Writing + Day Job = Frustration

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Playing ‘Spot the Difference’ doesn’t last long!

My day job involves working with numbers.  It also involves traveling all over Scotland to deliver training to teachers in a numeracy programme for primary school children. The nature of my job means that I have to squeeze most of these training sessions into the tight calendar of in-service days for schools and the result is that last week I drove 810 miles, stayed away from home for 4 nights, visited 5 schools and delivered a PowerPoint presentation of 400 slides to 269 teachers.

download (3)The week’s highlights included having a humungous spot on my nose that made me feel like a unicorn (not a great look with 87 folk staring at you), being woken up at 3am by a screaming fire alarm and ending up standing shivering in howling winds outside the Premier Inn in Ayr (thankfully I had on my newest jammies however my make-up free face must have terrified the other guests), tripping and hurting my knee to end up face down on a school gym hall floor (my wounded pride much sorer than my scabby knee), my laptop falling off a table causing my ‘clicker’ to break and the Blue Screen of Death appearing several times (my heart rate required beta blockers to calm down), a white knuckle drive home from Aberdeen through a blizzard in the dark, driving back up to Aberdeen days later but having to stop after 10 miles as my wipers were gubbed and await my hubby’s arrival to swap cars (he’s my fourth emergency service).

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“I’ll be here all week!”

And yet for all the traumas of life on the road, to receive comments like “feeling inspired” written on the delegates’ evaluation forms gives me job satisfaction.  But to achieve ‘excellent’ scores for my delivery, I use up hunners of energy on every level. It’s a bit like being a stand-up comedian but instead of your act being twenty minutes, you’ve to keep an audience (not all of whom have chosen to attend) entertained for the whole day – not easy when the topic is maths.

By the end of a day ‘performing’ and keeping large groups informed and interested in mathematical concepts, I’m like a washed out dish rag. This might explain why I’m unable to write a single word during these intense periods.

download (1)I used to beat myself up about trying to write every day, telling myself that if I was a real writer, then I’d find the time but my wee brain is mince by the end of a training day and doesn’t have the capacity to jump from numbers to words. And I don’t mind admitting to reading tweets when cooped up in a soulless purple box and feeling a stab of envy that other writers, lots of them unpublished like me, have spent their day doing research for their novel, polishing a short story or tweaking the plot of their novel. It’s frustrating, especially when I feel like I’ve no time to dabble in writing short stories as I’m STILL editing my current novel, never mind pursue the idea I have for my next novel.

Often, it feels as if I’ve been trying to achieve my writing dream FOREVER and at this rate I’ll have retired and won’t have to worry about juggling the day job!

As a writer, how do you get the work/life balance right? Do you force yourself to write every day no matter how tired you are or where you are? All tips welcome!

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23 thoughts on “Writing + Day Job = Frustration

  1. Do I force myself to write every day? No, not when I’m earning money by teaching. It’s prooved impossible for me. I was a deputy head and had very little other life when I got hooked big time by the writing bug. My answer to trying to get some work/life balance? Chuck it all in. Take a gap year. Travel round Europe in a small van and use an author mentoring service to help me structure and write my first novel. On returning to real life I did try taking a teaching job, a maternity leave teaching Y3 with no management responsibilities, yet it still took over my life. I did no writing at all for two terms. So now I’m not working again as I put finishing touches to my second novel, get ready to edit my third and am half way through the first draft of a fourth (I like to juggle!). Okay, so I’m not earning. I do a little private tutoring, but I am lucky to have a husband who is tolerating keeping me for the time being (note – not happy, just tolerating). I have no idea how others manage to work and write. I am full of admiration for anyone who does. No-one should beat themselves up if they can’t balance writing and work though. It doesn’t mean you’re not a real writer. Take your cue from actors. They don’t stop being actors when not acting. So, let our mantra be “we’re just resting” and fit the writing in when and where you can.

    • Hi Lesley, Thanks for taking the time to write such a thoughtful comment. You and I sound similar (apart from working in education) in that we both give 100% to whatever our focus is and that means an all or nothing approach. Also, like you I have a very ‘tolerant’ husband who supports me financially during the school holidays when I don’t earn any money. It’s not easy is it? Thankfully, I have periods such as the school holidays with blocks of time to concentrate on my writing so I’m not aiming to write every day but instead I’m ‘resting’ as you say when I’m doing the day job. All the best for your writing projects-I’m in awe that you can juggle several stages of different novels!

