I work at a university, and we always close down between Christmas and the New Year. If you tack on the actual holidays, we’re gone for nearly two weeks.
It’s a wonderful time to decompress, reconnect with family, and write a ton of great blog posts and fiction.
That last one is a no-brainer, right? I mean, I’m free from the hassles of meetings and client phone calls, and I don’t even have to go into the office.
Just roll out of bed, grab a cup of coffee, and write the day away. It’s my chance to live like Hemingway or King for a fortnight.
I have NO obstacles standing between me and a whopping output of quality writing. I should be producing a story a day, or a novella in a couple of weeks.
Should be, maybe. Could be, for sure.
But the reality is that it never, ever happens that way.
I roll out of bed, alright, but then I roll into my recliner and flip on the TV. Or my wife and I start shooting the breeze. Or my son wants to go outside and play in the snow and, well, you can’t NOT go outside and play in the snow with your son.
Most of the time, I end up just wasting time, either surfing the net or watching TV, activities that are ruthless in their thirst to keep me from unleashing my words on the world.
As much as I write, and as much as I want to write even more, the fact is that I suck at maintaining my focus without a little outside help.
During Christmas break, I’m on my own.
During the rest of the year, though, I have a secret weapon to help me in my war against inactivity and lost writing opportunities.
By sipping from this magic potion nearly every day last year, I was able to write more than 25 short stories, “win” NaNoWriMo, create over 200 quality posts as editor for a health blog … all while raising a family and working a very demanding full-time job.
None of this is meant as a brag, though I am proud of the writing I have done. No, the point is that I got a lot done last year, but a very small percentage of that productivity came during my “off” time.
Most of my best writing, and virtually all of my most productive writing periods, happen when I’m engaged in the day-to-day “grind” of my job.
Now, I’m lucky to have a job that I enjoy, but it’s extremely stressful, and I work a ton of hours — at least 60 per week. And my career doesn’t involve writing at all, aside from copious email messages and a decent chunk of technical documentation.
So, how is it, then, that a job which eats half of my waking hours each week, stresses me out, and doesn’t involve writing actually enhances my writing productivity?
The answer lies in the hidden benefit that almost every job in the world offers, whether we realize it or not.
It’s simple, really …
My job automatically structures my day, and even my week, and that regular regimen makes it dirt-simple to schedule my writing time.
If you work a regular job, then you already benefit from this unseen advantage, whether you realize it or not. Think about it for a minute: during the week, you work full time, take the kids to and from school, take the kids to and from school events, make dinner, do laundry, work out, find some time for TV or reading, volunteer at the local cat shelter or library, participate in internet forums, and on and on.
You get a crap-load of stuff done, even though your job eats so much of your time, or so it seems.
For most of us, the reality is that we get a crap-load of stuff done because our jobs eat so much of our time and force us to schedule everything else in order to make our lives work the way we want.
In this regard, writing is no different than taking out the trash or making it to soccer practice on time:
In order to succeed as an author, you must prioritize your writing and get it on your schedule at regular intervals.
This is where us working stiffs have a real advantage over those writers who don’t have so many outside (non-writing) pressures. Our jobs give us the natural scaffolding for prioritizing whatever is most important to us, and it’s our responsibility to make sure that we keep writing near the top of that list.
In case you’re having trouble seeing how the rigidity of your work schedule can actually help you with your writing, I’ll give you some take-action examples, at least one of which will be relevant for nearly all of the American workforce.
Here are Three Ways to Tap Into the Hidden Power of Your Work Schedule to Improve Your Writing
Beat the Crowd
There is something almost magical about the early morning hours. Coming out of your nightly slumber, your brain is at its freshest, and your thoughts are not cluttered with the problems of the day.
You have a clean slate. It’s a perfect window for cranking out some of your best writing.
To put this tip into action, just set your alarm to get up earlier than the rest of your household, grab some food and your laptop, and crank out a few hundred words while you eat. Or, be the first one in the office and huddle in a corner for an hour, or even 30 minutes, with a notebook and go to town.
You don’t have to be drastic with this technique, as every minute alone in the morning is a golden writing opportunity. Even 15 minutes can do wonders for your productivity, and nothing feels better than walking out the door before the sun comes up, knowing you’ve already met your writing goals for the day.
Eat Your Words
Unless you work for Ebenezer Scrooge or some other pointy-haired boss, you get a lunch break. It’s tempting to go out with the crew or run errands during this 30-to-60-minute window, but you’re missing out on a wide-open shot at writing if you do so. Instead, why not take your laptop to McDonald’s or to a remote corner of your building and hammer out a few hundred words while you gnosh?
Punting your lunch break may not be the most sociable move you can make, but it’s a perfect example of the writing pockets that your job offers you, and you’d be foolish to turn your back on it if you’re struggling to meet your weekly word goals.
Wind Down with Writing
How do you wind down from your job in the evening hours just before going to bed? If you’re a typical American, much of that time is spent watching TV.
Now, I don’t believe that TV is the evil that many make it out to be, and I think that watching the tube can indeed help you wind down and may even spark story ideas from time to time. If you’re trying to squeeze in more writing time, though, television can be an absolute albatross.
Do you really want to watch that re-run of Family Guy for the fourth time more than you want to add 500 words to your short story? Really?
Turn the TV off half an hour early, or even just 15 minutes early, tonight and use that time to hone your latest masterpiece. You’ll still get the sleep you need to make it to work in the morning, and you’ll feel much better about yourself and your writing.
For most of us, holding down a “day job” is necessary to our survival and to keep us flush with the baubles we can’t live without. Just don’t look at your career as a necessary evil that keeps you from achieving your writing goals.
The fact is, your job is a hidden goldmine of benefits that can make you a more productive writer than you ever even imagined.