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So you may or may not have noticed that I have been somewhat absent of late… things at the Day Job spiraled out of control and I had to basically give up anything resembling a life for a little while. Which is to say, for about a month, my schedule has been: Get up at 5:30, thirty minutes or so of basic intertubes to wake up (only the essentials: news and webcomics... haven't even checked LJ in nearly a month. I know, I know, priorities), exercise, get ready for work, work all day and deep into the night, come home, eat, watch Daily Show, sleep, rinse, repeat. Fun.

Notice that nowhere in there was the critical activity: “write.” I actually had to make a conscious decision to give up writing; not that I didn’t have the time-- I know the purists will tell me that I could have cut out my wake-up internet or my Daily Show-- but because I didn’t have the mental energy. I just couldn’t spin all my time working and muster enough to get my plot going in my brain. I tried for awhile, but it wasn’t working. It was a painful decision, but after talking it through with carrie_ryan, I realized that sometimes that I just had to do it.

So I guess maybe this is time to do a brief post on work/writing balance. Maybe this should be a solicitation… I could use the advice myself. I guess my first thought for others would be that if you really want to write professionally (i.e., building a career and making money), choose a day job that doesn’t require you to devote 150% of your time and energy. Don’t get me wrong, I love lots of my job, but it is really like working a job and a half-- you’re there most of the time, you have to be working, as in no breaks, full-mental-energy-devoted working, the entire time you’re there, and even when you aren’t there, it’s hard to not think about it. And that’s really about all I’ll say about Day Job here, btw. Hopefully that secrecy will make you think I am a spy.

My other thought is that you need to take the time you need to get things done right. And that means that sometimes writing needs to win out, and that means sometimes the Day Job or other things need to win out. The trick is to keep one from pushing other off the face of the map, particularly writing. Too many people let the stress of life be an excuse not to write, myself included. Conversely, though, you shouldn't let the drive to write add more stress to an already stressful period. I have slowly come to the realization that when I need to take time off from writing, be that because I have to focus on Day Job or just because I have to take time to actually relax every now and then, I have to allow myself to not write ahead of time and then take advantage of that off-time without feeling guilty about it. And you know what? I think doing that lets me get back to writing more easily when the time period I've given myself expires.

So I guess the question is, how do you deal with it? How do you balance the pressures of a full-time job with the pressures of getting your writing done? I hear a lot of people saying “you have to write, no matter what,” and I think that’s completely true-- that’s why I normally get up way early. But I also think it’s true that when you have a stressful job, you need to take what little time you can to relax. So where do you draw the line? How do you prioritize? I could use the advice!

Oh, by the way, just to prove that I’m back, a word count meter:


Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
45,358 / 70,000
(64.8%)



PS- lalam, I owe you a meme. It’s coming, I promise!

Comments

( 38 comments — Leave a comment )
ex_kaz_maho
Jul. 28th, 2008 10:43 am (UTC)
So that's where you've been. Don't worry, I won't tell anyone about your double-life as an assassin. ;)

It makes sense that you had to put things on hold for a while - there are just times where balance is almost impossible to achieve (at least, not without completely driving yourself crazy).

I honestly don't think I have advice for you on this question. Whenever I have a job, I find the work/life/writing balance difficult, and right now while I'm between jobs, I have a tendency to throw myself 110% into writing and burn out. I'll link to this over on my LJ - maybe we'll BOTH get some good advice.

Good to have you back!
jp_davis
Jul. 28th, 2008 11:42 pm (UTC)
What can I say, freelance killing takes alot of organization. It's so corporate.

Thanks for the link! It's good to be missed occasionally. I think my crazy period is winding down at work, which hopefully means that I will have time in my life for writing and LJ again!
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tmthomas
Jul. 28th, 2008 11:47 am (UTC)
Working in a similar Day Job, i completely understand. In fact, I'm glad to hear someone else with the similar issue...I haven't done any real writing on any of my projects in a week or two. I tend to have this panic spiral where I don't have the mental energy to write, so I tell myself that was a sign I wasn't a real writer, since everyone says "make time" and that just wasn't feasible. (I never claimed to be sane.) This would set off another round of not being able to get pen to paper.

So I have no advice...I'm just going to take advice, though, from your statement about it being ok to take time away and focus on other priorities.

