Walking the Tightrope Between Work and Writing

tightropeI have always admired people who can write, hold down a job, care for children, do marketing and wield a vacuum cleaner while apparently staying sane and cheerful. Sadly, I’m not one of them. I may be female, but I’m no multi-tasker. I’m more like a serial monogamist who can only concentrate on one, maybe two things at a time.

For me, family has always been THE top priority, so twenty-odd years ago I’d do technical writing during my daughter’s naps, and when everyone else was asleep.

Juggling family and writing worked back then because I was writing about real things that could be approached in neat, logical chunks, all left-brain stuff. However when I began writing fiction, I discovered that the process of creating characters and worlds is very different. Creative writing is a right-brain activity, and I’m naturally a left-brain type of person.

I’m also stubborn, so I set out to coax my right-brain into dominance. Music helped, enormously, as did turning my back on most of the skills I’d gained through technical writing. As an aside, the need to be not-logical is one reason why I’m mostly a pantster.

My right-brain did come alive, but if you could read my early attempts at fiction you’d think I was writing a how-to manual rather than a science fiction story! I got there in the end [I think], but the process took a long time, and required a degree of immersion that is hard to achieve when your attention is being pulled in multiple directions at once.

Luckily for me, my daughter was older by then – going to school, socializing with her friends, playing games online – so I had the luxury of immersing myself in my stories for weeks, sometimes months at a time.

Over the last six months, however, my life as a writer has come full circle. In order to get a job as an IT trainer, I had to go back to study. Unfortunately, studying is a left-brain occupation, and now my right-brain feels as if it has atrophied.

Since my course finished two weeks ago, I’ve been telling myself that the creativity will come back once the distractions of Christmas are over, but so far not a drop of juice has flowed. All I feel is a creeping dread that this time the balance between left-brain and right-brain has tipped too far to the logical side. Or perhaps I’m just getting too old. Or perhaps I never really had that creativity in the first place…-slap-

Added to the inevitable self-doubt that creeps up on all of us, I’m also worried about what will happen when I do get a job. Training people to use computer software is a mostly left-brain process.

How will I juggle the needs of the job with the need to market the books I’ve already written? And how on earth will I balance all those left-brain activities with the need to write something new?

I know I’ve been very fortunate with my writing thus far, but I also know my coping strategies are going to have to change. And that, dear IU readers, is where you come in.

Most of you juggle jobs, writing and family [not necessarily in that order] on a daily basis. How do you do it? How do you find, or make, the time and energy to be creative? Do you have coping mechanisms you can share? Tips? Advice?

Please don’t hold back, especially if, like me, you swing to the left. And yes, that dreadful pun was intended.

22 thoughts on “Walking the Tightrope Between Work and Writing”

  1. I don’t have the answer, AC, but as a person who isn’t sure all of his brain isn’t on the right, I understand your struggle. (You’ve also hit on the reason I can’t imagine myself ever writing fiction.)

    1. I bet you could, Al, write fiction that is. Without getting into psycho babble here, believing that you can really is half the battle. Thinking about taxation and political accountability got me started on my very first story. Of course it sucked, but by the time I realised that, I was already hooked. Maybe one day?

  2. A.C., for the vast majority of the time I spent in news, I was not writing fiction. Partly it was because I didn’t have time (60-hour work weeks and/or family commitments), but also I was already exercising my writing muscle at work. And while newswriting has some creative components, it’s largely a left-brain task that’s akin to technical writing — both deal in facts and require some precision.

    About 15 years in, I went to grad school and got my masters in fiction writing — at least in part, I suppose, as a backlash against the left-brain dominance that newswriting required. There were other factors, too, of course. But what began my return to fiction writing, way before I applied to grad school, was a late-night idea for a short story set in a TV newsroom. The story was terrible — the writing suffered from way too much detail — but the denouement included all the lights in the studio crashing down and setting the building ablaze. (Freudian much? 😀 )

    The good news for *you* is that I’ve been back and forth over the course of my writing life, from right-brain to left and back again, several times. You know, now, how to fire up your right brain. You will be able to do it again. 🙂

  3. Hi, A.C. I know what you mean about having to coax the creative part of your brain into prominence. My advice, and this always works for me, is not to sit and wait for it to happen. Try doing some creative work to stimulate that side of your brain. I write dialogue. When I get my characters talking, it’s usually not that long before the story starts to flow.

