Most writers have day jobs. It is a truth I think many people don't like to admit to themselves. I think many of us picture writing our novels in some breezy French café, whereupon we retire to our romantically shabby, perhaps even a bit bohemian, apartment. But who really does that? I'd venture to guess that it is not very many people. If you are anything like me, you not only have a day job, but may also have a long commute or other commitments that eat up your time. So, how do you fit your writing in among the work and bustle of everyday life? That's something I've been endeavoring to figure out for a while now.
I've written posts in the past on building a writing life and establishing a consistent writing practice. These things have helped me so far, but I wanted to see what other ideas were out there, what other tips I might be missing. While at Powell's in Portland, I picked up a copy of Writer with a Day Job by Áine Greaney. The purpose of the book is to offer tools to help writers develop their writing careers alongside their day jobs, which is definitely something I am interested in.
The book is split into five sections: getting started, the habit of daily writing, integrating writing into your work day, making your writing better, and the final section is a series of author interviews. The book seeks to run you through the process of starting to write, developing the habit, and finally revising and polishing work to be published. Each chapter offers a multitude of writing exercises to help you to put each suggestion into practice, so if hands-on books are your thing, this may be one for you to check out.
Personally, my favorite chapters were Chapter 5: Journal Writing, Chapter 8: Drive Time: Thinking Out Loud on the Road, and Chapter 15: Enlisting Others to Review Your Work. However, if you are just starting to build a more consistent writing schedule or are otherwise unsure of how to practically slot writing into your days, Chapter 4: Rise 'n' Write: Writing in the Morning and Chapter 6: Writing at the End of Your Day may be of great use to you. In chapters 4 and 6, Greaney offers practical suggestions on how to make the most of your daily writing time and avoid the distractions that can derail even the most motivated of writers.
In her chapter on journal writing, Greaney suggests daily journaling as a means of both strengthening your writing muscles, but also as a way to organize your thoughts about your writing and your drafts, to use journaling to pre-write, brainstorm, or otherwise keep track of details about your current project that may not have a place within your draft itself. I've never been a consistent journal writer, but I am someone who is very Type A and loves to plan things out, make lists, and extensive notes on things that I am interested in. While Greaney doesn't discourage writers from a reflective daily journal on their own experiences, she does offer some alternatives for those who would rather use their journaling for something else.
Another chapter I found to be useful was her chapter on driving time. I have a monstrous commute that leaves me driving anywhere from 2-3 hours per day. That is a lot of time with my butt behind the wheel and away from my writing desk. While I often find my thoughts drifting towards my work in progress, Greaney offers some specific exercises and tips for turning driving time into productive writing time. While my hands are never typing anything, I can work out plot problems or think about the backstories of my side characters to help ease my writing process along. For those of you who rely more on buses and trains, there is a chapter on these types of commutes too.
Finally, I really enjoyed Greaney's chapter on getting others to review your work work. Writing in general is a solitary exercise and it can feel very isolating. I definitely believe that getting involved in the writing community, whether in-person or online, benefits all writers. Greaney's chapter offers a lot of advice and resources to help writers find a community to help support them. From recommendations on places to find writing groups to providing a number of online writing groups and resources, this chapter is a great place to start if you are looking for someone to review your work or if you are just interested in joining a writing community in general.
While there was nothing in this book that was groundbreaking or made me look at my work in a completely different light, it was a good reminder to keep up with and improve that habits I'm already putting into place. There are certainly a few exercises I want to try and a few tips I want to put into practice, but they are definitely along the same vein of what I've been doing all along. Still, if you are looking for a practical, no nonsense book on how to realistically fit writing into the rest of your life, this book is worth a read.