Edited at 2008-07-28 11:51 am (UTC)
jp_davis
Jul. 28th, 2008 11:45 pm (UTC)
I am oh so familiar with the panic spiral, and in my case, its close cousin, the shame spiral. I think when I was writing short stories, that was part of my issue; I got so wound up about writing (or not writing as the case may be) that when I did get to writing, I felt like I had to make so much of what little time that I had that I was a total failure if every word didn't come out perfect. I am much happier having finally figured out that it's okay to give yourself permission to not write when you need to, and that includes times when you just need a break. Of course, the trick is figuring out when those times are, and then not doing that too much... clearly, I still have some serious balance issues to work out of my own.
sarah_prineas
Jul. 28th, 2008 12:11 pm (UTC)
Hello! You might know that Carrie and I were emailing about this yesterday, though that was more specific to her situation.

So your question: how to balance the dayjob and the writing, especially when the dayjob takes up a lot of energy and brain space. I started writing my first novel (the first published one, that is!) when I was working 50 hours a week in a challenging job that I loved, plus I have two kids and my husband was working 60 hours a week in his last year before the tenure decision. It was *crazy*. But something about the demands of the job gave me even more energy for writing; it was weird. As if the challenges there gave me the motivation to face the challenges of writing a novel. Anyway, I did it. I will say, however, that before the mad frenzy of starting that novel (I was in the grip of something, that's for sure), I'd hardly written anything for about four months, and I'd often take breaks of a month or more (I still do this--I tend to write new stuff in a frenzy and then mess around with it for a couple of months).

Then I had to go down to half time at the dayjob because the peripheral writing things (touring, etc) were starting to take up too much time. And soon I will be leaving entirely, which was a very tough decision. I'm a little worried that without the traction that I get from the dayjob I won't be as motivated to write. We shall see! I think I'll have plenty to keep me busy. If I weren't doing the peripheral stuff and just writing, I'd almost certainly stay in the dayjob.

So anyway, the gist of it is, I think that it is possible to find balance between writing and a challenging job. Sometimes they can spark off each other. I also think it's perfectly okay to be away from writing for a bit (yes, and still call yourself a writer!).
jp_davis
Jul. 28th, 2008 11:52 pm (UTC)
Carrie was definitely the same way when writing FHT... she kicked the last part right when her job exploded and she was working basically ten to twelve hour days every day, including weekends. I wish I could be like that. I mean, not the twelve hour days on the weekends (though that happens), the being inspired by it.

I definitely think that the job can spark, though... perhaps for reasons best left unsaid in a public forum where coworkers could conceivably stumble by. But I think the really great thing about having a serious, stressful job and writing is that it teaches you the discipline to work all day on your writing, even though you don't have to. That's definitely something I never figured out until I got a real job. I have a feeling you're going to be just fine when you take the full plunge!
desperance
Jul. 28th, 2008 12:14 pm (UTC)
Hopefully that secrecy will make you think I am a spy.

When I was learning Mandarin, one of my classmates - a dentist, as it happened - suddenly declared, "I've got you sussed, Brenchley: you're a spook. You claim to be a writer, but you're learning Chinese, you go off unpredictably and always to dodgy places, Taiwan, Korea... You're a spook!"

Me, I just smiled enigmatically...
jp_davis
Jul. 28th, 2008 11:55 pm (UTC)
Ha! But now I'm wondering, what was a dentist doing learning Mandarin? Perhaps the real spy was under our noses this whole time...
wldhrsjen3
Jul. 28th, 2008 01:59 pm (UTC)
Heh. I had a minor meltdown a week or so ago because I felt like I was trying to juggle too many things at once. Two small kids, three horses in training and one in heavy exercise, a farm, volunteer work, writing - and I don't even have a "real" job!! Finding the balance is very difficult for me, and I tend to be a perfectionist so it's hard to allow myself to walk away from something that's "just good enough."

I finally sat down and wrote myself a list of priorities. I'm not happy unless I'm writing and working my horses, so those have moved up quite a bit. I can't let my family obligations slide, obviously, so I've decided to let some of the volunteer stuff go. I feel slightly guilty, but I've put in almost ten years on various community committees and such and I think I've earned the right to step aside for a while. And I'm not worried about the house, either. It can be cleaned once a week and that will just have to do.

Sometimes I feel selfish, but... I don't know what else to do.

Sorry, I can't offer you any advice - but I can certainly sympathize!!!
jp_davis
Jul. 29th, 2008 12:01 am (UTC)
You clean once a week? Woah, you are so far ahead of me it's ridiculous. I think that kind of prioritization is definitely the way to do things. My work involves juggling numerous different tasks, all of which are clamoring to be the most important, and the one thing that has taught me (other than how quickly hair can go gray) is that you have to prioritize, find what's most important and put the others aside until you get it knocked out. It's a great lesson to apply that to work/life/writing balance.

