Áine Greaney

Irish Author

Leading Creative Writing Workshops and Writing Stuff for 20+ years.

North Shore of Boston via Ireland

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Working Time and Writing Time. What's In-Between?

"Tuesday is the day before hump day. Thursday is one day after hump day. Except Friday is WOOOH!!! FREEDOM!!! Day, Saturday is Mostly Hungover day, and Sunday is PreDoom day."

From: Urban Dictionary

I'm voting for a change in the calendar. If there can be "hump day" and TGI Friday and "doomday," and "pre-doomday," then why not a catchy name for that day or afternoon or morning that comes after work but before writing?

I don't know about you, but I never drive away from my office ready to dive into my current work in progress.  In fact, there are weeks when the hardest part of writing is the transition from worker-brain to writer-brain.

I love my job as a communications director for a busy non-profit. I feel fortunate to work 32 hours per week, usually Tuesday through Friday.  Oh yes, I hate when that dang alarm clock rings.   And I despise the pre-work choreography--you know, the cereal-coffee-shower-select-an-outfit routine. I'm never awake enough to get it right first time.

But once I get the matching socks on, once I actually get to work, the day flies by and I enjoy my colleagues and my daily tasks.   I enjoy it all the more because I know that, come Friday evening, I have three whole days of writing time.

Or do I?

The older I get, the more transition time I need.   I need a metaphorical green room in which I can rest up and make that switch from worker (public) me to writer (private) me.

Writer and worker. They are quite different people. At work, I think my colleagues would say that I'm chatty and upbeat (on good days), deliberate but efficient at getting things done. But holed up in my writer's den, I'm much, much more organic (scattered?).  I'm more given to self-flagellation and artistic despair. I'm quiet and solitary. And, even when I'm writing (or trying to write) witty, I'm often serious and dark.

So once the working week is done, how to do that old switcher-oo?  How to put all that efficiency and teamwork and left-brain-ness into cold storage until the alarm goes off and it's time for the matching socks again? How do we shush the workplace water-cooler chat to hear, instead, our own unique writing voices?

The switch isn't easy. Not for me. In fact, some weeks are so busy, so all-consuming that I need a down day.

Down day? Um ... No. Hate that name. Hate its connotations (down = feeling down = downward slide = getting down on yourself).

Listen, whatever we're going to name this writer-in-transition time, this set of hours and mental space betwen work and writing, we can start by making that time more productive, restorative, more writer-ready.

Here are 5 strategies that work for me: 

1. Exercise -  You've had enough desk surfing. After work, get out there and walk or run or go to the gym.

2. Small assignments - Before you set out on that walk or run, stuff a work in progress in your backpack. After your workout, grab a tea and spend an hour reading and editing. It's just an hour. You're just reading. But this gets you back into writer-you.

3. Do something just for you  -- A yoga class, a massage, a visit to you local art gallery, lunch with your kids or partner or a good friend. A deliberate spate of self-nurturing helps us to feel like our day jobs neither own nor define us.

4. Write in your journal. Writing about your work week gets it out of your system. Oh, and don't forget to list of all the wonderful things you accomplished this week.

5.  Read--A poem, a novel, an article on writing, a personal essay that inspires or informs.  Reading something we love is a great way to say, "Goodbye work. Hello me."

Whether it's an hour or a day or an afternoon, how do you transition from day-job you to writer you? And writers, what should we name this transition time?

Our Just Desserts (Psst! No Calories)


9964-1009-freelinked
9964-1009-freelinked

When I published “Writer with a Day Job” (Writers Digest Books, 2011), I hoped that it would instigate us day-job writers to get chatting and sharing our strategies for balancing work with writing. Or I thought that some readers might comment on the book’s tutorials on the actual craft of writing narrative.

These have happened. But two weeks ago, one reader-feedback  really stopped me in my tracks. It was a note from a woman who said that her personal takeaway from the book was that we deserve to write. Like many of us, this woman is balancing a job, a family and some additional responsibilities for her extended family.

Here’s an excerpt from her very kind email:  

“Sometimes it's hard to justify writing even an hour a day when my job demands so much of me, and when the people I love need me so much. Your approach has helped me make an important shift: recognizing that it's writing that makes me a better person,  that this feeds everything else.”

For years and years (and even still), this “deserving” issue was the biggest block to my own writing.

In 1992, amidst an interstate move and  a few bad financial hits,  I took the first steps toward my lifelong dream of being a writer. I signed up for a master’s program at a college in our new town—a program I financed through a patchwork of cash `n carry jobs, credit cards, a research assistantship and a very large dollop of naiveté.

