Monday, March 10, 2014

Keeping Your "Day Job" from Becoming a Writing Obstacle

By Darren Kehrer

I don’t know about you, but one of my biggest challenges in writing comes from the distraction of my day job. I call it a “distraction,” but for most of us, it’s our day job that provides for our families, pays our bills, and allows us the luxury of writing time.

I work in the world of retail.  Up until recently, I have always worked in high-level retail management. For those who have never worked in retail, let me provide the definition from the Darren book of experiences: Retail management: a career with very little relaxation time, family time, hobby time, or time for sleeping. The value of that entire definition gets amplified when you add the word “Christmas” in front of “retail.” Given this background, I have developed several strategies in finding time to write because my professional (non-writing) life is jammed packed full of so many things to do.

Although this might seem to be a simple thing, my first suggestion is to schedule writing time. Write it on your calendar, plug it into your Smartphone, and let your family know that you are going to be writing during that time (and can only be interrupted for “real” emergencies). I find that following these guidelines helps to solidify the time slot and prevent me from scheduling anything else in place of it. There is something concrete about entering writing time into your schedule to ensure you’ve devoted a block of time for it. To help accomplish this, I keep my calendar readily available and accurate. By tracking how much time I am devoting (and not devoting) to writing, I can keep myself visually focused on the big picture of my writing life.

If you are writing after getting home from your job, fixing dinner, or completing “after work” duties, I encourage you to do something to change your frame-of-mind from “work/home” mode to “creative writing” mode. I know that when I get home from work, I am usually thinking about my day while I was at work: what didn’t I get done today, what do I need to accomplish tomorrow, what do I need to get done tonight, and then on to what am I fixing for dinner. The list goes on and on. To offset this endless train of thought, I do something to mark a distinct separation time between the “work me” and the “me as writer.” If I am going to be working on my Christian speculative manuscript, for example, I do something sci-fi related to set my mood and saturate my thoughts with the genre. This could be anything from reading in the realm of science fiction, listening to a movie soundtrack, or watching 30 minutes of one of my favorite sci-fi TV shows.  The important thing is to generate a transition time that inspires what you are about to write.

Depending on your work schedule and weekly life (Church, family time, kids activities, etc.), try and establish a regular writing routine. Consistency in writing is often the biggest challenge, but can be the most rewarding in developing your writing life. In my case, I know my retail work schedule three weeks at a time. When I get my new schedule, I open my monthly calendar and log it in. After that, I plot out my writing time around those entries. The remaining time slots get filled in with all the other things going on, thus avoiding over scheduling and conflicts that prevent me from giving myself time to write. When you plan writing time, you help ensure that it actually happens rather than just saying, “Hey, maybe I’ll try to write tonight after I get off of work, mow the lawn, feed the family, and pay the bills.”

My last point is one of even greater importance: avoid unplanned interruptions. Since I tend to write at home in my office, I go to great lengths to “wall off” my office from the rest of my surroundings. Unplanned interruptions can greatly hinder any writing progress.  They tend to break the mood and put water on the creative fire. Those interruptions break the mojo, mood, and your writing train of thought. Remember, however, to give yourself adequate planned breaks. Dependant on how much time you have devoted to writing, it’s important to give your fingers and eyes a rest. Go for a short walk, stretch, and refill your BOC (beverage of choice).

All of this to minimize distractions and avoid someone entering into my writing space and disturbing, or better yet, breaking the illusion of writing in my own little world spinning my tales of science fiction. I know life happens. Scheduling writing time can appear to be an insurmountable task, but if you are struggling, give these suggestions a try. You just might end up looking at your finished manuscript, an offer on the table, and perhaps some extra time to write about it.


  1. I don't always have enough brain cells functioning to write in the evening. Going to be early and getting up early has been one way to rewire my schedule and allow some quiet morning time for creativity. Thanks!

  2. Good suggestions, Darren. I think scheduling is a great thing as long as when interruptions happen (as they will) we can address them without turning into the Green Hulk.