The starving artist is an understatement when it comes to writing a novel. When you look at the number of hours that we spend sitting in front of a screen from start to finish, than look at what the average author makes with their books (And by average I don’t mean Dean Koontz or Stephen King) the pay isn’t anywhere near minimum wage, much less anything that we can live on.
That is why when it comes down to it, all writers basically have day jobs. George Orwell was an Indian Imperial Police Officer. Kurt Vonnegut was a Car Salesmen. Bram Stoker was the assistant to Actor Henry Irving and kept his job even after “Dracula” was published. Jack Kerouac was a dishwasher, cotton picker and night guard. Hell, Jack London was an “Oyster Pirate” (He’d steal other fishermen’s catches.) Margret Atwood worked in a coffee shop and Stephen King was a janitor.j
So as you can see, we are in good company when it comes to day jobs. The real test and difficulty in this area is how to balance a day job with writing a novel…or honestly, just writing in general! It’s hard to even think about sitting down and pumping out a good chapter after a 9-hour shift. My key is that I remember that I’m not stealing oysters!
I wouldn’t presume to put myself even remotely in the same category as these idols, but the truth is that there are things that we can learn from them. I wanted to go over some tips on how to get through your day job and still have the drive to write afterward.
Planning: As always, a good rule of thumb is to plan. Writing doesn’t just happen. You have to set aside time for it. I put it in my planner just like I do with my work and school schedule. That way I don’t just set it aside for when it’s convenient. Just face it. There will never be a great time to drop everything and write. The stars are never going to align the way you want them to. That being said, life will get in the way and you might miss a few appointments that you made with yourself to write and edit. When you have a day off from your job, make it a catch-up day. Grab a cup of coffee or tea, find a relaxing spot and make this your date with yourself. When you are relaxed and not rushing, everything will click into place.
Schedule Properly: Have a big project coming up at work? Is it December and you have to be at 4 family events and a butt load of holiday parties? Maybe it’s time to look at your schedule and work with it accordingly. This might not be the best time to be doing the bulk of your writing work. I personally do not do jack squat with my writing in December because I know that it’s going to have a full schedule. So instead of just dropping everything I plan it strategically. In another entry I talked about how you should set down your book before you dive into editing. So I plan for that to be the month that I just don’t look at it before I start and come back with a fresh pair of eyes.
It’s Not a Bad Thing: One of my keys in this area is to not look at having to go to work or school as a hardship that gets in the way of your writing but as an opportunity. You never know what is going to strike your inspiration. Pay attention to the world around you and I can grantee that you will find something in it for your writing that is going to help you write. For me personally, whenever I am working on a project I think about how my characters would react in the kind of situation that I’m in. Sometimes it makes me smirk but hey, that’s just as much a part of their personality as it is to mine!
Have Support: You would not believe how many people I talk to whose friends, family or significant others have no idea that they are trying to write! To me, it’s just the strangest thing in the world. After all, you might be spending hours trying to get that word vomit out onto paper. What do they think that you are doing on your laptop for 3 hours a pop?! My husband knows that in November, I’m pretty much entrenched. He has even said to me that in Novembers he doesn’t really want to plan anything because he knows just how deeply I am going to be involved in pumping out 50k in 30 days. His support means the world to me in this area because honestly if there was someone constantly trying to pull me away, I would never get anything done….and I would just be grouchy with him.
To make sure that you have this, make sure that friends and family know when your writing times are, just like your work schedule. If you participate in Nano or the other writing months, tell them. It really is simple. Just say something like “Hey, I’m trying to work on this draft this month and it’s really hard. I would really appreciate if we could schedule things for a different day/time.” Communicate that this is important to you and you need their help and support to get it done.
Optimize Your Writing Time: There are good times and bad times when it comes to writing. Some people ae night writers. Some people are morning writers. Find what works for you and when you and your families best time to write is. If you come home and your kids, husband or family wants to be with you and they are all super energized…you might want to think about scheduling your writing time before or when they go off to school and their jobs. If you get home from class and your mind is still on lessons or you’re just downright exhausted, that probably isn’t going to be the best time to sit down and produce your best work. I personally get home from work, do my workout, take a nap, take a shower and then I know that I’m going to be able to sit down and write or edit because all of that other shit that clouds up my mind is out of the way.
Minimize Your Social Media: Yeah, those baby pictures your friend from colleges sister posted are cute but if they are talking up a lot of your writing time…that kid does not need to be on your screen right now. During your writing time, turn off your notifications and have as few tabs open (If any) on your browser. I personally use a program, Om Writer, that takes up my entire screen so that I can not see ANYTHING but what I’m writing. I also have this cute little app on my tablet called Forest, where I can set a timer that plants a tree and if I go into any other screen, the tree that I’ve planted will die. It sets goals for me and tells me to get back to my work when I so much as look at it. Whatever program or strategy you use its simple: Don’t get distracted.
All in all, I think that the most important thing that I can say in this and keep saying on this blog is that you shouldn’t neglect your life; you should make your writing part of it. It’s the only way to lead a fulfilling life and make your novel happen.