Áine Greaney

Irish Author

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

North Shore of Boston via Ireland

Filtering by Tag: writing with a day job

Writers! Write to your own body rhythm

When my late mother met my then-boyfriend, she shared some maternal advice. "She's a pure devil in the mornings," she said, nodding toward me (I thought all devils were impure, but ... anyway).  Then, my mother proceeded to describe those childhood breakfasts when I sat at the table, bleary-eyed and speechless. Sometimes, I nodded back to sleep over my bowl of porridge.

I've never been a morning person.  I doubt I ever will. But that boyfriend married me anyway (we celebrate 25 years of mornings next week).

Over the years, I've gotten better at obeying that damn alarm clock, but it still takes my brain an hour or more to fully wake up. For those morning meetings at work, I have to stoke myself with extra, extra-strength coffee (there's a *strict* no-porridge policy in the boardroom) just to be marginally coherent.

And those vacation bed and breakfasts places? Yuck. Chattery, all-guest breakfasts around the frilly dining-room table are my idea of hell.

This past spring, I really needed to increase my weekly writing output. So I began setting my morning alarm clock for an hour earlier. Also, determined to bypass the downstairs kitchen distractions (cat, husband, newspaper, brown-bag lunch prep), I bought myself a small red Thermos.

At night, I fill my Thermos with coffee, then set it next to my laptop on a small desk in an attic room in our house. As well as providing that instant morning eye opener, this nightly Thermos ritual creates the anticipation of morning writing.  

Once that alarm goes off, I roll out of bed, climb the attic stairs, turn on the laptop and unscrew my Thermos cap--all while still half asleep. 

Four or six-hundred words later, I'm still not really awake. But I'm done with that day's writing. I'm ready to get ready for my day job.

I adore this morning solitude.  It makes my whole day go better. And, even more than extending my daily writing quota, this sleep-writing shtick has had an unexpected payout:  With my left-brain still on dimmer switch,  I have neither the urge nor the acuity to read back through what I've written to nitpick and change things.

Now, it's late summer and I have an entire 70-plus pages of my book. Oh, yes, on weekend afternoons and on my days off, I've read through and nitpicked--and nitpicked.  But there would be little or nothing to edit if it weren't for those early-morning, unfettered drafts. When it's a challenge just to keep your eyes open, you just keep writing.

This article in The Wall Street Journal, "The Peak Time for Everything," cites a growing body of research that suggests that, according to our individual body clocks, we have our own optimal times for certain tasks. And that these rhythms, not our actual schedules, should dictate when we do them.

My only question: I knew this before. Didn't I? So why, oh why didn't I capitalize on it? 

Have you found an unprecedented but perfect match between your daily schedule and your writing needs? Share in the comments below. 

Busy, Guilt-Ridden Writers! Write What You Can

Two weeks ago I attended an after-work spiritual retreat at Rolling Ridge, a  retreat facility and conference center that's located only about a half-hour from my office. It had been a hectic week, so I welcomed this chance to kick back, meditate and just generally let someone else do the talking or better yet, shush my brain altogether.    

The presenter began with a story about two monks--one older, one younger. One day, the junior monk confessed to his mentor how, as a neophyte, he could never seem to measure up; he could never be as pious as his elders. The younger monk said, "You get up so early every morning.  You seem to pray with all your heart and soul.  I could never hope to pray like that."

The elder monk smiled and said, "Why don't you pray what you can, not what you can't."

This advice really applies to our writing. It especially applies to those of us who constantly dither between our creative lives and our other responsibilities, including work. Honestly, there are weeks when I should get a golden gloves for all the jabs I take at myself, for how much I beat myself up over all that "I can't" do, or haven't done or failed to do.

In her inspirational blog for writers, Barbara Ann Yoder dubs this, "emotional self-flagellation," a state she finds counterproductive.

Barbara adds:

I think it’s important to acknowledge that jobs, relationships, cross-country moves, illnesses, and many other challenges can and do at times take precedence over writing.

