Áine Greaney

Irish Author

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

North Shore of Boston via Ireland

Filtering by Tag: writers with a day job

Should You Come Out (as a writer) at Work?

It's happened again. This morning, my Google Alert told me that my name had been mentioned somewhere out there in the cyber galaxy.

Was it a glowing online review? Some writer blogger mentioning or  (or damning--who knows?) my book for writers? Some agent who had come upon my last novel and now, she or he had a question or a quibble or a hot writers' advance for the next book?

It was none of these.

Instead, it was a press release that I posted at work as part of my job as a communications director for a non-profit here in Massachusetts.

Dang. It's not that I'm disappointed that the search engines are picking up my work-generated press releases, but I don't like this public link between my paid work (aka, the day job) and my life as a creative writer.

I hate when that happens. In fact, I do everything I can to not have that happen, to keep  my day job and my writing life separate.  So I never stand in the lunch room blathering about last night's rough draft. Or I never announce a new publication.

2011-10-20_19-50-56_853
2011-10-20_19-50-56_853

I don't invite my colleagues to any of my public readings or panel discussions.

I never bring one of my books to work, and I never, ever mention my workplace on Twitter or on my author's Facebook page. Sometimes, when and if a colleague reads a piece of mine or sees my name in the local newspaper (the arts, not the business section), I grow suddenly bashful and embarrassed, as if I've been caught out in a secret.

Why?

Mostly, I like to honor the requirements and ethics of my professional life and workplace. I feel grateful to have a job I like with colleagues I respect.  But then, I don't write anything salacious or pornographic or outrageous. I don't write on the job.  So what's the harm in sharing my life with those people with whom I wait in line for the coffee machine?  Just as they tell me about their kids and their kids' birthday parties, why can't I share my extra-curricular life?

Mostly, I want my colleagues to see me as fitting and fulfilling the role I'm paid for. So I hesitate to introduce another variable of myself, to charge them with seeing me in another and separate light.

And make no mistake: They are separate. The worker me and the writer me are very different. Especially on those self-effacing and writer-blocked days, I like the worker me better. It's a far more confident and competent version.  It's a version that gets things done.

But mostly, I think I keep things separate because, even when I'm writing fiction, some part of that manuscript will reveal my past and my innermost thoughts and sensibilities.

Do I really want my colleagues to know that much about me?

How do you manage it? Really, I'd love to know. Do you allow colleagues or business associates to share in the joys and challenges of your writing?

Do you share rough drafts with your family or life partner or best friend?

Project Management for Busy Writers

Claredonohue
Claredonohue

Chicago-area writer Clare O'Donohue has published six novels, while also working  as a  freelance TV producer. 

Her most recent book, LIFE WITHOUT PAROLE, was released earlier this month.  LWP is the second in O'Donohue's Kate Conway mystery series.

 Clare is also the author of the Someday Quilts Mystery Series.

How does she write six novels (count 'em--six!) and balance a day job? According to Clare, there's no real mystery to getting it all done. It's all about managing the project's component parts. 

In my latest novel, LIFE WITHOUT PAROLE, Kate Conway, a freelance television producer,  is working on two shows at the same time. Someone recently asked me if these fictional overlapping shows reflected real life, or if they were just creative embellishment on my part.

LWP Cover

LWP Cover

Kate and I share a profession. I’m a TV producer and writer, working mainly on the informational program side of TV (shows on A&E, History Channel, HGTV, truTV…) Like Kate, I’m freelance, and right now I’m working on three television shows at the same time, and yes, my head’s about to explode.

As stressful as it is, it’s the nature of the beast for any freelancer – sometimes there’s too much work, and sometimes too little. When people call and ask if you’re available, you say yes, and then find a way to fit the project in.

That’s usually okay. Being a TV producer is fun. I meet people from all walks of life from killers to congressman, actors, athletes, business owners and orphans. But it is also exhausting. There are constant deadlines and lots of demands, and I always have to learn something new for whatever assignment I’ve taken on.

