Writing, when the Primary Job is Busy

It’s Saturday afternoon, and I’m sitting in my “writing” Starbucks.  I’ve spent the last several hours working on The Repossessed Ghost, and I’m taking a brief break to gather my thoughts and drink a hot drink.  Life is good.

Life hasn’t felt all that great, the last couple of weeks.  Mostly because I’ve been working so hard at my primary job.

Don’t get me wrong.  I really like what I do, and derive a great deal of satisfaction from the programming I’m doing.  I’m creating software that I can be proud of, that’s contributing to the bottom line of my company.  And I’m paid well, and (more importantly) appreciated for my hard work.

Nevertheless, I worked about 120 hours the last two weeks.  I burned the midnight oil, and when I ran out of that fuel, I started setting other things on fire.

Note that I volunteered this time.  I’m a salaried employee, and no one is compelling me to work longer than normal hours.  I’m doing this because I believe strongly in the work that I’m doing, and I want the projects I’m working on to meet their deadline.

But there are only so many hours in the day, and spending that much time at work means I’m spending less time doing other things.  Unfortunately, one of the first things that gets thrown out is my writing.

I continue to save Wednesday nights for writing, and I continued to show up.  But for me, it takes a little bit more than just putting myself in front of the keyboard.  For me, writing is an act of will.  I need to be able to make decisions, find words, and push through all of the anxiety and fear that surrounds my inner editor fills my head with.  In order for me to write, I have to be able to harness my willpower.

When I have burned through all of my energy at work, and I find myself unable to write in the evening, a terrible thought floats through my brain.

“A real writer is compelled to write.  If you were a real writer, you would be writing.”

There’s some truth to that, but it’s also bullshit.  If you just exhausted yourself helping someone move a piano, you can’t expect your next workout to be great.  If you just spent an hour and a half shouting at a concert, you can’t expect your singing voice to be pristine.

Or if you’re like me, and you just spent 10 to 12 hours at work, doing complicated equations and holding entire systems in your head, you shouldn’t expect your writing to come easily, or be stellar.

This all sounds like an elaborate excuse.  It sounds like a doctored up, “I can’t write right now.  I’m too tired.”

Only you can know if you’re bullshitting yourself or not.  Or, if you’re like me and it’s difficult to tell, put yourself in front of the keyboard and try to write.  If it hurts, maybe you’ve strained something and you need to take a break.  If it doesn’t, then keep going.  You’ve successfully dodged self-deluding yourself into not writing.  Reward yourself with more (or better) words in your manuscript!

Okay, break time is over.  Time to harness my willpower and turn my imagination into shareable words.

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