For me, this "emotional self-flagellation" is often rooted in a monkish belief that only long-form writing stints qualify as "real" writing. 

Or, for another perspective, check out Lisa Romeo's writing blog, in which she also refutes that perennial advice about writing every day.

Lisa says:

But to my mind the most detrimental piece of standard writing advice is the one that declares that in order to be a *real* writer (whatever that is), one must write every single day, often amended to include that one must write a set number of pages or words, or a set amount of time per day.

Since attending that evening retreat, I've been trying to change my own thought processes.

On those days when I simply can't get 500 words on the page, I force myself to ask: What can I do?

Can I do a short morning meditation to clear my brain and develop a better and more creative attitude? Can I journal for five minutes?

journal
journal

Can I switch on my laptop and just read yesterday's paragraph so that I have at least "visited" my work in progress for that day? Can I do a quick read-through and edit of the first paragraph? Can I write up a to-do list of what's left or outstanding in the work? Can I play a scene through my head while I'm driving to the day job?

By focusing on what I can do, I am actually getting more writing done--or at least, I'm staying more consistently engaged in the work.

And best of all, I'm on much better terms with myself--and this life called writing.

What on-the-fly, quickie writer strategies save your writing days?

Writers dish on balancing writing with work and family

I'm delighted to announce that Alizah Salario, a freelance journalist from Brooklyn, NY, is the winner of my signed book, Writer with a Day Job. All of the names were entered for a random drawing. Check out Alizah's work at her website.

Below are Alizah's tips on writing and you can read all of the tips in the last blog post.

Tips from Alizah Salario:

1) Don’t confuse your job with your career: Because the type of writing that pay the bills and the type of writing that creatively fulfills and sustains me are two separate things, it’s easy to feel like I’m not a “real” writer if I’m not earning money doing what I love. I often remind myself there is no shame in doing something for money in order to do what you love.

2) Find an ally: Even supportive friends have a difficult time understanding the unique rhythms of a writer’s life. Find a fellow writer – through a writing group, a friend, or simply write to someone you admire – who can relate and help you stay on track when it feels hopeless.

3) Create your own criteria: So much of what is considered “successful” on the web is determined by the number of comments, likes, or tweets. Remember that some of the best writing out there gets the least attention, and there are countless talented people who don’t get the credit they deserve. Make your own markers of achievement that don’t have to do with responses from others – otherwise you’ll constantly be looking for external approval.

Thank you to all who shared their writing processes and tips. I know I learned a lot.

Writers, Join this book giveaway by sharing your tips

This week I was lucky enough to be featured at The Writer's Place, a spiffy blog by writer Nancy Christie. Then, today, the interview gets included in Help for Writers.

I enjoyed the entire Writers Place interview, but I was especially charmed by Nancy's last question in which she asks for my "top three takeaways" (or tips) for balancing creativity with work (based on my book, Writer with a Day Job).

Here are my top 3 tips for balancing writing and life:

1.  Define your own path to writing and writing success. Comparing ourselves with other writers is counterproductive—even deadly.

2.  If you’re a beginner writer, create an overview of your month’s typical schedule and commitments. Circle the items that can either be outsourced or dropped altogether. Only keep those commitments that are truly, honestly as or more important in your life than writing. Even if you don’t use your freed-up time for actual writing, use it for writing-conducive activities such as reading, yoga or just sitting and staring into space.

3.  Learn how to say, “no.” When we do, people are not as miffed or disappointed as we assume that they will be. We fall into these “I should” and “I must” habits because —duh!— we’re not clear with others about what we need in order to nurture our talents as writers.

So you've got my three tips. Now, what are yours? Insert below in the Comments section and join my book giveaway. 

If we get 15 responses (each with your hot tips), I will enter all names in a random drawing for a signed copy of my book, WRITER with a DAY JOB. I will mail the book to the winner, so make sure to include a website or blog where I can reach you. Sorry, U.S. addresses only, please.

We need a minimum of 15 responses ... so ... pick and post your best tips... and spread the word  ... 

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?

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?

Copyright 2011-2014 Aine Greaney
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