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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Writing with a Day Job


Tips for Writing with a Day Job
by Angela Benson

Job vs. Career

· Decide on which is the job and which is your career. Jobs, even in these tough times, come and go, but you want to cultivate your career. Don't let the job interfere with your career. –Farrah Rochon, Rescue Me

· It's about career: the one you have and the one you want. You have to order your priorities and need not share them with your day job folks. Get the work done and done well so they have no complaints or issues and you still get those exceptional appraisals. Plan your career and exit strategy and keep it to yourself so when you leave it's a surprise. That has it's own reward.

Juggling the two takes balance and self-discipline. Respect your writing and the time it takes so you can produce a valuable novel and hone your craft. –Gigi Gunn, Rainbow’s End, Urban Soul

ME: I decided that my first priority was my day job because it pays the bills. Making this decision really cut down on my stress because I don’t have to decide what to do first. If I have too much on my plate, the writing has to slide. I can be late with my book (hopefully, not too late), but I have to get the work at my day job done on time. Given that this is the case, I have realistic expectations for what I can produce. My goal is to write a book a year, and possibly one novella. I’m adding in the novella this year. It’s not easy.

Work as Research

· My old day job was a treasure trove for research and fleshing out characters. I'd people watch or study co-workers in action and maybe give a character their quirks, mannerisms or habits. I’d observe what was on their desks. I had a dedicated notebook filled with things I'd scribbled down about co-workers and other people I came in contact with during the workday. Then I'd take that notebook out and pick a few little things to give to a character to depict something about his or her personality. I'd create a composite based on things I took from this one or that one. This way the people don't recognize themselves.

You not only have to be people observant as most of us writers are, but you have to make it a habit to take five or ten minutes out of the workday to jot down your observations before you forget them. Not on bits and scraps of paper. Those are too easy to lose. A small dedicated notebook or a place in your BlackBerry/Palm Pilot works. There are lots of good, useful detail and texture for characterization at any workplace. –Reon Laudet

ME: To be honest, I had not thought of this, at least not in this detail. I’m going to adopt this tip for myself. I have some interesting characters on my job and they should provide good fodder for my stories. I’m going to try to record my thoughts/observations using my iTouch.


Write

· My tip is to establish a writing routine and stick to it. A daily goal of time spent writing or a certain number of words/pages. If you don't there will always be something else to be done that will seem more important. –Lynn Emery

· I think flexibility and discipline are important: the flexibility to create a schedule that works for you in a given situation and the discipline to get the pages in.

For example, sometimes managers are possessed of an evil desire to schedule meetings during my lunch hour. When that happens, I don't stay late. I've got to get my pages in. When unscheduled after-work appointments pop up out of nowhere, I stay up a little later. The story's worth it. My career's worth it. –Patricia Sargeant, Sweet Deception (June 2009)

· My tip is to write at lunchtime or on your breaks at work. Bring a notebook or use your computer (if you can) and email the work to yourself. You could eat your lunch before lunch or on a break (bring a sandwich). –Natalie Dunbar, Vegas Bites Back

· While commuting to work in a car, which was 30 minutes each way, I invested in a miniature tape player and when stuck in traffic and scenes would visualize in my head, I would dictate into the tape player and when I got home that evening, I would replay and add to my manuscript. I found that easier to do that trying to remember. Another thing I did was use notecards at home.

I also determined when was the best time for me to write, before work or after work. I discovered writing before work was best and used the evening time to edit what I'd written that morning. –Brenda Jackson, NYT Bestselling author

· One thing I do is write during lunch. I turn away from my computer and break out my laptop or a notepad. I put headphones on so people think I'm listening to music. I've also trained them to not invite me to lunch so I'm not tempted, though I do reserve one day a week for going out. Not only do I save money by bringing my lunch (though we have a nice cafeteria here) I also take in less calories than I would going out. I get up to 10 pages during that hour because I'm focused and still in "work mode".

Buying a mini netbook (about $300) has worked well too, since I can slip it into my purse. It boots up faster than my larger notebook so I'm ready to go that much sooner. Works great for waiting at the doctor's, in the bookstore, or the coffee shop or when I go to Paneras, or for writing in bed.

