Tuesday, February 23, 2016

How to Stay Sane While Balancing Writing and Freelancing

 by Gordon Dymowski

In discussing the art of writing, the late Warren Murphy once remarked that he didn’t believe in writer’s block, and that most plumbers don’t complain about “plumbers block.”

For many of us, that attitude is jarring – Murphy managed to become a full-time writer through hard work and dedication. Balancing a day job and writing can be difficult – for freelancers like me, it’s easier with a flexible schedule. For those with full-time jobs, it can be challenging. (It’s safe to assume that Mr. Murphy experience a similar process) Maintaining balance and sanity when working and writing is challenging, but it’s possible. I know, because I’m learning to manage that balance, and these are the strategies that work for me:

Calendars, planners, and to-do lists are your friends: I’m a firm believer in using a paper planner and electronic calendar (like Google Calendar) to highlight deadlines, carve out time to write, and keep on task. Not every tool works for everyone, but each writer has to find their own way to work. (For a great outline of how to be productive, read the first half of Getting Things Done by David Allen).  There are several web sites that provide free planning/scheduling templates, including DIY Planner (http://www.diyplanner.com), that can help the working writer. This naturally flows into my second strategy…

Schedule Time to Write: As a freelancer, I can be very flexible in my schedule, and so can easily plan one to two hours writing time per day. (For writers with full-time jobs, working towards a small but substantial word count might be easier to handle). It’s one of the few lessons I learned when participating in Nanowrimo twelve years ago. (The other lesson: “Simply meeting word count without any thought to story is not worth the effort”).  

Take Advantages of Lulls and Free Time: When writing Presumed Innocent, Scott Turow took advantage of his hour plus commute from the suburbs of Chicago to the city by writing the novel out longhand. Although this doesn’t always apply for many of us, having a way to document stray thoughts or crafting a first draft during available time is always advantageous. (Like many writers, I carry around a small notebook to catch the stray ideas). It’s not always easy.

Use Current Life Challenges As Story Fodder: Usually, there are one or two people who give us an especially hard time. When that happens, they usually end up becoming protagonists in my stories, to the point where I’ll mention them by name while writing. It gives the story a slight edge, and allows me to make them as unsympathetic as possible. (One story I’m working on involves writing about an old high school classmate, a really annoying colleague, and a past supervisor). Of course, be sure to change names when editing, because – let’s face it – nobody wants to be accused of libel. And finally…

Set Priorities: Many of us not only work and write, but we also have personal lives. Personal priorities – families, friends, and loved ones – should always take precedence. Maintaining a balance between personal and professional matters should always be paramount. (This is critical in terms of writing projects – my own tendency is to overextend myself and take on too many projects at once. I’m working towards a pattern of having one project being edited and polished/one story worked on/two or three story ideas in development. It’s not easy, but it can be done).

As writers, we’re always seeking ways to make our process more manageable and to “unclog” the mental plumbing that may lead to writer’s block. It is not a simple process, but adopting a few simple strategies can strengthen a healthy balance between work and writing, as well as allow us to maintain a sense of serenity and comfort.

(Gordon Dymowski has written for a variety of companies, including Pro Se Productions, Airship 27, and Space Buggy Press. For a more detailed listing of his work, please visit his Amazon Author page.)