Curse the Day Job!

Okay, the fact is that most writers have day jobs, or sometimes, night jobs, or second shift jobs or maybe jobs that seem to never end, like teaching. Day jobs are great in that writing these days generally requires electricity and caffeine, both which are hard to pay for without money.

But while day jobs are a blessing, they also have their downsides. Talk to any writer and the one thing they’ll tell you they need the most is time. For many people, they work the 8 to 5, pick up the kids, fix dinner, do laundry or whatever. For the writer, the real work begins after they’ve punched out, but there’s still dinner to fix, still laundry to wash and still a big steaming pile of “whatever” to get done.

Day jobs take up time. They also keep us from getting hungry, figuratively and literally. The bills are paid, there’s food in the fridge, and there’s a danger of becoming comfortable, of forgetting the dream and the stories we want to tell.

I’m not saying we should quit our jobs. (Yes, I think all writers fantasize about getting out of bed, filling their favorite mugs with coffee and getting to work in our pajamas  —  in short, quitting our jobs), but you may have noticed that few homeless people today are getting published. Most of us can’t quit our jobs, at least not yet. We have to see the dream through, and to see the dream through means, at least for now, getting up to the alarm clock, getting dressed, and heading to the only 8 to 5.

My point? Do your job, but don’t forget that no matter what it says on your pay check or your name tag, you have two jobs. You’re a writer. Let the day job feed you and pay the bills, but don’t let it feed your ambition. Don’t let it feed your dreams. Don’t get comfortable being part of the status quo. Don’t let your day job turn into the thing that keeps you from fulfilling your dreams.

Two Dirty Words — “No Time”

Okay, I’m going to say it and hate me all you want, but sometimes it’s just true. Some days there is no time to write!

It’s a horrible reality, like death and taxes and waiting for replies to queries.

Writers are told that nothing is more important than the craft. Like Stephen King says, if you want to be a writer, you have to read and you have to write. In the make-believe realm of Writer’s World, there would always be magical moments when the clock stops, the children take naps, and the dryer hums quietly making sure nothing wrinkles until the spell breaks and it’s time to get back to reality. In today’s world, writers are often Cinderellas stuck mopping floors, just waiting for our godmother to send us — not to the ball- but to some quiet sanctuary where we can WRITE!

Non-writers don’t get it. They don’t understand that not writing is like not getting the drug we’re addicted to. It’s literally like all the characters in our brains start running their fingernails (and some of them have very long fingernails indeed) across some chalkboard in our brains. To put it mildly, we get a little…irritable when we don’t get to write. But it happens.

Life gets in the way. Things like the need to pay bills and eat and avoiding ending up as guests on Dr. Phil because we’ve neglected our children and spouses and we remember our characters’ birthdays but not theirs.

So what do we do?

What can we do?

First and foremost, we have to not beat ourselves up. We may create superheroes on the page, but sadly, we can’t turn ourselves into them. We can’t go without sleep or food or somehow add hours to the clock. We can however remember that tomorrow is a new day. Sure, it will come with challenges, like every day does, but it’s new. It’s fresh. It’s a blank page.

Even if you can’t get a word physically on that page because the one hour you’d carefully set aside is taken up by an emergency trip to the vet because the dog ate a roach hotel, you can still think about writing. You can turn the radio off and visit with your characters at stop signs and traffic lights. You can jot an idea down in the little notebook you carry or on a fast-food napkin. You can fan the flames of your creativity until things settle down a bit.

They’ll never settle down completely. Writer’s World doesn’t exist. But we can remember that tomorrow is a new day, and with it comes a new night and new minutes and new moments. New opportunities to push the laundry and the grading and the dishes aside, and do what keeps us sane.

Write when and what you can. Fifteen minutes at lunch is better than nothing at all. And amazingly, if we give ourselves small goals, they have a way of growing bigger. Fifteen minutes at lunch turns to thirty. Maybe we wake up thirty minutes before the alarm goes off and instead of going back to sleep, we get to work.

Stephen King is right in that to be a writer you have to read a lot and you have to write a lot. But when life becomes our own personal antagonists, we have to remember that ‘life’ is what it’s all about. Enjoy the cuddles when the kids are sick, don’t forget to listen to the birds when you take the dog for a walk. After all, if we get too out of touch with our own lives, how will we be able to write about the lives of our characters?