I also find I save time by not opening my web browser (that's a big time sink for me). –Seressia Glass, CARNIVALE DIABOLIQUE, July 2009

ME: It’s difficult for me to write in short blocks of time. I tend to write when I have huge blocks of time – Christmas break, summer break. Adding the novella to my schedule has forced me to use the short periods. To be honest, I waste a lot of time. I could work on the discipline. I’ve tried to keep my work life and writing life separate (re: Christmas and Spring break writing) but I’m going to have to integrate more. Daytime is work; evening is writing. Weekday is work; weekend in writing. In general, that will work for me but the reality is sometime work extends into the evening and onto the weekends. At this time, I don’t write at work.
It’s a Business!

Start keeping good records and files from the beginning! Use as much of your job resources as possible (within reason). Don't quit your day job after your first contract--save and plan. –Donna Hill, Temptation and Lies

ME: I could be better than this. I use my one credit card for all my writing related charges. The good thing about this is that at the end of the year, I can get a detailed accounting of what I spent and when. This really helps me with my taxes. I also record all my events/trips on my calendar. At the end of the year, I can print that full year and see where I went and I what I did. This calendar also helps with my taxes. I keep my work and writing activities on a single calendar since I have to schedule my life, not my job or my writing. One thing I could do is keep better mileage records. The calendar reminds me of where I drove but the IRS wants a mileage log.

RE: quitting the job.

I did it in 1995. I gave myself three years to make writing full-time work. Since I’m back on the job, you can see I didn’t make it work. My advice is to do the math before you quit. I’ll give you an example.

Suppose you got a two-book deal for $100,000. If you did, you probably had an agent so you’ll only see $85,000 after the agent takes their fifteen percent. $85,000 is a lot of money, right? Well, it depends. You have expenses. Taxes (federal, state, social security, Medicare) will take thirty percent or about $25,000, leaving you with $60,000. Unless you have a spouse with medical insurance or you can get on public assistance, you’re going to have to think about insurance. Let’s say that’s another $12,000 a year. Now you’re down to $48,000. Not bad, you say? That’s because you’ve forgotten that it was a two-book deal. That probably means that $48,000 is going to have to last you two years, meaning you have about $24,000 to live on each year or $2000/month. For some of you $2000/month is more than enough money to live on, while for others it won’t cover your mortgage and utilities.

The bad news: Very few authors get a two-book deal for $100,000 early in their careers.

The good news: If you do the math, you can figure out how to adjust your lifestyle so that you can become a full-time writer.

Get the Family On Board

Nobody mentioned this, but it’s important. If you have a family or if you’re in a serious relationship, you need to make sure that they’re on board with your writing. You have to make time for work, writing and the family/relationship duties.

Questions/Comments

28 comments:

Angela Benson said...

Okay, not everybody at one time. Feel free to ask a question or make a comment about your experience writing with a day job. I'd love to hear from you.

Shelia Goss said...

Angelia, this is great. I know when I'm working on a contract job assignment, I have no time to write because the work ends up being 12 hour days. I have not found the balance when I'm on assignment.

Shelia Goss said...

Angelia should be Angela (sorry) :)

Angela Benson said...

Shelia, I knew you were talking to me so don't worry. I bet people often spell (or misspell) your name as Sheila. I always get confused with that.

Renee Williams said...

This is wonderful advice, not only for authors, but for others who, like me, work a full time job, but also offer services to authors. I also do a lot of work for my church, so finding the right balance of time to get everything done has been hard on me. I have to learn to focus on one thing at a time and not try to do them all at once because then something gets neglected.

Zaria Garrison said...

This is all great advice. I want to comment on writing from work.
Before you do that, please be sure to find out what your company rules are and how they are interpreted.

I was fired from my job of 3 years last week for "using the company computer for own personal profit and gain".

This was because while on my lunch break, I emailed a friend, from my personal email account, and asked a question that related to my book.
My boss stated this was considered research and therefore violation of company policy. Although on my lunch break I was on a company computer.

My things were packed and I was escorted out of the building.

My personal belief is that was a very "vague" description and I was truly not guilty of that. The book in question is not due out until 2010 and I've made nothing from it.

However, in this economy when employers are cutting back for various reasons, it's not a good idea to make yourself a target.

Angela Benson said...

Wow, Zaria, you really brought it home. Employers do have that right. You really do have to render unto Ceasar what is Ceasar's and unto God what is God's. Yours seemed a bit extreme to me but your employer was probably within his/her legal rights. But sending an email with a question on lunch break--Still, wow!
I'm so sorry but that is a lesson to us all.

