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Writing Around the Day Job
by Laura Bickle
Every author I know wrestles with time management. Daily life - family, work, friends, home, even sleep - takes up large chunks of time. Writing often gets shuffled to the bottom of the priority list, behind laundry, errands, and long commutes. We can try to streamline tasks, get up early, delegate, and tell ourselves that the dust bunnies underneath the couch don't really matter. Those areas of home life often have some flexibility in terms of timing or degree of perfection we demand of ourselves.
But one of the biggest chunks of time away from writing is inflexible: the Day Job. Many writers have a love-hate relationship with the Day Job. We love it because it pays the bills. We hate it because we often feel like it sucks so many hours away from what we consider to be our "really meaningful" work: getting words down on the page. It's a necessary evil, but sometimes we can feel like it takes over our lives. We are what we do, and sometimes, it seems like all we do is get up and go to work, work for eight hours, come home, and sit before the television, stewing about responsibilities at work. Wash, rinse, repeat.
It's no wonder that our muses are cringing.
Much of the standard advice about writing around the day job involves writing at breaks or lunch. I always had a hard time doing that. It takes me awhile to get into the groove, and I hate the idea of someone sneaking up behind me in the cafeteria to over my shoulder, asking: "Hey...Whatcha doin'?"
What was a bigger problem for me than the eight hours at the office was taking the day job home with me. I tend to obsess about work-related issues on the drive home, make my to-do lists while preparing dinner, check my e-mail, fume, swear at my pager, and fiddle with my files. By the end of the night, I'd be staring up at the ceiling, re-playing today's meeting...
...and chastising myself for not writing.
What I needed was a way to compartmentalize, to manage my energy AND my time. A way to shut off the Day Job so that I was ready to write when I came home. I realized that the Day Job was taking up much more than eight hours at the office. It was taking up more than twelve hours of real estate in my head. And my muse deserves some of that real estate.
So, here's what I did. At the end of every day at work, I make myself a to-do list for the next day. I write down everything I need to do, worry about, and prioritize. And I leave the list at work.
On the way home, I usually did the "road warrior" freeway commute. Plenty of traffic jams, honking horns, stress. I rationalized it away as the fastest way of getting home, but I arrived at home gritting my teeth and in a foul temper.
I decided that I needed to make my commute home a chance to decompress. I changed the route I took home. It's longer, but the road I chose is less-traveled. I put some relaxing ambient music CDs in the car. The time in the car is now my transition period. I remind myself that I am physically leaving the office behind, and I must mentally do the same. With the slower commute, I devote the time to thinking about what I'm going to write about this evening. Before I know it, I manage to have visualized full-blown scenes that I can't wait to put to paper. And the drive seems shorter, somehow.
When I get home, there are chores to be done, dinner to be made, a husband to kiss, pets to feed. But my decompression commute leaves me in a better mood. I don't allow myself to check work e-mail from home, and have to consciously turn my thoughts away from work. If there's a work idea that keeps gnawing at me, I write it down, then leave it for tomorrow. I have to remind myself to partition.
Finally, I schedule some time for writing after dinner. The time is like an appointment with my muse, a time I can't break. Usually, I take a bath before to finish relaxing. I sit down in front of the computer, light a candle, and am relaxed enough to type. Time seems to slip away, and I finally have the mental space distance I need in order to do "real" work.
My muse approves of these appointments. And I bet that yours will, too.
Laura Bickle is the author of EMBERS, coming April 2010 from Pocket-Juno Books. Writing as Alayna Williams, she's also the author of DARK ORACLE, coming June 2010 from Pocket-Juno Books. More information is available on her websites, http://www.salamanderstales.com/ and http://www.alaynawilliams.com/