It turns out that writing isn’t a 9–5 job for me
I’m now nearing the end of my second month staying at home. It’s been eye-opening, to say the least.
You see, it’s always been my goal to work from home, for myself. I could never have predicted I’d have the opportunity to give it a trial run, whilst still being paid.
Here in the UK, some of us are still being paid 80% of our wages by the government, allowing my boss to keep us on without having to foot the bill.
The idea is that the business can reopen quickly when it’s safe to do so, and get back to normal ASAP. The quicker people get back to spending money, the quicker the economy can recover.
That’s been a great comfort, but also there’s this weird accompanying guilt.
There’s a tiny voice in my brain telling me that I need to hell for leather with my writing career.
I finally have the time to make some decent headway on all of those half-baked ideas I’ve had tumbling around in my brain for the last few years.
So, after two months of doing the whole 9–5 writing thing, there are some things I’ve come to realise…
Not all writers can write 9–5
I tried, in the beginning, to be sat at my desk by 9, have an hour for my lunch, and finish at 5.
Some days it worked. But mostly it didn’t.
Whilst I was technically putting in a full day’s work, the quality of my writing suffered. By about 3 pm I was pretty unfocused, and writing utter drivel.
It makes sense. My day job requires me to work long hours, but I take coffee breaks and chat with my colleagues whenever I want. I’m not sat hammering out words all day.
Breaks don’t work for me. The Pomodoro technique makes my day feel weird and disjointed. Instead, I like to work from 10–3 with no breaks.
I resisted at first. It made me feel guilty. But then I realised that the whole reason I’ve spent the past few years learning how to make money online was so that I could work the way I wanted to.
Working fewer hours has made me far more productive. I concentrate on getting the day’s tasks completed, rather than watching the clock to see if it’s quitting time yet.
Some weeks I like to work longer hours some weeks so that I can have Fridays off.
Some weeks I only work three hours a day, not because I want to, but because the articles are demanding and suck up all of my brainpower.
That’s the thing about writing; some articles take months to write, others take less than an hour, and get ten times the traffic. It’s just the way it goes.
Take the opportunity to live your life
I’ve not really taken a break during lockdown, because it really messes with my productivity. If I took a week off, I’d end up taking a month off.
At first, I wrote too little, making endless lists about all the stuff I was going to get done instead of actually doing anything productive.
I always was that girl that spent so long colour coding and organising her notes that she never actually got around to studying.
Then, I wrote too much.
I wanted to get 30 articles apiece up on my two new websites. I hit my target, but they’ll need some work. A few of them are total crap, but that’s the beauty of blogging: you can always go back and edit later.
‘Luckily’ I’m not expecting to get much in the way of traffic until Christmas, so there’s plenty of time for me to tweak the grammar.
Now, I stop at 3 pm every day and go for a walk with my boyfriend. This little routine has helped a lot because I could too easily see out a week without leaving the house. I wouldn’t even notice.
That’s probs not the most healthy.
For the first time in my life, I’m not working evenings. I got my first job waitressing when I was 14, and have worked long hours ever since. As soon as I took on a managerial role with far more sociable hours, I began working on my blog. Again, my evenings were not my own.
It’s a novelty spending this newfound time watching Midsomer Murders, reading, and doing puzzles, but I love it.
I struggle a bit with feeling guilty: after all, I could be writing, but I’m learning to shrug those thoughts off.
I mean, I could be writing, but I probably couldn’t write anything worth reading.
The goal was always to be able to make a living the way I wanted to, and working 60 hour weeks was never part of the plan.
Pick up new hobbies or skills
Embarrassingly for someone that writes thousands of words a day, I can’t touch type.
My hen-pecking speed is ok, so I never bothered to learn. It’s hard and makes my brain ache.
Now is, unfortunately, the perfect time to learn. It’s a skill that will benefit me greatly, and it’s only my laziness and astonishing slow speed of learning that puts me off. Wish me luck.
