Tales from the Gray Cubicle

Warning: Probably some whining ahead.

I’m still trying to figure out this whole day job thing. I work 10-6 M-F in a cubicle job for a large financial company (hereafter referred to as ConHugeCo). It’s not a job that has any connection to my writing (unless I want to start a new branch of Financial Fantasy), and it’s a fairly reliable one. When asked about it, I usually say that it brings in the groceries and pays for insurance, and that’s about the extent of it.

Realistically, something that takes up that much of my time has to have more of an impact than that. And at times like these — when the revisions are just not coming together and the deadline is starting to loom — the tension between time spent writing and time spent earning money becomes a lot more worrying. And, of course, now is when we’re hitting the end-of-the-year crunch at ConHugeCo.

Over the summer, I’ve been lucky enough to swing some flextime, which made the difference when it came to getting Wild Hunt together (and certainly made a difference for this particular book). But that’s not possible at this time of year, so I’m suddenly balancing a lot more work on a lot less time. When the workload at ConHugeCo increases to the point of overtime for everyone, the writing takes on two new aspects. If, as now, I write before I go in to work, then no matter what else happens I’ve got that on my internal record of Worthwhile Things I’ve Done Today. (And after dealing with small frustrations all day, knowing that I’ve finished a chapter really does help.) However, it also means that by the end of the day, I don’t have much brain left.

In a purely intellectual sense, I know that the solution is to pick myself up and get the damn work done anyway, no matter how I feel. After all, I still have the mental space to work out plots and notes during the day (and over lunch, and when I have two free minutes plus a blank sheet of paper), so therefore the potential is there. But (and here’s where the whining really comes in) after a week or two of this, all I want to do is curl up somewhere and read popcorn fiction until I fall asleep in my chair.

Not only is this not the right response if I want to get any work done, it’s also a very spoiled response. I have a day job, after all, and one that has not done me irreparable harm; why am I balking at a little more work? The whole thing seems to be a matter of getting my mind right.

So for writers or artists or musicians out there who are juggling their work with a day job: how do you get your mind right? Is it all a matter of time management — writing during breaks or on your commute, finding time where there was none before? Is there a particular outlook or approach that helps you? I’d also like to know how stay-at-home parents manage to balance that and creative work, because goddamn that’s a job and a half. (From an outsider’s perspective, it seems the only thing that has any room to budge would be sleep.)  Is it all just a matter of not enough hours in the day?

8 Responses to “Tales from the Gray Cubicle”

  1. December 16, 2009 at 9:47 am

    I feel your pain. I’m completely convinced though, that without my day job my book wouldn’t be getting published. Having money and security gives me the peace of mind to write. When it comes to being tired though, I try to get as much done before work as I can, and then I cut myself a break on Fridays. It’s the end of a long week and I give myself permission to curl up and destress. I think you have the right frame of mind, but don’t beat yourself up if you take the occasional break.

    And ever time I start feeling down about having to work a day job AND write, I just remind myself, that I’m living my dream. Half of it anyway.

  2. 2 rachelaaron
    December 16, 2009 at 9:58 am

    I wrote almost all of The Spirit Thief while working a job that was 10-6 with a 1 hour commute each way. That shit nearly killed me. What I did to cope was get up very early, like 5, and write frantically until 9, when I’d go to work. It was still a pretty awful 2 years. After that I got lower paying but much closer and more flexible job and things went much easier. Now I’m a housewife and full time writer, and my output hasn’t actually increased that much. 😦 Though our grocery bills are far lower.

    I think balancing is the same everywhere, though. It’s all about making and guarding your writing time from everything, even loved ones, one time events, and extra cash. There was no time I was more dedicated to my writing than when I had to fight for every second I spent doing it. Now I’ve almost got it too easy. That’ll change in a month, though, when childzilla arrives. Hoo boy.

  3. 3 Terri-Lynne
    December 16, 2009 at 12:16 pm

    Because of my circumstances, all I have to add is this: My son, who is a musician, once told me that the more ambivalent he is about his job, the more passion he can put into his music. The job is sustenance for the mundane existence we call life. The music sustains what makes him who he is. If he LOVED his job, he’d have less love/time to spend on his music.

  4. 4 mlronald
    December 17, 2009 at 8:34 am

    Shaun, good point. Every now and then I have to remind myself of the same thing, and then it’s a little easier to get through the day. (The weekend, though, is mine for work! MINE!…and I wonder why I don’t have a life any more.)

    Rachel, so far I’ve been getting up at 6 and working in the mornings, and that’s helping a little — even if I’m a bit sleep-deprived. But I think you’re right; the balancing is the trick, no matter the external pressures. (And good luck with childzilla!)

    Terri-Lynne, I agree — up to a point. If the job gets bad enough that it’s actively draining one’s energy, then it’s very difficult to put any new ideas to work. (Although I guess that’s why you said “ambivalent”…never mind, I’m being redundant. And repetitive. And redundant.)

  5. 5 Terri-Lynne
    December 17, 2009 at 10:01 am

    I just gotta say, I love that you respond to all your commentors.

  6. December 18, 2009 at 3:37 pm

    I work 10:30-6:30, and I usually write for 90 minutes before work at a coffee shop near my office. I also try to squeeze in writing sessions in the evenings and on weekends as often as I can, especially when revising, but the bulk of my first drafts are written M-F before work. When I’m really under deadline on blog entries or crits, I’ll write on lunch breaks when I have to, in the laundromat, or even on the subway.

  7. 7 mlronald
    December 19, 2009 at 3:27 pm

    (That’s funny — I could have sworn I’d responded to your second comment, Terri-Lynne! Apparently WordPress is angry with me.) I’m terrible about replying on my own blog, sadly. And it takes me for-freakin’-ever.

    Eugene, that’s a good method — I mostly write at home, and I wonder if I’d do better away from all the distractions in my study. (Like, say, wifi. Aaaagh internet). And I’ve recently discovered that revising in the laundromat is actually kind of fun. Since I have to be there anyway, I might as well enjoy myself.

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