Monday, January 9, 2012

Weekend Writing - Writing as a Second Job, Part 1

There's an old union song, sung to the tune of "Free Americay" (a Revolutionary War song that was sung to the tune of the British Grenadiers -- link here to recognize which tune I'm talking about). The chorus goes something like this:

Eight hours we'd have for working
Eight hours we'd have for play
Eight hours we'd have for sleeping
In free Americay

(Some more revolutionary folks weren't very pleased with the "for play" part, and had a version with "for what you will.") The point was that everybody needs sleep, and you can't just work for the rest of your time. Aside from the basics of cleaning and feeding yourself, and taking care of family, you also need some time for yourself.

Writers who work a day job have to figure out how to manage that "spare time," and one of the eternal questions is:

Is it better to spread your work out in small amounts every day -- especially work days -- or to work on weekends and other days off?

Most of us end up by not choosing at all, which either leaves us burned out from never stopping, or with no writing at all, because we don't have a set time for it.

When you stand back though, you realize that you need some time off. You need to do some things other than write with your "eight hours for play" and weekends. And you need rest and recreation. And to read.

So for the sake of sanity and argument and giving myself good worker representation here, I'm going to change the question as asked above:

If we give ourselves working hours for writing -- treat it as a job -- is it better to write on workdays or on weekends and vacation days?

Today I'll take a look at Weekend Writing

The advantages of writing on the weekend and during vacations is that you theoretically have longer blocks of time to throw yourself into the work. Theoretically, you are more rested and relaxed.

The reality is usually that you forgot that your weekends aren't actually clear. They are, in fact, filled with all the social obligations you put off during the week, and also with what the Scots so beautifully label "kerfuffle." Grocery shopping, housework, yard work, bill paying, making lists of things you forgot to do during the week that you can only do during the week but have no time to remember them (like making dental appointments).

Trying to add major writing efforts to all that can be frustrating, and worse yet, you end up with never having a "vacation" at all, ever. You can burn out that way.

But the biggest issue with Weekend Writing is that it doesn't become a habit. This is especially true when you work full time. You spend five days a week on doing things by habit and rote, and then you need a day to decompress and switch gears. It can take a long time to fall into The Zone if you put it off completely all week. And then once you're in The Zone, suddenly it's Sunday, and you realize you'll have to go back to work the next day... Your mind starts re-compressing to prep itself for the work week.

Transitions can be a bear.

I have discovered over the years, that I'm better off when writing is a part of my daily routine. I'm always disappointed when I leave it to do when on a break, or a special occasion. I'm better off when, mentally, it's something I take a break from.

And yet here I go, changing my habits for this dare from Workday Writing to Weekend Writing.

The main reason for this is that my day job schedule changed. It's now all smooshed together at the end of the week. And since I'm a part-time worker, that puts me in an odd position: My day job week is shorter than my "weekend." That creates a whole different mental dynamic. The day job becomes like a second, moonlighting job. And I can treat my writing like a main job.

This is one of those critical transitions you make in moving toward full time writing.

Sure, this long weekend will still be full of kerfuffle, but it's less compressed, and you don't have as many transition problems from one mindset to another. Furthermore, when you work as a writer full time, you will still be battling kerfuffle -- so get used to it.

Wednesday is update day, and I will spell out my new writing schedule with a new goals post. Then on Thursday or Friday I will post about the positives and negatives of Workday Writing -- which is actually the more commonly useful method. And next week, I will get to a discussion of that transition to full-time writing.

See you in the funny papers.


David Michael said...

A lot of people really do overestimate how long they can operate at full intensity. They make "schedules" and set goals based on them having a 100% productive day every day every week all year and on and on. And it never works. Or seldom works for very long.

I confess: I did this too.

Time off is important. So is understanding that you should set your goals based on your typical day, not your peak performance.

I try to keep my weekends "different", because years of self-employment have taught me that days (like more than one of the sentences in the comment) tend to run on and run together if you don't provide something different, some kind of punctuation.

And now I think my comment is rambling, so I'll stop. =)


The Daring Novelist said...

David - LOL.

Yes. That's one of the reasons the "minutes" goal is working so well for me. Words are variable, but you only have so many minutes in a day. It helps to set some barriers.

Lee McAulay said...

I used to work in hospitality with a day-on-day-off shift system, and the strangest part of that was when the day off was a Sunday. I worked in rural Scotland then, so everything was shut - shops, pubs, libraries. It meant I saved a lot of money (nowhere to spend it!) but boy, was I bored!
I seem to recall that's when I wrote my second novel... :-)

The Daring Novelist said...

Yeah, if you can enforce boredom (or have it enforced upon you) you can really write up a storm.