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Treat it like a day job

Image credit: Ben Smith

Writing of any kind can be overwhelming. One reason is that as writers we care about what we are writing: we want to communicate, to share, to be understood. Writing for many is not a day job, it is a vocation. As such, it can be wonderfully fulfilling, but it can also be deeply depressing.

I used to let work take over and I was miserable. I worked all day and night, and fell asleep at my desk. The deadlines felt terrifying and impossible. Writing took over my life, getting into every fibre of my being and affecting my sleep, my appetite, my relationships and my mood. I couldn’t switch it off and it affected me 24/7. It certainly was not a day job.

This is precisely why I decided it should be treated like a day job. Nowadays, I try to write only between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. on weekdays. In this way, I am putting some boundaries around my work and exerting some control over the effect it has on my life. Of course, I still think about it during evenings and weekends, but doing other activities at these times helps me relax and gain some perspective on my work. Boundaries even help me solve problems with the writing when I return to my desk. I’m fresh and re-energised.

Of course not everyone is free to write from 9 until 5, but whatever the time available, I suggest limiting it in a similar way. If you can only write at the weekend, then you might work on Saturday and have Sunday off. You may feel you will achieve less but I believe you will achieve more.

Sometimes, despite such timetabling, the writing takes longer than planned and deadlines seem unattainable. Then it is tempting to let the work bleed back into every area of your life. In this situation, I might decide to expand my working week, but only temporarily. So for a month I’ll work on Saturdays, but then revert to my usual schedule. The key is not to let the work take over.

Writing used to feel like being imprisoned; now it feels like I’ve been set free.

7 November 2019

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