03 August 2013

Not a 9-5 Job

This post deserves a soundtrack:


I was poking around some writers' blogs a couple of days ago and I ended up visiting Jodi L. Henry's place, specifically her post titled "Working from Home is Harrrrd."  Can I get an amen on that sentiment alone? It is.

Jodi writes:

You'd think it would be rad making and keeping your own schedule. Having your passion and the success of your friends to motivate you. You think you would crank out words like every one was the last word in the existence of the universe and it had to be you to type it. 
And it is rad. It's rad in a million and one ways. Ways like: 
gardening, and laundry, and dishes, and landscaping, and...

Someone in the comments trotted out the old saw that if you want to succeed as a writer, think of it as a 9 to 5 job. I admit, I love the spirit of that advice. When I think of thinking of writing as a 9 to 5 job, I imagine myself sharpening pencils and putting on a fresh pot of coffee, and typing like I'm part of some massive 1950s corporation where I'm in the typing pool with a bunch of other well dressed people in structural undergarments, but MAGICALLY we are all producing not memos and correspondence about the shiny new product, no, we're CREATING ART. It's awesome.

The thing is, I have never been good at 9 to 5. I had one 9 to 5 job once, between undergrad and grad school. I was an accounting clerk. I was so bad at it. Oh, I could do accounts payable as well as the next arts major (pretty well, actually). I just hated the feeling of absolute stagnation that went along with sitting at a desk for eight hours plus every day. The regimented hours made me crazy and angry. The casual way people would interrupt each other made me want to choke someone out. The boss was pervy and dumb - a lethal combo. When the company moved to a different town and I got packaged out, I could not have been happier. (Sometime before the money ran out, I got a freelance editing and typesetting job that I did from home. Bliss!)

It's not that I'm afraid of hard work or even long hours. It's that to me, writing is not a desk job. Parts of writing happen at my desk. I would even say that most of it happens at my desk or on some other horizontal surface at which I'm sitting. But there's this undercurrent of content running through every waking moment and many non-waking moments too. When I'm engaged with writing, it's always. Building this relationship with creativity has been the single most important part of working on writing for me.

Here's what I wrote in response to Jodi's post:

For me, the 9-5 formula doesn't work - partly because one of my jobs is to run support for my partner (the 9-5 traditional job person in our household) and my other two jobs require me to be away from my desk at odd hours. Also, I find writing is not so much a job as something that worms its way into almost every little corner of my life. Creative work is like that. I require vast swaths of time spent staring into space or out walking in order to function in it, followed by concentrated bursts of productivity. Often it's something I have to ramp up to or trick myself into doing. It's a headspace more than it is about "BICHOK" (butt in chair, hands on keyboard). It's not a hobby, nor is it a job. It's life.

What about you? How do you work with your creative self? Have you made the 9 to 5 formula work for you? Are you a fan of focus boosting practices like The Pomodoro Technique? Tried the free Focus Booster app? Or do you just put your head down and write your little hearts out?


Trisha said...

I work full time at a non-writing job, and I find that I'm actually more productive with my creative stuff WHILE working. It's while I'm on holidays or on weekends that I tend to slack off. I would find writing 9 to 5 REALLY difficult, and I think I'd slack off a lot.

Andrew Leon said...

The only author I can think of that treated writing like a 9-5 was Piers Anthony (maybe, he still does?). He used to talk about how every morning he would go out to his writing office and, basically, lock himself in for the day. Of course, he also answered lots of fan mail and stuff, but, still, he "went" to work every morning and "came back" from work in time for dinner.

Most professional fiction authors (authors actually making a living wage from writing) that I know of seem to go by word count rather than time frame, most write in the mornings, and most stop some time around noon whether they've hit their word count for the day or not.

Autumn Shelley said...

If I could answer that question I wouldn't feel like I had wasted the last 4 years of my life trying to figure out what works for me!!
I have a j-o-b that is not 9-5 and anything resembling structure is beyond my capacity. I'm finding that grabbing even short periods of time between appointments or errands are becoming seductively productive. Of course I still prefer my magic witching hour (12am to 2am) so pushing myself to focus is currently the name of the game.

Anonymous said...

I already have a 9-5 job and I really have no desire to turn writing into one. There is lots of advice out there, macho advice, that says you must keep your BICHOK and produce by the sweat of your brow. I'm not a fan of that approach (nor do I lie awake at night, fretting that I must, I must, I must be published). Sorry, I just don't look at that way, and if that makes me a dilettante, so be it. The 'I am compelled to write' camp strikes as a little too dramatic. By the way, my 9-5 job is well paid and I work from home. So, if I had to slog my butt to a cubicle or a coal mine, I might feel differently: perhaps writing as a 9-5 gig might not seem so bad. Truly, I am trying to write something superlative, something I can be proud of, much, much more than I focus on 'getting published'. FWIW.

Mark K said...

In my early years I did sign up to a Government run scheme where I was paid a meager wage to be self-employed. I chose to aim at being a freelance writer. I did sell two pieces to a game company called 'Flame Publications' who were working on Game Workshop's 'Warhammer Fantasy Role Playing Game'. For these I produced two locations to be included in the game world.

Alas, the whole thing folded. But at least I got paid :) But working from home is harder than a bag full of hard things. Too many distractions and too easy to convince yourself that something needs your attention, 'just for 5 minutes'. Although, doing it from a room within a house shared with students is not a good idea.

I applaud the committed home worker who makes a success of it. I really do.

Elizabeth Twist said...

@Trisha: Your experience is very much in line with the NaNoWriMo philosophy: the busier you are, the more writing can happen. I have had times when writing was downright impossible, but I can see how a non-writing regular-hours job could create the headspace to allow for creativity. You must have amazing stamina to be able to write outside of work hours!

@Andrew: I think I remember reading about Piers Anthony's schedule from Bio of an Ogre?

@Autumn: Lani Diane Rich (of Storywonk) talks about how for her, every book is different. For some, she's felt compelled to rise at 4am and write. Others, she's up all night. As a relatively structure-free person, I can appreciate that.

@sitting: "Macho" is a good word for BICHOK and similar philosophies. Good lord, it would be great to be compelled to write. I have to woo my muse with flowers, candy, backrubs, games of Scrabble, cool notebooks, coloured pencils, and sundry other forms of attention. To me, publishing is just the other side of writing. It's nice to be read, and it's nice to be paid for writing.

@Mark: I know someone who was going for writing as a career and has made writing for game companies the backbone of his freelance income. (We've lost touch, so I'm not sure how it's worked out in the long run.) "Working from home is harder than a bag full of hard things." LOL. I think making any self-run business work is very touch and requires a LOT of stamina.

Cathy said...

If I were ever able to treat writing like a 9-5, I would have to do it outside the home.

Deborah Walker said...

I love working from home. I'm typing from bed for goodness sake. 9-5? Not so much for me. I do this writing thing full time, so I, on a kiddie's school day try to put in a solid 9.30-2.30 (except on school holidays and ermm, on Wednesdays when I go out for cofee). And then the rest of the time I want to work as much as I can fitting it in here and there.

I did a time and motion thing a few months ago and I was doing 20 hours actual writing (excluding research, internet faddle) and that's my absolute max.

But I think we talked about this, I didn't find counting hours as productive as counting word count.

Work's good for the social side of things, though. I miss that a bit.

Deborah Walker said...

And I did go through a phase of using my tomato timer! That was fun. I ought to search that out again.