Also, don't feel selfish-- you need to live your life, too! Also apparently two kids and three horses' lives! That's like, six lives right there. I think you're totally okay to not go out looking for more.
ken_schneyer
Jul. 28th, 2008 02:07 pm (UTC)
Personally I think one either has to reduce the hours for the day job (which implies a reduction in pay), or write in the interstices. If there are no interstices, then the job change is the only way out.

In my own case, my spouse gives me a lot of cover to devote time & energy to the writing, but I was writing even when that wasn't available -- stealing moments in the kitchen, in the bedroom, at my desk between tasks, everywhere.
jp_davis
Jul. 29th, 2008 12:03 am (UTC)
Work reduction is definitely not an option for me... I've practiced sleep reduction instead, and honestly, it's worked out okay. I think the key is definitely, as you say, to take advantage of the interstices. Which is an awesome word, too.
deannaroy
Jul. 28th, 2008 06:09 pm (UTC)
You have to make time where there was no time before.

Two quick things:

1. Go green, make your work commute longer, AND write: ride the bus. Buy a second-hand laptop if you don't have one, any cheap thing that can take NotePad even will work. (No modem? Even BETTER.) The ride will take longer than driving, save money, and free your hands and mind. Have to switch buses? Even better. Laptop on the curb. See a part of the world you never paid attention to before and meet people you don't ordinarily encounter. It will spark new connections.

2. Lunch time. Take it. Don't skip it. And don't eat with anyone else except on Fridays. It's you, a sandwich, and your work-in-progress, every day, for 30-45 minutes.

One other thing I do: I make a date with my novel and stay up very late. When everyone else is in bed, I get on my computer and start typing. If it's not flowing, I quit and go to sleep. If it IS flowing, then I stay up until I will get about four hours sleep. As long as I don't do this often or a long period, I can handle a night or two like this.

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jp_davis
Jul. 29th, 2008 12:22 am (UTC)
Oh, wow, if I could talk more about Day Job here... but unfortunately, no, the way my job works is that part time would not fly. Nor the understanding in the workplace of the writing career... which is one reason I won't talk too much about DJ here.

Of course, the upside is that I do have a steady income (the better to pay down my enormous debts incurred in finding said income). One day, I would like to adjust my schedule to do what you've done and sacrifice some financial security for more writing time, which I enormously admire. In some ways, I wish I had made that decision earlier, but now I've kind of put myself in a place where that isn't an option... I need a steady income to keep my head above water. Which, of course, is not to say I do DJ solely for the money; it definitely has other parts I really love. But the phrase "golden handcuffs" definitely rings true.

Thanks for the inspiration. I will keep trying, and it's nice to have folks who will back me up as I do.
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reneesweet
Jul. 28th, 2008 10:38 pm (UTC)
Hi there!

I can sympathize, having been in a similar position not so long ago myself. What's sort of been working for me is the following:
1. I take a bus to work. (deannaroy is very wise!) I write on the bus everyday, 20 minutes each way. Usually I don't amass more than 200-400 words, but that's enough to make me feel like I've got my teeth in it and gets me motivated to pick it back up when I'm home at night.
2. I write during my lunch at work. (again, that deannaroy!) I used to work through lunch almost everyday and then I realized that I was making very little gain for the Day Job doing that and a very large gain for my stress factor. Writing still doesn't allow me the down time that reading or going for a walk or lunching with friends would, but it's still less stressful and the sense of accomplishment is great.
3. When I'm really under deadline, I write during almost every spare moment. Social plans are cancelled on the weekends. "free" time is sacrificed only for the husband or dog. It's amazing how many words you can get down in all those stolen moments of time throughout the day.
4. I changed my job. It sounds like this may not be something you're willing to do, but it was a GREAT improvement for me. I was able to find something that left me with more mental real estate at the end of the day, had me working fewer hours and still provided me with Day Job satisfaction. Ultimately for me it came down to something having to give. And I really, really, really want to write for a living. So that meant the Day Job, even though it was riskier.

Obviously there are no giant revelations here, but I've found that it's quite surprising how much progress you can make in 20 minute bits and pieces stolen back from your day here and there. If being thrown out of balance (i.e. away from writing) is really bothering you, give it a go and see if there's some time you can steal back for your WIP, too. :)

P.S. Sorry this is so godawful long!!!
jp_davis
Jul. 29th, 2008 12:27 am (UTC)
Thanks for the advice! Long advice is good advice-- I've never been good with Buddha-style pithy sayings. I need the instruction manual, darnit! I think you're totally right about it coming down to the desire to write. That's what's driven me this far, and that's what'll keep me going, even if I have to, as carrie_ryan did, write for the 8 minutes while the pasta's boiling. But boy, that sucks.

