Last week I came across an interesting piece in The Onion. The title is pretty self-explanatory: Find The Thing You’re Most Passionate About, Then Do It On Nights And Weekends For The Rest Of Your Life.
When I posted this on my Facebook wall, the little red-haired girl thought it was a little depressing, and asked me if I really feel that way about writing. Truthfully…no…most of the time.
I generally think that at least for the moment having a “day job” is good for me in that it encourages a disciplined life, and does provide that steady income that seems to keep houses running. I also generally think that when given unstructured time, I am not at my peak performance.
But when I was up visiting Brian last weekend, the Lady Buckley raised an interesting point: weekends are not the best time to judge how we use unstructured time. I admit that I base a lot of my assumption that I am more productive in my writing with a job on one summer in college where I had no job, and did no writing. And the weekends are not the same as the rest of the week. They are often when the big household tasks need to be accomplished, and they are also the period of recovery from the work of the week.
Early in the fractal book’s drafting, I took some of my excess vacation as writing days. Those days were among the most productive I’ve had as a writer, even though I probably only worked four hours at a stretch. I think the “I’m more productive when I have a job” is a lie I’m telling myself to make me feel better about the fact that I still need the job. It probably used to be true, but working a job for five years or more starts to put you in the disciplined mindset by default.
I’ve tried to compensate by giving my “first fruits” to my writing, but much like real fruit there’s a point when it’s ripe and when it’s raw. I can’t say that I am giving my “first fruits” to my writing if it involves waking up at 4:30am in the morning. That is not me at my best. I am typically at my best between 8am and 12pm, my mind is awake, my body is fed, and my creative energy for better or worse is going into my day job.
I’ve also tried to compensate by writing everywhere. For a while it was notebooks with me at all times, now it’s tablets. Every device I own is optimized for me to work either on the blog or my many works in progress, and keeping them up to date is a task in itself. If I’ve got a stretch of 30 minutes or more of down time, I’m filling it with something. I’ve long ago given up the “sacred writing space” and write now like I’m a bum rambling to myself on the street.
I think all of us who write, and have to also work have this debate with ourselves from time to time. I don’t meet many writers (except for hobbyists) who really want to be splitting their time the way they are. I don’t have the set answer to this dilemma, other than write when you can, wherever you can. Find a day job that has a quantifiable (and preferably static) impact on your life, and one that keeps your mind engaged enough for you to switch gears to other creative work when you get the chance. And recognize that if working a job is something you’re going to have to do for a while, then it’s important for you to not hate what you do. Negative thoughts and exhaustion carry over into other areas of your life, and may slow down your ultimate dream goal.
But most of all, relish the writing when you can, and give it 100% of that 10%.