How Writers can Trick Themselves into Working After Work

We writers are always told to never quit our day jobs, but day jobs can have a dramatic effect on our creative output.

Sales employees have to put their brightest faces forward, give their firmest handshakes, and work their damnedest to mirror their clients. Reps have to know which way their buyers are leaning before the buyers do. Reps have smile through rejection and nod through micromanagement. When sales reps come home all that time spent aligning with their clients’ concerns has left them emotionally exhausted.

The last thing salespeople want to do is to have to deal with fictitious people’s needs, with their own urgent needs and unresolved conflict. So how do those of us with aspirations beyond our current functions make good on our dreams? How do we find the time to write around our responsibilities?

The Writer’s Ideal Fantasy

When I first got it in my head that I wanted to be a writer I imagined an idealized workspace that looked like a command center of character biographies, plot devices, and timelines. I imagined a library of reference books stacked around me, and red wine flowing on tap. I figured I’d toil inside a sound proof pod and everyone I knew would respect my craft too much to dare intrude on my process.

As I started writing I worked my way up to my idyllic situation. I had a routine that involved comfort food, coffee, and finding a sequestered section of my environment. The problem was if any of my essential elements were offset I couldn’t write anything. I couldn’t write in an apartment if the people above me were stomping with stiletto heels on. I couldn’t write in a coffee shop if the barista was playing dub step DJ, and I couldn’t write in the break room if anyone was eating with their mouth open.

Rather than rage at the world around me I had to realize that my delicate sensibilities were preventing me from getting anything done. I was also giving myself a free pass to be lazy by using my idealized writing environment as an excuse to do nothing in my current one.

So how do you write when your environment isn’t ideal and your job has you emotionally, psychologically, and physically exhausted? I’ll give you a hint: it doesn’t involve rolling up your sleeves and powering through (not as the first step). I’ve found if I approach writing as a second job to clock into when I get home it will feel like work. I end up falling into a vortex of Netflix.

Upstanding Citizen

Keep it Casual

The trick is to tell yourself that you’re just going to jot some ideas down for your next day off, give yourself a place to start when you’re feeling more serious. I find that if I set my expectations too high I write 300 words if I’m lucky, but if I set them low I write 300 words with ease and everything else is gravy. I trick myself into getting 3,000 words in. I often do this while waiting for someone to swing by, right before going out, or before choosing something worth watching.

This same casual mentality can apply throughout the day. If you tell yourself in the morning that you must commit all three of your breaks to working on your novel, you’ll resent it, but if you dabble with a few paragraphs on your phone while you eat it will feel like you’re earning extra credit.

Trick yourself into writing by opening a document and dabbling with some free floating sentences several lines away from your last paragraph. Give yourself some clever descriptions to use in the next scene. If you accumulate enough of them, why not combine them into a paragraph? Then why not connect them to where you left off? Now you’ve tricked yourself into making progress.

Why not write a some dialogue without prefacing ever word with an action or character attribution? Who knows if your characters speak with distinct voices you may not need to add those other details in.

Don’t Jinx Your Spark

Often the biggest barrier to writing is starting the process. If your ritual begins with a cracked knuckle proclamation, “No, I have to get this done.” You will drudge through those first few paragraphs. You’ll attribute your writer’s block to your work ethic and fail like a failure.

Meanwhile if you’re jotting a random idea on your phone while you’re on the bus you’ll feel less pressure to write another. You’ll just do it to pass the time. The trick is to take some of the formality out of your productivity.

Closing Thoughts

Some writers work better with deadlines and word count metrics, but if you work full time, you have to disassociate writing from the feelings you get when you’re on the clock.

One reality that all professional writers will face is that you have to write when you don’t feel like it, to work through writer’s block until you actually feel inspired. These mental exercises are meant to get you going after your work routine. Don’t be discouraged if you hit a wall and have to drudge on through some description that you know you’ll end up cutting, or if you write overviews of conversations that you’ll have to convert into real lines later, or if you rush into an action scene because you don’t have the focus to build suspense first.

It’s normal for writing to feel like a treat, then a chore, then a treat again. The sooner you accept that these feelings will surface the more prepared you’ll be to work around them.