    1. lol – dialogue is not my forte, but you’re right, making a start somewhere is vital. Maybe I’ll use this transition period to experiment with dialogue. Thanks for the tip. 🙂

  4. Hmm, AC, not sure I have the greatest tips as I’m not necessarily a left brain person. The only thing I might suggest is, to try to schedule a time to write each day. Then, whenever you have any downtime at work (driving to a fro, or riding the bus or train to/fro), think about the scene you’d like to write during your writing time. That way, most of the creative stuff happens while you’re not actually in a position to write. Then when you do sit down to write, you have a clear path of what you want to write, what thing got you excited during the day as you thought about it. This works even if your writing time is in the morning, as you can use thoughts from the previous day in the morning writing session (and you may even get the advantage of coming from a fresh dream about your subject matter, especially if your WIP is the last thing you thought about before hitting the hay).

  5. I know exactly where you’re coming from, AC, although I think I’m mostly a right brain person. Most of my life I’ve had to crack the whip over my right brain persona to perform left brain tasks. It took me an inordinate amount of time to do it successfully enough to fool people into believing I was a logical, organised individual. While I was performing tasks that, although demanded some left brain organisation, required me to follow intuition and instinct I was fine, and I’d go to my fiction writing smoothly. It is a similar story when training assessing those same skills; however, when delivering business studies it changes and that’s where I relate to your dilemma.

    Excellent post, AC.

  6. Daydream.
    I find my best ideas come at the most inconvenient time – like the shower or driving. By the time you find those few seconds to scribble down any notes, you’ve forgotten what you wanted to write. A friend of mine told me yeas ago to invest in a mini tape recorder. When you’re in the car, you can switch it on and just ramble.
    I suppose phones and other devices do this also. My phone is about ten years old. It does the essentials – like make phone calls.
    I also have coasters, serviettes, people’s business cards and the occasional take away menu with notes and ideas on. What they turn into (if anything) is another matter entirely.
    Finding time around family is really awkward.
    However you approach it, self doubt is not an option. I often find tons of “bad” writing may produce a really good scene, sentence or idea that I can work with.
    Good luck.

    1. Thanks Jeannie. You’ve reminded me that I used to love daydreaming. Not sure where it went, but perhaps it’s time to find the ability to dream again.

  7. I haven’t tried any fiction writing. I am just trying to find a way to spread myself evenly without overtaxing my brain and my body. I am not having much success yet. I have tried a calendar – work on promo, work on e-mails, etc. And it hasn’t worked yet. Maybe 2014 will be the year I get this done. Years of having not worked and spending all my time working on my health has made those organizational skills pretty rusty.

  8. The marketing side of things is a shock to the system, no mistake. 🙁 Just try to pace yourself while keeping your physical health as your top priority. -hugus-

  9. I hear you, AC. I am in marketing mode at the moment and I hear that next story calling me but inertia and self-doubt about the actual story is holding me back. I hope it begins to flow when I sit down to begin writing.

    As you say, we need to go ahead and not hold ourselves back.

    1. I wish switching from creative to marketing to whatever, and back again was as easy as changing hats. Hope you get that story happening soon. 🙂

  10. In a word… coffee!
    LOL… I have my freelance work and my fiction. The friction between the two fires my writing engine. It also heats the water for coffee. That’s keeps me writing — but fiction and freelance work. Sometimes, when you simply don’t have a choice, you just get things done.

    1. lol – I’ll have to stop drinking decaf then! Seriously though, I think you’re right. I have a choice at the moment, and I’m procrastinating. -sigh-

  11. I had an aha moment reading your post re right and left brain competition… which explains a lot, when I’m busy at work, I thought it was my muses taking advantage of me being occupied elsewhere and taking themselves off… I can’t blame them, when all else that happens besides is housework, food and a little TV and reading for respite. Occasionally the muses, or my right brain, get sick of the lack of attention and stage a coup… that’s when you see a blog post with my name on it 😉

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