Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Working and Writing

I find it fascinating that William Faulkner wrote As I Lay Dying in six weeks while working at a power plant. I have this terribly romantic image of him working late at night, sitting hunched over on a box or a packing crate and scribbling out stream of consciousness in the dim, dusty light while waiting for the order to turn on or off a giant electricity switch.

Obviously, I have no idea what working at a power plant entails.

But this image in my head got me thinking about working and writing. Most authors have, or have had sometime in the past, a "real job." Probably one that involved either cleaning or acquiescing to the general public and asking if they would like their check separate or together. And yet this is where the writing happens. I cannot count the many times I scratched out poems on flimsy cocktail napkins and silverware wrappers while letting someone's prime rib grow cold in the window.  Now, I am fortunate enough to have a job that I truly love and doesn't require me to wear all black and smell like grease and wet floor mats (although I still liken teaching to bartending- you have 25 people all demanding your attention at once and yet you still have to smile, stay cool and remember every single thing they all want). But between classes, fighting the copy machines, faculty meetings and the impromptu therapy sessions with heartbroken teenagers, there is little time left to write down ideas or even drift toward them with daydreams.

So my writing life and my "real job life" are mostly separate these days, which is probably for the better. But I'd like to hear from my fellow writers: How do you balance working and writing? What jobs are the most conducive to sneaking scraps of verse or lapsing into the world of your latest creative undertaking? And most importantly- is there anybody out there, sitting on a packing crate at midnight, and writing the great American novel?


  1. I give myself 2 hours a day after I get home, between work and dinner, to write an average of 500 words. Some days it's 1000-2000, some days it close to zero while procrastinating on the internet (I like to pretend some of it's marketing and research). But having that set period and goal helps me balance work, home, and time with my wife and friends. Three books down, and it's worked for me so far, but I think everyone who also has a daytime job has to find what works for them. There's no right, no wrong. There's just finding a way if it's important.

  2. I wrote my, currently, 8 novels in the hour before going to work and 3-4 hours each weekend morning. Now that I'm retired I can't seem to find the time to finish one. I may have to go back to work.

  3. Thanks for the great comments. As I'm getting ready to transition from planning to writing my 3rd book this coming weekend- it's helpful to read how other writers have managed and balanced their time.

  4. Hi Steph,

    Just found your blog and I think it's wicked. Ah the day job. Yup. Me too. I get some of my writing done in the evenings after my kids are asleep but mostly during my hour lunch break when I break free of my cubicle. A grande coffee, pen, paper and I'm off. It's never long enough. Cheers!

    1. Thanks so much! And I'm impressed with your ability to write at work- I think you might have inspired me to give it a try. Who knows- whole books could be written in a year's worth of lunch hours....


Thanks for your comments!