlier at weekends. I basically removed lie-ins and try to get up around 8 o'clock on a Saturday or Sunday, though since Christmas I'm struggling to get up by 9. I also have my netbook open and running pretty much constantly when I'm at home, so unless there's something I specifically want to watch on tv or I'm eating, I have it in front of me and try to keep up with things there.

  3. Sarah, I think you're right, whether you can write on a working day or not depends on the type of job you have. Sometimes I can, sometimes I can't, and I have had to learn to be flexible about this. I do most of my writing at the weekends or on quiet evenings.

    I also cute TV down a lot. I watch the odd show, usually while eating dinner, but it's not unusual for me to go for a week without watching TV.

    Paul, getting up earlier is great - I'm a morning person so have been doing it for years, unintentionally. The other great thing about getting up early is that no one calls, texts or bothers you before about 10 or 11 on the weekends so you get a lot of peace.

  4. It's extremely difficult. And at the end of a busy day, sitting down for a few hour's writing is maybe the last thing you want to do. I often conclude I should get up an hour or two earlier and write then. But I like sleeping too much!

  5. Simon, it is always hard. I think if it wasn't for weekend, we'd all write a lot less!


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