  2. Hi Helen, I too work in education teaching A Level psychology every day and also find that when I get home my brain has had enough of processing any sort of information and just wants me to stop, preferably in front of the TV so it doesn’t even have to think! I have reduced my working hours so that I fit a three-quarter contract into the afternoon, theoretically leaving me the mornings free. However nothing is ever that easy and I find that if I get any time before leaving for work that isn’t filled with making breakfast, washing up or sorting out the laundry it usually only amounts to about an hour. So I too am struggling to work out a way of prioritising my writing whilst still being able to support myself which seems to be the key issue! I have written a novel that I am currently editing, and a children’s novel, also being edited, but feel quite stagnant in terms of writing anything fresh as the time just doesn’t seem to be there. Difficult to remember quite how I ever completed two whole books! School holidays are my main writing time but I spend all the time in between being very frustrated which isn’t ideal! I do write on the train to and from work, in a notebook, half an hour there and the same back, so I do write every day but just thoughts and observations and overheard conversations which I am sure will all be very handy one day! I think that unless you are a person of independent means trying to work and write is always going to be tricky and more than a little frustrating. Just hang on to the fact that, as Lesley pointed out, you are still a writer, even when you have periods where you are not actively writing!

    • Hi Suzanne, Many thanks for taking the time to comment. You’re in the same boat as me so can clearly empathise with the difficulty of finding space to fit in writing. I work from home between travels and also can easily find myself sucked into domestic duties and before I know it a morning has disappeared. I like your idea of note taking and think I wouldn’t feel so guilty during non-writing periods if I at least made some observations. Good luck with your writing projects and keeping up the juggling act! 🙂

  3. OMG the stress and exhaustion. And the bad weather! I have no bright ideas either, Helen. I spent 27 years working full-time in the public sector (often with loads of driving, like you), thinking to myself almost every day that I was ‘really’ a writer. A bit rich when you consider that for all those years, apart from a few poems, I never wrote ANYTHING except the tons of factual and analytical reports, briefings, papers required in my day job . . . finally (and I have to admit this was connected to family complications and bereavements jolting me into a re-think) I took a redundancy from my last job thinking I’d re-train as a proofreader: I did qualify but decided I didn’t really want to do it for a job. Then with no particular intent I started writing a book. I’ve just finished my third novel in less than three years. So I really don’t know how people work all day and then write. I don’t have anyone to support me (although my kids are grown up and independent) , so I’ve changed my lifestyle and tightened my belt – can’t afford the same sort of things I used to – but I’m about 3,000 per cent happier. And that’s even with being unable (so far) to get published. I have to admit, though, that the many jobs and other stuff I did instead of writing have given me a lot of material for books! Was it Penelope Fitzgerald who, when asked why she didn’t start writing until quite a late age, simply said: ‘I was busy’? And as someone else said ‘writing is what you do in life instead of living’ . . . And then you do get those great comments on the feedback form. Plus you’re actually doing something that helps people and matters.

    • Hi Susan, Good to hear from you – I miss seeing you on Twitter! You seem to have the work/life balance sorted and know the value of ‘job’ satisfaction isn’t all about earning money. I agree that you need to live a bit before having anything to say and I think it’s necessary too in stimulating writing ideas. Well done on 3 books! I hope to read them one day 🙂

  4. My day job is not quite as demanding as yours, but I can completely relate. I can give myself wee breaks here and there but with the strain and frustration of work it is near impossible to focus and scrabble something half decent. A day job does give you experience and (as in the case of your job) interactions you can’t acquire by sitting in front of a computer all the time, though. T.S. Eliot famously had a day job, and from what I remember he thought highly of its influence on him as a writer. Maybe a good solution is to train our bodies and minds so that we have some energy left at the end of the day!

    Thanks for this thoughtful post, and best of luck with editing your novel. 🙂

    • Hi Melody, Thanks for commenting and sharing your thoughts. You’re so right about external influences feeding into our writing. It would be great though to have a clone to process it all! And as you say many famous writers like Chekhov had a day job and still managed to produce amazing work – just wish I had their talent and energy! Good luck with your writing too. 🙂

      • Hi Helen and Melody, just wondering about people like T. S Eliot and Chekov having a day job and writing and wondering who washed their clothes and cooked their dinner and tidied their house! Similarly Virginia Woolfe who had a cook and probably someone who did the cleaning etc, I think perhaps we look at people like that and think if they could do it why can’t I? But in reality they lived in very different times and probably employed people (or had wives perhaps) who took care of the everyday stuff so they had time in which to just work on their writing when they got in from work. I know that so much of my time is spent making sure my loved ones have clean clothes, clean towels and clean sheets and hot dinner everyday and food in the larder and that is my spare time more or less gone… I do think having a job is useful in terms of getting us out of the house and stimulating our writing but as for the rest of it… just a thought! 😉

      • Hi Suzanne, Good point well made.It’s impossible to compare like with like as we all have our own unique family/work situations to manage. I only work part-time so I do have more flexibility with periods of time where I can concentrate on writing. But, as you point out, I don’t have staff to look after my domestic needs and often get caught up in housework – today being a perfect example of catching up with the joys of hoovering etc after being away from home. Hey ho, back to the ironing and maybe at some point today I’ll get some writing done too! 🙂