PatriciaW said...

Angela, thanks for an honest look at what it takes to make writing a full-time career and points to consider. Starting out with stars in my eyes, I thought I'd like to do that. Now, I'm not so sure, for a host of reasons, including I enjoy getting up and out and being engaged with other people.

Zaria, sorry to hear about your trouble. The quote about using a notebook or a personal laptop/netbook makes sense.

Tia Hines said...

I'm loving it!This session is on. I work full time for the state and tend to do some things while at work because of a lot of down time but the fact of the matter is I have to watch my back. Of course because I'm not supposed to be doing personal stuff during work time. I also have a problem.

I want to first thank God that I do have a job because some people are not as fortunate right now due to the economy. But I wake up not wanting to go to work because I beginning to not like my job. Part of it is because I feel like I'm stuck in a position where I can not move up due to my age. I dislike my supervisor because he is anal for no reason.
My motivation for going to work is knowing that I can do some writing or researching for my new release. I wake up full of ideas and just want to sit in my zone and write away. I've taken off so much time and stayed home to write.
I am trying to pace myself to but it is difficult. My 9 to 5 is a hinderance but sallie mae is too.

I am looking for a good deal but how do I get there. My ideas are soaring and I feel like I'm going to be left behind. Help!

maxxgrl said...

Thank you for your advice, this will help me organize my time by committing to write at my own allotted time.

Sharon said...

Angela, thanks for the wonderful advice & info! I was one of those who did my writing during my lunch hour, but I did it away from my desk - either in the lunch room, lounge, or sometimes in my car. I think its extremely important to keep your work & writing life separate. Granted switching from one hat to the other in a short span of time had its challenges - but it has been worth it.

ps - love your novels!

What's Up in Sherrice's World? said...

Wow! What a great article. I am writing my first book and use my lunch breaks and late nights to make it happen. Amazingly, my boss supports me 100%. I make sure that once I throw away my lunch, I close my manuscript. I also give my employer 100% in every aspect of my role. It is important to have a supportive employer if you plan to write with a day job. I pray that this will not always be my testimony, as I desire to write and facilitate workshops full-time in the future. This is a great sharing opportunity.

vanessa richardson said...

Hi Angela!

Two thumbs up! What an informative session. Thank you for your honesty. This was just what the doctor ordered.

Wow,Zaria-
What an extreme move from your boss. I say this that when one doors closes, I believe God opens another.

Vanessa

LaShaunda said...

Excellent post Angela.

Thanks to those who posted their info too especially Zaria. I pray you find a job that appreciates you.

Unika Molden said...

Wow ladies! Angela, thanks for this wonderful information and advice. I am an aspiring writer as well. Like some of the other ladies, I have so many ideas in my head but never seemed to have the time to write them all down. So, I was telling my husband about it and he bought me a voice recorder. It's no bigger than an ipod and when I have an idea, I can immediately speak into my recorder and save it so that I can come back to it later. The main purpose was so that I would not forget good storylines that I come up with and so that all of these characters in my head will let me sleep at night. LOL

Angela Benson said...

Hey, y'all, Zaria is still on my heart. I think Vanessa said it all, "when one door closes, another opens."

Zaria, our prayers are with you. It took courage to share your story but I believe that it may have saved a few jobs. There are some folks out there who may have been abusing their work positions, if only a little bit. Your story is a wake-up call for us to make sure everything is in order.

Tia, many of us have felt what you're feeling. To be honest, I don't know what the feeling means. Some folks will say it means it's time to start looking for new work because God is preparing you to leave. Others might say that the discontent is not from God, but the enemy trying to make you blind to the ministry that God has given you on that job.

Personally, I think you have to start looking at that job as ministry. It's as much ministry as your writing, if not more. You've got the right attitude, being grateful to have a job when so many people today do not. Now let's try doing that job as unto the Lord, not unto the boss.

That doesn't mean that you can't look for other work. You can. I just encourage you to look for God where you are now.

That said, I've quit before to try something different so I do know. Please, when I was in industry, I'd use up my vacation days by June. So this really is a personal decision. My prayers are with you.

Thanks to everybody participating in this workshop. Just know that what you share here is being a blessing to somebody. You may never know who or how they were affected, but that is the faith we have.

