Making Time to Create at a Day Job

Last year this time, I was between contracts and had time to write the first draft of a novel. While money was tight, it was an incredible experience for me to be able to dedicate my hours in the day and night to developing the art of storytelling. When I started working again in the early winter, I had to find ways to keep working on the story. I worked on my edits, joined a writing group and even tried NaNoWriMo for the first time. 
My day job is technical writing, which is to creative writing and storytelling what fixing a car is to taking a road trip. Yes, I was in front of a computer writing as part of my job, and I know how to write a sentence. But most of my time was spent working with new, undocumented software and trying to make it make sense. While I’ve had creative projects in the past, this one was about as creative as fixing a flat tire.

Part of what I do when I write a novel, is hold the characters, their actions, their feelings in my head. I live with them. When I work my day job, I have to hold a lot of technical information in my head as I learn it. In order to write, I’d have to shift back and forth from this analytical work to the creative part of myself. I’m not a great one for getting up at 6AM to write before work, but I have heard that works for some people. Here are some of the things I found that have been helpful:

  • Allow yourself to just write – like morning pages in Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way or if you’re working on a project, allow that first draft to just come out of you, like Ann Lamott suggests in Bird by Bird.
  • Take time out of your day to appreciate something beautiful. It could be a flower, a sunset, a person, just let it be your muse.
  • Meditate – I can’t tell you how much this one helps. Practice breathing, pulling yourself into the present moment, clearing your mind. Meditation schools the mind to let your essence come forward. If you are drawn to create–be it writing, painting, drawing, cooking or gardening–you have an essence of creator within you.
  • Deal with your fears. Often, when I’m blocked in my creativity, I am in fear about something. I might be afraid that all my work is for nothing, or that I`m not good enough, or that I`ll never have time. All these fears can be faced. Sometimes, just by taking small steps. Other times, it can help to talk it out.
  • Join a class or critique group. Sometimes, we can only make time for our art if we have deadlines or external pressures. If this sounds like you, then a group or course is a good place to start. If you need help with critique groups, I recommend the book: The Writing and Critique Group Survival Guide.
  • Find a form of light exercise that allows you to think. Part of my creative process involves a lot more than just showing up at the page. Partly because I spend so much time writing technical information at my desk, my brain goes there first if I just sit down. Before I write, I make time to go for a walk, hike or even a yoga class to clear my mind. It also gives me time to daydream about my creative process and bring the characters from my story back into my thoughts. Then, when I turn up at the page, I am refreshed.
  • Change location. I work both at the office and at home, but when I write, I take my laptop (or even just a journal) to a cafe or park.
  • Take time to search for sources of inspiration every day. This could be reading fiction, newspaper articles, or people watching. Stay inspired. Whatever it takes, and make notes. You might not be looking to write it right away, but it might come back to you at some time, perhaps even become the perfect line for one of your characters.
  • Don’t be afraid to read what you’ve written — if it works for you. For some, reading what they’ve written puts them into editor mode. But sometimes, if it’s been a little while since you’ve written, you need to get back into your story. By all means, make notes, but give yourself a chance to get back into your work. There are no wrongs.

There they are. My tricks. While I speak mostly of writing, these tricks could be applied to any art form. Most importantly, though, is to find what works for you. And if you find something different, let me know. I am still working on developing my creative process and am always open to suggestions.

Happy creating!

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