  5. Such a brilliant post – I can completely relate to all of it (I’m a finance manager for a small hospital working long hours & traveling several times a month). By the end of a work day my head is too rammed with other stuff to even consider writing (and then there’s the Saturday morning crash to contend with – anyone else suffer that?). And am all too familiar with full time writer envy…

    It’s so frustrating and I know there isn’t a magic answer but someone once told me that if you really want to write, you’ll write. So that’s what I do. Most mornings I set my alarm for five, ask myself do I really want to be a writer, and if the answer’s still yes (it isn’t always, depends how wiped out I am!), I drag myself out of bed and tap at the laptop for a couple of hours before work. It’s a killer getting up but it’s also my most creative time so worth it. I’ve stopped obsessing over word count, crap writing/scrapped writing, as long as I’m writing, I’m a writer. Train journeys are good for scribbling down ideas, odd passages. Time in the car mulling things over can be fruitful. Even evenings & weekends spent reading novels/short stories, watch films, doing bits of research all count.

    There’s no getting away from the fact that it’s a slow process but that’s fine, doesn’t make you less of a writer, and there’s no guarantee that those we envy are progressing any faster. Sometimes more time available = more time wasted!

    I start a new job as a management consultant later this year which is going to have lots more travel and I am concerned whether it’s going to make writing time even more difficult but I just keep telling myself to find a way. Hope you can too! Good luck, Anouska x

    • Hi Anouska, Thanks for empathising with a frustrating situation and offering solutions.I’m very impressed that you can get up so early and be creative. I’m not a morning person at all so this wouldn’t work for me. I prefer to have a break over dinner etc then start writing at night instead of watching telly. And I agree that often having more time doesn’t always mean I’m more productive – I just faff about more!
      Good luck in your new job and with your writing. Here’s to us multi-taskers! x

  6. Wow – loads of support and sympathy here (and from me too!) – and we all agree there are no easy answers. I used to work full-time and wrote in the evenings & weekends when I lived alone. As soon as other people are in the equation it gets complicated. I can’t write til 3am any more (which I used to do a lot) when I’m woken at 6am by young kids demanding attention and breakfast!

    At the moment my husband supports me and two children financially. It would be lovely to have a cook, a housekeeper, gardener, nanny … I’m writing this with my two half-term kids bickering in the next room. We don’t live like that – any of us, any more.

    I know that the hectic ‘normal’ makes me crave quiet, and appreciate it when I get it. Forces us to be better at time-management I guess. Women’s commune, anyone?

    • Hi Isabel, Indeed, no one I know is living in an ivory tower. Like you, I’m lucky to have financial support or I would never have been able to leave a permanent job to do the MLitt course. After the year, I felt duty bound to contribute to the family’s finances again and took on part-time work but I do miss the 100% focus on writing I had during my ‘time out’, But as you say, even if I was at home full-time, there are always other commitments which demand time away from the desk. Sign me up for the commune! 🙂 x

  7. Hi helen
    By the sounds of things life is good for you. ..which I’m pleased about. Delighted that you are following your dream.
    If I hear from you it was meant to be

  8. This is a brilliant post, Helen with such interesting comments. I feel your pain, I really do! I’m struggling with a part-time job and two young teenagers at the moment and I’m aware that I’m writing less than before I took on the job (which was last November). I just about cope by writing when I can, by not counting the hours I’ve written and by not thinking that I could be writing when I’m doing some essential task (be it paid work or housework). I try to reduce my time on social media and I rarely watch TV or socialise (this isn’t too much of a hardship for me because I’m an introvert but it handily makes some hours available). Carry a notebook with you and don’t be hard on yourself.xx

    • Hi Josephine and thanks for your kind comment and continued support. I used to use a notebook more in the past and think it’s time to reacquaint myself with the habit. We both know it’s not easy fitting everything we’d like in to 24 hours but as you rightly point out, we can only do what we can. x

  9. You are doing well to be writing. You’ll be able to tell by my absence from the blogosphere just how good I am at managing to write when life gets hectic 🙂 My mum has been poorly, I’m in the final throes of two courses (Pilates and yoga training – loads of studying and practical for both, plus long distance travelling), I have two new primary teaching gigs and I’m teaching 3 Pilates groups and 3 yoga classes a week. I have ideas for blog posts and I’d love to get back to editing my children’s novel but it will have to wait till everything calms down…in June…hopefully… The last thing I wrote (finished yesterday) was 4000 words on ‘the fundamentals of Pilates’ and if Joseph Pilates was alive today I’d probably be beating him round the head with the print out. 😉

    • Thanks for the reassurance, as you know too well it’s hard to fit in writing with other commitments.I thought I was busy – you’ve got a LOT on! I’m sorry to hear that your mum isn’t doing too well – I hope she picks up soon. I’m not surprised you’ve been absent from social media with your teaching in school and yoga. Hopefully things will settle down soon and your writing will be back on track for the summer.Take care 🙂

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