Part-time Creative: My rules for surviving the battle

Cheryl-StrayedCall me a weekend warrior, if by weekend warrior you mean someone who actually stays in and struggles to be creative and productive on the weekends (and weekday nights). I’m certainly going to war, but not with shots of tequila or complicated bongs. My adversaries are mostly my exhaustion, anxiety, self-doubt, and Netflix account. They all distract and prevent me from writing in my spare time, something that many of us with day jobs are forced to do.

There is only an incredibly small percentage of people who are lucky enough to pursue their creative dreams 100%. Most of us have to walk a fine line of full-time employment and part-time creativity in order to follow our dreams, and it’s exhausting.

The most important thing to remember is that different things work for different people. There isn’t just one process for navigating this situation, so figure out what works for you and stick with it until it doesn’t work. YA author Susan Dennard has an incredible series about how to maximize your productivity, and I highly recommend everyone take a look at it. You can follow her plan exactly, or you can bastardize her ideas and make them your own. That’s kind of what I did, and I will share my personal rules with you in the hopes that they will help you too.

1) Do work every day! Everyone you talk to, whether it be aspiring writer, published author, or writing professor, will tell you that you need to write every day in order to get to where you want to be. This is very true for many reasons, in particular: the more you write the better you get (it’s that 10,000 hours thing), and we’re all going to die in several decades so you better get your ass to work! Writing every day is also key to developing good habits and increasing your productivity, but as part-time creatives it can be very difficult to do actual writing every day. If you follow Dennard’s pyramid, you might be able to get to the point where you can do such a thing, but I like to broaden the rule to doing work every day. This falls in line with my taking breaks theory.

I can’t write every day, but I do write the majority of the days in a week. I try hard to get my ass in the chair and write/outline/research every day, but sometimes life gets in the way or I need to take a full-day break. But if I’m not writing, I’m reading, or daydreaming, or listening to music, or going on an adventure. I consider all of this to be work, because it all contributes to your writing. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t set an alarm and write for an hour before getting ready for work, or devote extra time after dinner. Or maybe cancel some plans. Lose contact with friends. Dig a hole and stay there until your manuscript or screenplay is finished. Sounds good to me. Honestly, it does. You should strive to write or dance or play music (whatever your poison) every day. But life really doesn’t work that way, so do work every day.

2) Don’t beat yourself up. This is also a common thing for other writers to say. As creatives, we’re incredibly introspective and critical, and it can get in the way. You need to push down a trait that has probably served you well in many aspects of your life and just push forward with unabashed ego! Trick yourself into having confidence! Especially when you’re first starting a new project. It’s critical that you get through that first draft, and you can’t let that god awful voice in your head stop you.

This rule is particularly important for part-time creatives. First of all, we don’t have time to beat ourselves up. We NEED to write on our lunch breaks, or first thing in the morning, or after we put the kids to bed, or in that small window before our second job. You can’t let that asshole in your head slow you down. We also don’t need that asshole being a dick to us if we just can’t get to writing that day. Like I said in 1, not everyone will be able to write every single day. Don’t worry about, just pick up the pen tomorrow. And finally, just because you aren’t published yet, and aren’t a full-time writer, DOES NOT mean you can’t be. Don’t beat yourself up.

2) Get yourself a routine. Like I said, not everything works for everyone, and some people need more structure than others, but it is so important for those of us with limited time to work on our projects to have a routine. (Refer to Dennard’s incredible guide on how to establish a routine. It might give you some ideas.) Sometimes people will say something like, “I’m a night writer,” or “I have to rise with the sun,” ect. Everyone has a particular time of day when they are most productive. As part-time creatives, we have less flexibility than other, so sometimes we’re out of luck. If the best time of day for you to write is between 9am and 3pm (like me), you might be fucked. If you feel the most creatively energized early in the morning, get your ass out of bed and write for a few hours before work. You see what I’m saying? The issue is, our routine is denoted by our employment, so figure out when works for you and what you can do in that time. Which leads me to:

4) Take advantage of any time you can! As I mentioned above, my peak creative times are in the middle of the day, and again later at night. I tried waking up early, but that exhausted me to uselessness pretty quickly, and I tend to want to go to bed early now since I’m an old fart. So that leaves the middle of the day. I work a full-time job, but I am very lucky in that I’m able to write at the office. I work in a feast or famine industry, so there are stretches of weeks where my work load is very light, and during that time I can write and work on my own ideas.

