Does a Day Job Help Your Writing?

Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash

Admit it, you instantly said, “No.”

Yes, you did. I heard you.

Okay, I didn’t hear you. But that’s because I also said no out of pure instinct.

Think about it: if you have a day job, chances are, you’re dedicating eight hours of your day to that. More than that, when you take into account showering and getting dressed and the commute there and the commute home and the possibility of working late…

Between that and eating and scrolling through Twitter and any other hobbies you might have and — oh, yeah — sleep, who has time to write?!

There are days when I feel the same way. When my day job sucks so much out of me that by the time I’m home and have time to myself, one of the last things I want to do is sit in front of a computer screen and peck away at the keyboard. The desire might be there, but the energy certainly isn’t, and I have fallen behind on projects as a result.

February and March are particularly grueling months professionally (such is life in a career field where March Madness is a thing), so I already know those months are going to be light on creativity. Sometimes, that dry spell can extend into April. Maybe even May.

But there have been times when the opposite was true. Bounty and Blood Ties were written, in large part, during office hours. As busy as working in college athletics can be sometimes, there are also pockets of downtime (especially in the summer). Rather than sit in my office and twiddle my thumbs, I would write. Chapters would fly by before it was quitting time, and that helped tremendously in the six months between when Bounty and Blood Ties were published.

Now, I realize my situation might not work for everyone. It’s easier to write at work when you have your own private workspace and your superior doesn’t make frequent appearances. Not everyone is so lucky (especially if your day job isn’t an office gig).

Not everyone can sneak in a few chapters in the office. Or knock out a fight scene at the airport. Or write that argument in a hotel room while some meaningless basketball game is on the TV in the background.

I suppose an argument can be made that a day job forces you to manage your time when it comes to your writing. You know there’s a block of several hours where you can’t write, so you have to do a better job of making sure you take advantage of the hours when you can.

I’d love to tell you I do that. There are times when I have. Lately, though?

Time management seems to get worse the older I get.

Maybe I asked the wrong question. Maybe it’s not a case of whether a day job can help or hurt your writing (though I do think there’s something to be said for the fact that my day job also involves a lot of writing). Maybe it’s a case of learning how to balance the responsibilities of both.

I don’t want you doing anything that could risk your employment. Paychecks are damn important, and I don’t want you losing out on yours (especially if your writing doesn’t pull in enough to compensate). But one thing having a full-time job has taught me over the years is how finite the day is, how few the hours we have with which to work.

The key is making those hours work for you. Taking advantage of evenings (or mornings, if you’re one of those odd souls who can survive before 8 a.m.). Weekends. Off days. I’m not saying you have to write every single second you’re not working; that’s unsustainable, and rest is just as important as productivity (if not more so).

But even a half hour of writing a day can make a world of difference. A lot of writers (and I’m guilty of this as well) think progress is losing an entire day to a 10,000-word marathon, where chapters are knocked out by the several and half the manuscript is done after three days. Reality is less blowing up the boulder with C4 and more chipping at it with a pick ax. Five hundred words here, 500 words there, and next thing you know, you’ll have a completed draft.

Just in time to go to work.

J.D. Cunegan is a self-published author and freelance editor who has written six novels (including Notna and the Jill Andersen series), the non-fiction The Art of Reading, and has had short stories published in three anthologies.

You can find his work at https://jdcuneganbooks.com.

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