5 Tips for Being a Creative With a Day Job
I've been working a day job for nearly two years. In the early days the day job presented some great novelties...I was learning new things, meeting new people and not confined to solitary tapping away on my laptop at the kitchen table. While the structure and the routine of being in the office was familiar, as I'd always adhered to a writing schedule; I began to miss writing, even though I really enjoyed the new work I was doing. There was never any question of going back to freelancing: the day job provided amazing opportunities, great people to work with, a ton of benefits and a regular and consistent paycheck; and you know if you've read my thoughts on freelancing before that freelancing, while the love of my life, was a feast or famine roller coaster. I try to make a point of this reality of freelancing and gig work as more often than not I think it's overlooked, especially when you are starting out. I've also seen lots of click bait on how to break free from the feast or famine cycle of freelancing, with promises of untold riches and financial security if you buy the 'how to' book or take the course...but I digress.
Practically overnight - I'd gone from writing full-time, to not writing at all and my creative self was not going to stand for it. I still had stories to tell and I wanted to write, but between the full-time hours, responsibilities of being parent and keeping up with a home I wasn't initially sure how I was actually going to be able to physically find the time or even generate the mental and creative energy needed.
Then I got the email. The email, accepting one of the dozens of article pitches I'd mercilessly sent to the Editor of Climbing Magazine. Funny how a byline in a popular well known national magazine can help you re-prioritize your responsibilities. It's typically the way it works...you accept fate and move off into a new direction only to be lured back by a tempting offer. Short story - short; I started work on researching the article. But set against the backdrop of a day job and the death of my Father, it had its moment; I stumbled, bumbled and missed deadlines,it wasn't pretty. But I didn't give up and thanks to loads of good support and a kick-ass editor eventually I soared and this piece on Kris Hampton was published in Climbing Magazine in May of 2017. After I finally met the final deadline for submission, I was happy to take a few weeks off. Before I committed to another piece I sat down and figured out what it was gonna take for me to balance being a creative with a day job, a life and all the responsibilities that come with it. Here's what I came up with.
This one was hard for me. During my freelancing days I never said no, ever. Not even to clients who were hard to work for, or for projects that I didn't like or thought were boring. I steeled my resolve and simply committed to the projects that I need to take on. But now I didn't need to do that, now I could pick and chose what projects I wanted to work on. It was hard saying no, at least for a few weeks as clients who were hopeful that I was available blew up my inbox. I outlined some criteria that would lead me to accept work; interesting projects that would help develop my writing skills. Might seem vague - but it instantly eliminated ad copy, product descriptions, simplistic how-to's, and the bulk of the 6th to 8th grade reading level content I'd been producing for years. Instead I chose pieces where I'd work with an editor and that were in line with my #writelocal campaign.
Be Realistic About Deadlines
I've rarely had a deadline that was an actual deadline. When I first started freelancing and submitted work the before or on the day it was due, I'd hear comments about how fast I was. As my workload increased and I juggled multiple projects at once, I set deadlines in a 3 day window, so I'd have some wiggle room for the unexpected. But one thing I learned balancing being a creative with a day job was that deadlines mowed me down like a windshield hitting bugs at 90 miles an hour...Even a deadline of a few months was gone in the blink of an eye. I learned to be realistic and I no longer accepted last minute work or work needing a quick turn around, because, to be honest I was developing into a different type of writer and pounding out content just wasn't as appealing as it used to be and there was no pressure to write to pay the bills.
Scheduling Time To Write
Missing deadlines led me to realize that the thing I'd been so good about as a freelancer needed a serious comeback...I used to be proud of my ability to sit at the laptop for extended periods of time day after day and tap away. But sometimes (aka pretty much everyday) after a long day of work and life, I'd watch movies, surf the web or just generally goof off. So I did the thing I never thought I'd do and I scheduled time to write. I put reminders in my calendar and when I got a reminder, I'd write. Being human, I didn't always jump up and tap away, especially at first, but just like anything else, once I got started it was easier to keep it going. I like getting up early the best, before anyone else and if I write for an hour I'm really happy to have that accomplished. I find when I write in the morning l am often more inclined to spend 15 to 30 minutes editing or revising in the evening.
Setting A Creative Goal
Once I got myself into a routine of writing regularly, I realized I needed a creative goal of my own. While I was high-fiving myself about getting a byline in Climbing...and had already begun drafting my 2nd print piece for them, (see what I did there? In case you didn't, it's called name dropping and self promotion). I needed or more likely wanted something just a little more out there. I contemplated different goals, but ultimately dug deep and decided to work on my great American novel. Realizing this was hard, both because of the sheer amount of work that writing a novel entails and coming to terms with the idea that I think I have enough to say to write a novel. Either way, setting this as my goal motivated me to continue to keep my creative self alive.
Realistically I could write an entire blog post or 10 on fostering creativity, but my tips for holding a creative space take a less is more approach due to the constraints of the day job. Creativity can be elusive even when everything in your life seems geared to creativity...but add a few decades, a 40 hour a week job and all the other life stuff and shit gets real, you can begin to feel as though even the essence of creativity is lost to you. So what do you do? Roll over and let the rat race suck you drier that you already are?...If you're me, the answer is hell no. You get it together, so you can can let it all fall apart in a beautiful creative mess for your carefully scheduled writing sessions. What I did was cut out the crappy mindless stuff: surfing the web and binge watching idiotic tv shows and I replaced that with:
Exercising (Enough to make my Heart Race and Sweat to Drip)
Doing Things that Make me Laugh
Trips to the Museum (Art and Natural History)
Lots of Time Outside
Good Food and Intermittent Fasting
Lots of Sleep
Probably not the type of things most would suspect. But I've found that free forming life often leads to putting things off and things that get put off never happen.
So those are my 5 Tips for Being a Creative with a Day Job, I hope you find some inspiration in my experiences. Are you in the same situation? How do you make it all work? Share your experiences in the comments below. As always, thanks for reading.