Three months before this, my husband and I had packed our things into a Ryder truck and rented our house (it wouldn't sell) and moved to this place where he accepted a lower-level position at his old company. It was this or take a company pink slip. I worked as a waitress and as a front desk clerk and as a college administrative assistant. Once or twice a week, I left that day's particular job and gobbled down an after-work sandwich en route to my graduate classroom where, supposedly, I would enter the writing life.

But in that classroom or, later, scribbling in a bagel shop on my lunch hour,  I believed that a girl like me—a new immigrant, a working wife, the child of working class parents—was an imposter.  Creative writing was for the believers. The rich. The leisured. The erudite.  Creative writing was for those who didn’t lie awake at night worrying about the mortgage, the in-laws or the credit cards.

Even when I did write or publish, I wrote with a certain timidity.  As I sat there scribbling in strip mall cafes, or when I researched my papers in the college library, I envisioned a grand American literate—an exclusive club of scribes who held the secret code to La Vie des Ecrivans. I would never be a member. I would never deserve it.

What a bloody waste.

Now that I’m middle aged, now that I’ve cleared my credit cards, I know that writing is as much about believing as it is about doing.  Above all, it’s about believing that writing is something that you deserve to do.

What about you? Do you believe, deeply, that you deserve the personal time out that it takes to write?  Do women come to believe this more easily than men?

photo credit: www.freewebphoto.com

Writer with a Day Job - Welcome

Z8079 WriterDayJob
Z8079 WriterDayJob

Creative Writing: You want the Side Salad with That?

I got the idea for the book,  "Writer with a Day Job" while sitting outside my office building.  This was the corporate building (I have since switched jobs) where I made my living, to which I commuted five days per week.

I was sitting on the stone steps at the back of the building, eating a lunchtime salad and trying very hard not to dribble the balsamic vinaigrette dressing onto the typescript pages I was editing.  That day's lunchtime writing assignment: to read and edit a creative nonfiction essay about pet ownership.  Now that I think about it,  I never finished that essay--so don't look for it in the New Yorker.

corporate office building
corporate office building

So there I was, eating, reading, writing--only glancing up from my manuscript to check my watch for when it was time to go back in through those glass doors and back to my cubicle and my other, paid job.

I had about 40 minutes in which to edit and re-draft my essay. As a lifelong procrastinator who tends to draft in my head and then write things just before submission date,I knew just how much work you can cram into 40 minutes.

There's nothing like a sunny spring day in New England to bring the cubicle corporatoids skittering into the daylight. So as I sat there reading and editing,  the rest of the office crowd emerged blinking into the sunlight to mill around that nondescript courtyard. They gossiped, paced or gabbled on their cell phones.

The truth? I wanted to tell them to shut it. But then, this wasn't my personal writing studio.  So actually, I was the one who had to shut out all those voices and distractions.

And then I had a vision. No, seriously. And please don't summon the whacko police--at least not yet. But in my mind's eye, I saw all of us day job writers across America--thousands of us sitting in bagel shops or huddled in doorways or sitting in our cars with our iPods, trying to jam in a little bit of writing while waiting for the kids to get out of soccer practice or while sitting in the dentist's waiting room.  Mine wasn't the Hollywood vision of a creative writer. But it was the authentic, 21st-century version.

Then I thought of all the writing students who have attended my writing classes and workshops for adult learners. Nurses. Accountants. Marketers. Dads. Moms. Doctors. Lawyers. Carpenters.   Except for a very lucky or a bestseller few,  most of us writers are holding down a day job while also writing. We're walking that tightrope between creating art and paying the rent.

So the book, "Writer with a Day Job" was born.

I took another bite of my salad and turned over my typescript page and began to scribble some initial ideas for the book.

For the next few weeks, at home or on the commute, I had more ideas for the book.

But listen,  ideas are one thing. Translating those  ideas into useful, in-the-trenches guidelines is another process. Could my own experiences in the craft and process of writing be useful to other writers?

You be the judge.

Writers Digest Books published "Writer with a Day Job" in June 2011. As well as guidelines, inspiration and tutorials, the book includes interviews with 20 creative writers from across the country. These are novelists, essayists, memoirists and poets who have or currently balance work, parenting and writing.

Since the book's publication date, other writers--all of whom are balancing work, family and creativity--have  emailed with their comments and questions.

And now ... Ta! Da! Le blog, "Writer with a Day Job."

Let's make this our virtual salon.

As I add new posts and guest posts, I invite you to comment. I invite you to  share your own experiences,  successes and ... ahem ... challenges in finding balance between your writing and your working lives.

Meanwhile, here's an excerpt from "Writer  with a Day Job." Yes, wouldn't you know it? It's about writing on your lunch hour.

Copyright 2011-2014 Aine Greaney
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