Let writing be part of how you unwind. Open the document for your work in progress before you browse the net. Leave it open so you can tinker. Give it your full attention when you really have something.

Part of this flexibility with your writing counts on you to be flexible with your other forms of recreation. If you plan on watching something right after work you will. Leave your you time open for writing or binge watching.

Avoid burning the candle at both ends. Writing every day shouldn’t mean sleeping 3 hours a night. Be flexible about your expectations for output on work nights. Give time to loved ones, but when everyone else is tuckered out, why not sneak a few words in and set yourself up for success in the morning?

•••

This is my first collection of musical spoken word recordings. Each recording puts a satirical slant on self improvement, self medicating heartbreak with humor, and dropping the mic on depression. The recordings are scored with synth melodies, backing beats, and radio drama sound FX.

20 thoughts on “How Writers can Trick Themselves into Working After Work”

  1. I exhausted myself when I started writing my books as I had a ‘day’ job five days a week, Now I’ve reduced my working week to three days so I have more time to write. It’s all about being balanced. Great post, I’m reblogging. Thanks.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I exhausted myself when I first started my job and soon the material dried up and a started to fall out of love with it. We have a much more mature relationship now, me and my blog. There are some days when we don’t like each other much. There are other days when we are best of friends. You are right, sometimes we need to test the water to see whether the flow is there with some small tasks. The small tasks can take you on a journey and that’s the fun bit.

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  3. I will have my 9-5 for a few years yet, and often I’m cashed by the time I drag myself in the door. But you’d be surprised what you can pound out with TV and family in the back ground. The important parts, the tough parts, I save until I’m alone, but I’ve learned the art of “tuning out” and it works quite well. It HAS to. It’s either that or wait a few years until my house is empty.

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  4. I trick myself into a lot.

    I also never really considered that you had a day job, Drew, much less in sales. You do so much writing and music and photo-making, I sort of saw you like grade-school kids see their teacher: as if you just live here all the time and pop out of the closet when we arrive. Interesting new insight.

    I do find that it helps to simply open a document in the background and place the cursor where it will next need to be. Just having it there, ready, makes it easy to jump over when something hits. And that’s often all it takes to get five pages out.

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  5. I’m assuming you’re not talking about parenting here. 😄 Great ideas in general but I’m emotionally exhausted and “Burning the candle at both ends” every day. And sleep? What? I still haven’t figured this out and I might not.

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    1. Hey, Sarah. This may not be a season of life during which you get much writing done, for sure. You are helping to write little lives, which are unfolding stories of their own and, ultimately, much more important than anything you could type. But don’t ever give in to the notion of having zero free time. Fight for it, if necessary. A 15-minute walk. Reading a book for a bit after they’ve gone to bed. Maybe trade an hour of watching a friend’s children along with your own, for their taking yours for an hour later in the week. As I say, you are writing life stories with your children; and, as we all experience at some time in our lives, perpetual exhaustion serves no one’s story well. Take care of you, too!

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  6. Thanks for this! Balancing writing with a day job is a relatively new challenge for me. I graduated from college this spring and used to wake up an hour before class to write. Worked every time, since I had no other commitments that would pop up and disrupt my flow. Now that I’m working it’s been a bit more of a struggle since waking up an hour early wouldn’t be an effective or lasting habit during the week. As you mentioned, being more realistic and flexible with expectations on your output is important to not letting yourself get burned out or frustrated. My newest strategy is setting a 15 minute timer during the evening for me to write. It’s just long enough for me to get some work done if I’m feeling tired. Plus if I have enough energy I can always go past that 15 min or have another 15 min session later.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hey, Zed. What was your degree and from where (congrats on finishing it!). Is your first job out something related to that degree and/or something about which you’re passionate (which would be rare, fresh out of school)? And what are you writing?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Thanks! I studied Psychology (which I loved) but have a completely unrelated administrative job since I’d need at least a Masters to get a job in the field. Currently, I’m writing a lot of novella length fantasy.

        Liked by 2 people

  7. The professional writer is a fairly endangered species these days so there’s not even much prospect of working your way to a point of not having a day job too. Much of it can be blamed on the state of the industry, and the priorities of the industry, but in the meantime, learning how to survive is going to be key for all of us. Thank you for sharing your insights – decidedly helpful

    Liked by 1 person

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