And have I mentioned that it’s constant feast or famine? I have? It bears repeating.

Somehow the craziness has been a blessing when I write a novel. And not just because my work as a producer was the inspiration for Kate. Being a good producer requires serious time management skills. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of work, questions, phone calls and emails. One day I went to get my teeth cleaned, and when I walked out of the dentist’s office I had a hundred new emails. A hundred urgent requests for information that wasn’t particularly urgent or even necessary, but required my attention to make my clients happy. I sat in my car and answered them, both grateful and annoyed that the invention of the smart phone made that possible.

When I’m confronted with a huge task like producing a show – or writing a novel – I realize I follow a few simple steps every time I take a breath. I make sure I’m as calm as possible. I get rid of annoyances – dealing with the little things to get them off my plate. Then, I look at the big project and choose which part I’ll work on first. I set an amount of time I’m going to work before taking a break.  And then, as hard as it is, I ignore everything else and focus myself completely on that task. There is nothing quite so overwhelming as looking at the big picture. So I try hard to stay on the small one until I can check a task off my list, then I re-assess, move on, and occasionally have some chocolate. I’m a strong believer in the reward system, especially when it involves chocolate.

In TV the “what’s first” task isn’t always the same thing, but in writing novels it is - Chapter One. I figured this out a few years back when I wrote my first novel.

I didn’t have an agent, didn’t really know anything about publishing and was just jumping in with a lot of dreams and just enough stupidity to keep me from realizing how much the odds were stacked against me. (Not knowing you can’t do something is often the very reason you succeed.) Anyway, my sister kept talking about how she could totally see it on a bookshelf someday, that she knew it would get published. Lovely supportive stuff that only made me feel more anxious. It made the project seem big and important… and beyond my abilities. So I began saying, “I’m in chapter three. That’s all I care about – Chapter 3.” I would work on chapter three, and when it was written and my sister started talking about book tours and best seller lists, I would say, “I’m in Chapter 4…”

In fact, “staying in the chapter I’m writing” is now more than just about writing. I realize sometimes when something else in my life starts to get bigger than I can handle, I break it down into small chunks. aka chapters. It’s more manageable. Planning a vacation, dealing with a personal problem, trying to lose that annoying ten pounds… I break it down into little pieces until it’s manageable and easy to achieve. And I take another page out of my producer handbook, and set a time that I’m going to work on something, or worry about something, before taking a break.

I’ve now written six novels, and I’m working on number seven. When people ask me how I do it, I say I produce a book the way I do a television show. I stay calm, stay focused, choose a small task and stick with it. And in the end, there’s chocolate.

What skills do you share between your day job and your writing life?

An Interview with Erika Dreifus, Author, Editor and Reviewer

Today I'm delighted to welcome Erika Dreifus, a New York City author whose recent short story collection, Quiet Americans  (Last Light Studio),  is a 2012 Sophie Brody Medal Honor Title for outstanding Jewish literature. 

erika-small
erika-small

Erika lives in New York City, where she holds a full-time, writing-intensive administrative job at The City University of New York.  A contributing editor for The Writer magazine and for Fiction Writers Review, Erika publishes The Practicing Writer, a free monthly newsletter for poets, fictionists, and writers of creative nonfiction. Her website is a rich and inviting resource for writers.

1. Erika, you switched from the freelancing/adjuncting route (as did I) to a Monday - Friday, 9-5 gig. For many writers, adjuncting and/or freelancing seem to be the default day jobs. Why the switch?

1A.  First, Aine, I just want to thank you for inviting me to your blog and for asking such wonderful questions.

After completing my MFA, I’d hoped to obtain a tenure-track college or university position teaching creative writing. I didn’t appreciate at the time how difficult it would be to get hired for that kind of job without having at least one published book to my credit. Freelancing and adjuncting helped support me while I pursued that elusive publishing goal.