Good for you for changing jobs to adjust for writing. I love my job, and I'm not quite ready to do that, but I admire that enormously. That's an amazing plunge and takes some amazing willpower, and I find it very inspirational.
mamculuna
Jul. 29th, 2008 12:20 am (UTC)
Oh, do I feel your pain. For one, I don't even see how you do your day job, let alone write, too.

When I had a day job, writing had to happen on weekends. I did do n MA Thesis, a PhD dissertation, several scholarly articles, and a textbook that way, and eventuallly the first draft of a novel, but even though I thought my day job was incredibly demanding, I doubt it was as much so as yours. For one thing, I was very secure in my position and not looking to move up or sideways or elsewhere, just content to rock along. Also, even though that non-fiction writing takes a lot out of you, I don't think it's the same as fiction.

And even now, when my life is pretty much my choice, if I don't have a totally clear calendar, writing is hard. I still feel the obligation to other people way ahead of writing. Not that I think that's how it should be, just the way I am. I've had to clear a lot of stuff out of my life so I wouldn't be tempted to do it instead of write, but again, that's me.

On the other hand, I know you really want to write, so you've go to keep going. I think that even if you can set aside one morning or afternoon a week and dedicate that to writing, you won't be quite so tempted to think of writing as something you used to do (true in my life for quite a few years...)

But have to say, you really put in the hours when you're at the beach! Way ahead of me!!
jp_davis
Jul. 29th, 2008 02:22 am (UTC)
The beach is the best place for writing! So nice to be sitting out on the porch, doing nothing but typing away. Oh, the lack of other obligations...

I have to say, fiction or nonfiction, that's an impressive amount to get done while footing a full career. I hope I can get half that much done! But I think the key is devotion, and you're right, I am devoted to making it work
carrie_ryan
Jul. 29th, 2008 12:29 am (UTC)
I had too much to say so I wrote my own blog post. Natch, I agree with everything :) http://carrie-ryan.livejournal.com/15733.html
jp_davis
Jul. 29th, 2008 02:22 am (UTC)
Hey, I asked for advice! You're not supposed to agree with a question! Yay new blog post!
seaheidi
Jul. 29th, 2008 02:08 am (UTC)
hey jp, i'm carrie's friend, heidi. i've heard so much about you (all good things) so i thought i'd friend you too. =)
jp_davis
Jul. 29th, 2008 02:24 am (UTC)
Hey, Heidi, thanks for coming over! I hear so much about you and all the debs vicariously, it's weird to think that I don't actually know many of you personally, I feel like I do. Thanks for the friend, and come over anytime!
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daydreammuse
Jul. 29th, 2008 12:41 pm (UTC)
My advice on this matter is to use the spare times. I would have wrote on the 25 ride on the bus or on the road to the summer villa, while waiting in lines and so on, if it wasn't too uncomfortable. I would use the lunch break as an excuse to pen whatever I can. So far my plan works. Every day around 750 words during lunch break. Of course this goes well, when I know what I will be writing. When you are blank I say give it a rest, take the MP3 player and get creative with daydreamming to restore the lost creativity. This week pause helps me immensely to outline in my head what needs to be done and then I go for the small pauses to nibble ta the huge word count.

In the short run sleep reduction might help, but in the long run I know from experience that it will harm you. Lack of sleep lowers your immunity to desease and weakens the viatility of the organism, making you a zombie in waiting. At least those are my deduction from the matter.

I can't advise you any further on the matter as I have been school mostly and I am at the beginning to balance writing and work. And I think from a totally strange bird like me it's enough. Hope it helps as I feel it's something most people say. When dayjob is being iffy there is not much to do.
jp_davis
Jul. 29th, 2008 11:55 pm (UTC)
750 words a day at lunch is pretty freakin' good! I'm happy if I get 400. I am also completely in tune with you on the taking some time off every now and then for daydreaming... sometimes, you really just need to let things percolate. Especially when you're chasing the wordcount demon. It's good to sit back and just let the story flow over you and remember what you're doing it for.
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jp_davis
Aug. 26th, 2008 10:38 am (UTC)
Yeesh, at least I don't have kids to deal with! I can't imagine throwing that onto the pile.

Interesting re: sleep deprivation... I'm totally feeling that right now (I just pushed my wakeup time down 10 min.) I think the key is really that I have to get to bed earlier. And don't worry, snuggling time never gets skipped!
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