So keep those comments coming.

Sylvia Hubbard said...

awesome post Angela

and i love that you inserted the family and beau on board thing cuz that can drive you half mad as you try to keep it 2gether.

as we speak i'm at my "benefit" job editin my book and i've never been more content answering phones, doing the job for the man while half my brain is in literary luxury.

I had to find a balance because I was frustratedwith my life and I'm glad i did start the writing at work because it's made me have a purpose and actually want to come to work.

(I get away from the kids and only need half the brain to do the job).

Although that's why i won't accept a higher paying position because they'll want me to use more of my brain and i would do less writing.

LOL.

Susan Falck said...

I've been a stay home mom for over 23 years and am seeking employment, due to these economic times. My youngest is twelve and has recovered from his head injury fairly well. I am free, but don’t want to give up writing.
Thanks for advice. I will keep it in mind as I make this turn in my life.

Angela Benson said...

Sylvia, you're exactly right. All jobs are not created equally. There are some jobs that require less of you than others. There are some jobs that you can leave at 5p and not think about until you get there the next morning. I have a writer friend or two who have found such jobs. They wanted them because they were not taxing emotionally or intellectually. There is nothing at all wrong with making such a choice. Unfortunately, there jobs tend to pay less money. Such is life. There are always trade-offs.

Susan, if you look at the writing histories of a lot of romance writers, you'll find that many of them starting out as stay-at-home mom writers and went on to build solid writing careers. It can be done.

Angela Benson said...

Sylvia, you're exactly right. All jobs are not created equally. There are some jobs that require less of you than others. There are some jobs that you can leave at 5p and not think about until you get there the next morning. I have a writer friend or two who have found such jobs. They wanted them because they were not taxing emotionally or intellectually. There is nothing at all wrong with making such a choice. Unfortunately, there jobs tend to pay less money. Such is life. There are always trade-offs.

Susan, if you look at the writing histories of a lot of romance writers, you'll find that many of them starting out as stay-at-home mom writers and went on to build solid writing careers. It can be done.

Zaria Garrison said...

Thanks everyone. I appreciate your kind words and I do believe that God is totally in control of this situation.

My example, was extreme, and I honestly don't believe it's the "real" reason I was let go.

But as stated, it's a wake-up call to keep those things separate. My boss was 100% supportive, or at least I thought so until I was let go.

In this economy companies are looking for "excuses" and usually that person who has other things going for them, is first on the chopping block.

But don't be discouraged. Keep writing at lunch, after hours at home, on the weekends or whenever you can fit it in.

Writing full-time is my dream job. Maybe God is preparing me for that...who knows.

Angela Benson said...

Zaria, thanks for that last comment. You're probably right about letting folks go who have something on the side. Interesting, isn't it? We just have to keep trusting God.

I'll be checking back in later tonight but I wanted to thank you ladies now for joining in with me today. You made a special day even more special. In case you didn't know today is the release date for me new book, Sins of the Father. Please pick up a copy and let me know what you think.

Now back to our regular programming.

Keep those comments coming.

Angela Benson said...

Zaria, thanks for that last comment. You're probably right about letting folks go who have something on the side. Interesting, isn't it? We just have to keep trusting God.

I'll be checking back in later tonight but I wanted to thank you ladies now for joining in with me today. You made a special day even more special. In case you didn't know today is the release date for me new book, Sins of the Father. Please pick up a copy and let me know what you think.

Now back to our regular programming.

Keep those comments coming.

Rudelle Stewart said...

These were really great tips and all of the posts give me something to ponder. Zaria I had just decided to start using my lunch break to write because I've been having a hard time finding time during the evenings. I am really going to rethink that decision. Thank you for sharing and I pray that God will show you the next door very soon.

Angela Benson said...

Thanks, everybody! We had a great workshop today. I enjoyed it a lot.

Susan Falck said...

Thanks for the words of encouragement, Angela

Melissa said...

Angela, thank you so much for sharing those helpful insights. It's hard balancing the busy-ness of life--I'm going to try to implement some of these ideas. You have no idea what an inspiration you've been to me and I look forward to reading SINS OF THE FATHER.

Zaria, my prayers are with you.

Chris said...

Interesting comment about using your day job to write. I do too, to some extent. My best character ideas have come from people watching at restaurants and bars. Helps me get conversation down.

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