A few quickly abandoned attempts at learning in the past mean that I have the basic skills. I just need to practise. Hopefully, a few weeks writing articles here will make all the difference.
I had a long list of things I was going to do during this time: learn how to embroider, get back into drawing, and hand lettering, create a few designs for Redbubble.
I haven’t done any of these things. I haven’t had the energy, between working on my sites and panicking about when the world will return to normal. The restaurant industry is on tenterhooks.
Learn to relax
I struggle with relaxing because I’m too good at it.
If I’d had to stay at home for the past two months with nothing but the TV and my books to entertain me, I’d have been fine. I’m very good at doing fuck all.
I’ve had to learn to apportion a certain amount of time to relaxing — evenings and Sundays — that I dedicate exclusively to reading my TBR and British detective dramas. It’s as important for me to schedule my downtime as it is to plan my writing time.
My favourite evening activity is rereading books (almost exclusively Terry Pratchett). It’s comforting, fun, but it’s an activity that spans work and play, so I don’t feel too lazy.
Be as productive as you can
Not as productive as society dictates you should be. There’s no law that says everyone has to work at certain times.
If you to write from 4–8 (in the morning or evening) go for it.
Some people can knock out an incredible article in an hour, and then that’s it: all their creative energy is gone.
The times at which we’re most productive is thought to be hard-wired into our DNA, so work with your brain rather than against it, if you can. Don’t force yourself to get up at 5 am just because Anna Wintour does.
Plan, plan, plan
Seven hours is way too long a time for me to be writing. I end up writing crap. Better to walk away after five.
I draw up weekly plan of the things I want to get accomplished. Preparing for next week is usually the last thing I do on a Friday. The weekly task list is then broken down into a day by day plan of attack.
Every week varies. If I fancy finishing early on Friday, cool. I’ll just get more done Mon-Thurs. The prospect of having a Friday off is usually enough to keep morale high on the other days.
Don’t be too hard on yourself initially. Learning how much you can realistically get done in a week (without compromising quality) is a process that takes time.
The benefit of a plan is that is cuts down on all the time you spend sitting at your desk wondering what to do next. You will schedule in thinking time — for me, it’s on a Friday, but a lot of people find Monday mornings best for this.
Crucially, it keeps me focused on doing the tasks that actually drive me forward, rather than ones that don’t (like applying for new affiliate networks and updating my LinkedIn profile).
Set flexible hours
There’s no rule that says you have to start work on a Monday. Or work five days a week. Experiment, and find what works for you.
I’ve always had a job that required me to work on Friday and Saturday evenings. I’ve never minded — they were always fun shifts, and I must have saved a tonne of money from not going out.
Now though, I’m relishing that Monday-Friday grind. I like spending my Saturdays caring for my plants and cleaning the house. I’ve cut down on alcohol too (not seeing glasses of wine every day at work has really helped me cut back without really noticing), so my Saturday night wine feels like a real treat.
Sundays used to be spent volunteering (walking dogs from our local shelter) and house plant shopping, and I’m anxious to get back to both of those activities once it’s safe to do so, but I’m lovely my lazy Sundays spent eating and napping.
Don’t be too hard on yourself
A lot of people that get to do their dream job struggle when faced with lack of motivation. But here’s the thing: every job has its downsides. Everyone has bad days.
There’s nothing wrong with pushing the afternoon’s tasks to next week and curling up on the couch, especially in times as unsettled as these. It’s certainly better to take a break every now and again, rather than burning out and quitting completely.
As it turns out, my dreams of being hella productive and producing five (decent) articles a day are ashes and dust.
And that’s ok. It gives me more time to do the other stuff that I want to do (like watch DCI Banks, and read Wyrd Sisters for the millionth time).
It’s impossible to be totally focused on your job all day. The number of hours spent at your desk doesn’t reflect how productive you’ve been.
Life is for actually living.