Terri Coduri Viani offers ten simple hacks you can do everyday to keep your day job from killing your writing career and sanity.
“Don’t quit your day job.” Five words generally tossed at creatives as an insult. “Stay with that survival job, kid, ‘cause no one’s ever gonna pay for your writing.” But what if we reframed this not as an insult, but as good advice for those still building their writing careers?
See, there’s this mistaken belief out there that if you have a full-time professional job or even “just” a survival gig, you’re somehow less committed to your craft than people who ditch their gigs entirely to chase the dream full-time. They’re the career writers, you are a hobby writer.
This is nonsense. It’s your attitude that determines whether you’re a career writer or a hobby writer, not a body count of hours in front of a laptop. We all know time-rich writers who could be doing deep creative work but instead spend their days sitting in cafes. We all know writers with scant writing time who give every free moment they have to doing the work. Writers with a career mentality get more accomplished in thirty compressed minutes than hobby writers do in an entire day.
That said, even the most committed writer eventually smacks into real world, day-job borders. A work emergency flares up just as the scene you’re writing gets hot. Six emails from the boss cancel plans to write after dinner. Writer fret and frustration build.
How will I ever get there with this ^&$*^@* job?!
Here are ten simple hacks to keep your day job from obliterating your writing career.
1) Be realistic about what you can accomplish. If you put in twelve hour days at the law firm (and have a family) it’ll be tough to commit to four hours of writing every night, even if your partner’s a saint. Doable goals are key to writer sanity.
2) Stay organized. When you finally get to your writing desk you don’t want to waste precious moments looking for your notes or deciding what project to tackle.
3) Pick a writing length each day rather than a specific writing time. Working on your screenplay from 7-9 every single night might not be possible but committing to thirty minutes a day, anywhere you can squeeze them in, generally is.
4) Commute with a purpose. Read books on the craft or plot character and story beats as the subway chugs along. Run dialogue out loud if you’re in your car. Listen to industry related podcasts or music that relates to your story/genre.
5) Cozy up at work. The entertainment biz runs on relationships, and good connections can develop from anywhere, on any job, and often when we least expect them. Get to know your coworkers.
6) Use your job to build skills. The weekly presentations you grit your way through will come in handy when you walk into a pitch meeting. Stop half-assing them.
7) Use your job as a 9 to 5 story generator. You’re a rare soul living a charmed life if you can’t develop a sit-com or horror-comedy off of co-worker shenanigans.
8) Tuck your story into the palm of your hand and carry it with you throughout the day. Look at it whenever you’re engaged with tedious, repetitive work that doesn’t require your full attention.
9) Focus on the negative: Hate your day job with the heat of a nova (hat tip to West Wing). Use that heat to rocket yourself into a new creative life as fast as you can.
10) Make “I am right on time” your mantra. It takes years to become a working artist, and there is no such thing as an overnight success. Repeat this mantra as necessary for your peace of mind. Also check out Scott Myers’ take on it here.
Finally, remember that all creative life choices require sacrifice. If you’re a hobby writer, no amount of free time will be enough to meet your dreams. If you’re a career writer by definition you’re already doing the necessary work to get where you’re going. So stop worrying so much and enjoy the ride.