This is crucial to my writing existence, because without these available hours I would only be able to work on my projects for maybe three hours after dinner each night. But writing at work is a struggle too because of the constant interruptions and fight to stay “in the zone.” It’s also difficult to be truly creative in my office (it lacks inspiration), so my work hours are best for drafting, line revision, and some light outlining. Anything heavy needs to be done at home. I’m obviously not going to say, “Just get a job where you can write!” because it’s not that simple, but if you do have a job where that’s possible, take advantage of it! Also take advantage of your commute, lunch breaks, coffee breaks, or any down-time in general.

Of course, you can’t always full-on-write in these little slivers of time, but you can think and day dream. Another tip you hear from everyone is to carry a notebook with you everywhere, or start a Google doc, or write notes on your phone or little slips of paper. This is important for all writers, but even more so for those of us who aren’t at our writing desks the majority of the day. When you get an idea, any idea at all, write it down. Our brains are constantly moving and thrashing inside our heads, churning out nonsense at all times of the day. I personally write notes on my phone (and back it up on my computer) because I have it with me 24/7, but I also e-mail myself ideas or outlines. It’s messy and unorganized, but at least I know it’s written down somewhere.

In addition to time, you should take advantage of your coworkers and your job to learn more about different aspects of the world. Talk to customers more, quiz coworkers on their past lives and their interests, go out for drinks after work. Learn about the world around you. Take advantage of your weekends to write, read, travel, or be lazy and watch TV. Just remember those experiences and use them! Take advantage of life, I guess?

5) Surround yourself with people who get it. Being a part-time creative is very hard, and I commend all of you who are currently doing battle. Something that is so important to all writers and creatives is a strong support system. I am incredibly lucky in that my significant other is also a part-time creative. He’s a musician and is focusing on writing his own music every day after work. We both get the struggle we’re going through and are ready to puff the other person up when they’re feeling down or make sacrifices for the other person’s battle. And most importantly, we let each other work. We come home from out jobs, make dinner, watch Jeopardy together, eat food, and then he shuts himself away in the office and I sprawl out on the couch or at my desk and get to writing. We love to spend time together, and we find time to do that. But shit, we live together! We get enough face time. We can stand to not talk or bother one another for a few hours. Not everyone is like that. You will have to set boundaries with people, and if they don’t understand how important this battle is to you, then maybe you need to make a change.

This rule also goes for crit partners and other creatives in your life. I have met and been friends with some real assholes. And I have let crit partners tear me down for no good reason. I’ve had them be condescending and rude, and let them cross lines with me and my work. And then I realized I didn’t need to suffer that. You need people who will be truthful but supportive, and people who cherish your vision as much as you do. You are allowed to protect yourself a little bit. And if you have creative friends who can’t seem to stop putting you down in order to make themselves and their work feel/look better, dump the fuck out of them. Dump them hard. Delete them on Facebook. Use it as an opportunity to throw a scathing Jane Austen-like insult their way, then leave them with the check. I’ve done it. Life is too short, my friend.

6) Don’t give up! I run into a lot of roadblocks as a part-time creative. There’s the classic debilitating criticism and harsh feedback that threatens to rip my heart out, but I also have stress from work, broken down cars, and student loans. There’s also the constant frustration. I get frustrated that I don’t have enough time to write, so my writing is progressing at a crawling pace and not improving as much as I’d like. I get frustrated at the lack of writing groups in my area. I get frustrated that I don’t live in LA, so how will any of my scripts get into the hands of the people who matter? I get frustrated at other people’s success, and I get frustrated when assholes try to tell me how to do my thing – I’m a painfully flawed human, whatever. I try very hard not to let these things stop me, but some days my anxiety wins, and I curl up in bed and take a break from the world. The important thing is that I feel better in the morning and am ready to move forward.

At the end of the day, you should ask yourself the now famous Cheryl Strayed quote:

Did I do the work I needed to do? And did I do it like a motherfucker?

Your answer better be yes.

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