But after a few years without a book deal, the instability of life as a freelancer and adjunct began to be too much. Plus, I was contemplating a move from the Boston area to New York, and I knew that if it had been hard to manage as a freelancer/adjunct in Boston, it would likely be even more difficult to do so in New York. It just seemed to be time to try something else—something with the stability (and health insurance!) of a Monday-Friday, 9-5 office job.

2.  In terms of your writing life, do you find one type of work setting (adjuncting) better or worse than the other (9-5).

2A.  I’m not sure I have a clear perspective on this right now. I have definitely grown as a writer since returning to a 9-5 job in ways I didn’t anticipate back when I was contemplating the move. For instance, I wasn’t writing poetry at all in my freelancing/adjuncting days. But that’s related to something else I’ve noticed: I seem to find it more difficult now to become immersed in longer-form projects. Because so much of my writing occurs in short bursts of time, I seem to be writing in shorter forms much more than I did in the past. The thoughts and images I want to write about are somehow more intense and urgent, and they seem to find expression best in compressed forms.

3.  I am excited to read that you write fiction, poetry and non-fiction. Are there times when you are more drawn to one genre than the other? Do certain topics lend themselves to certain genres for you?

3A.  Well, in a sense, this is tied to what I mentioned just above. But it’s interesting to me how certain topics seem to recur regardless of the genre. For instance, the experiences of my paternal grandparents—German Jews who immigrated to the United States in the late 1930s—and my perceptions of this family legacy have made their way into my short stories, poems, and essays.

4.  Tell us some more about your short fiction collection, Quiet Americans. I’d love to hear about the joys and challenges of making single stories into a complete collection.  We can assume that it’s not just a random placement of stories within the ms.? And how do you and the publisher decide which stories get to make the final cut for the collection?

4A.  The stories are grounded in the theme that I’ve just mentioned—the experiences of German-Jewish refugees in the United States and their descendants. As for the processes of selecting and sequencing the stories: All of that unfolded over time.

My case may be a little different, because my publisher initially expressed interest in my work as a collection. That is to say, he was aware that I had published a number of stories in literary journals and magazines, and he knew from his own experience how difficult it can be to get a collection published. He wondered if I had a collection already prepared that he might consider taking on. And since I had already spent so many years shaping (and re-shaping) the collection, and benefited from the advice of a couple of agents who’d been interested in it, the collection already had a structure and logic that my publisher appreciated. He was (and remains!) wonderfully supportive.

5. I think my readers would also love to hear about your publishing process. In this changing publishing environment, can you speak to the advantages (or not) of the independent, literary press?

5A. Quiet Americans owns its existence as a published collection to this new environment and to the possibilities now afforded to independent, literary presses. No question. So that is one significant advantage!

Obviously, it would be nice if every independent publisher had the resources and contacts of the larger houses. It would simply be easier to reach readers that way. But again, independent presses are now an increasingly viable option and ensuring that additional works of quality have a fighting chance in the literary marketplace. I see so much benefit in that, for authors and for readers.

6. What are your top 3 tips for transitioning or balancing between your day job and your writing life?

6A. Well, I’m frankly more interested in other people’s tips! But, for what they’re worth, here are mine:

  • Get up early! Seriously, there are only so many hours in the day. I always feel better if I've managed to get some writing done before I leave for the day job.
  • Get some exercise. After spending 40 hours each week at one desk, it isn’t always easy to settle in to start working at another one. Even a quick walk around the neighborhood will help. I also find that exercise helps “jog” my mind; it’s not uncommon for me to solve a writing problem or come up with a new idea while I’m walking or running.
  • Keep reading. Reading helps us stay inspired and keeps us learning. Even if you can squeeze in only a few pages before bed, make sure you get a daily dose of reading.

Thank you, Erika, for your thoughtful answers.

What about you, gentle reader (and writer)? Have you switched between adjunct teaching, freelancing or office-based positions? What blends or blended best with your creative writing life?

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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