I was taking a break on social media, as I do, when a Twitter friend who also happens to be a journalist wrote how hard it was to write when she’d been reporting all day.
That tweet took me back to Wichita, Kansas and to Shreveport, Louisiana. Circa 2005 and 2008 respectively. These cities were where I worked really hard on both my craft and my journalistic skills.
Spoiler: I was a newspaper reporter for 12 years.
And you know what, she’s not lying. Reporting was the day job. I asked questions, I wrote stories, budget lines, pitches stories, etc. The life of a reporter is taxing. Rewarding? Yes, but taxing. Then, after a full day, I’d come home and be so burned out that all I wanted to do was watch television and eat McDonald’s. My creative work would be stuffed in the corner of my desk so very sad.
That was my life as a reporter. It had it’s pluses but it also had very many minuses like … not knowing who I really was. I wrote about this in 2013, which was at the height of my work. I had finished grad school and I was so many things — journalist, writer, and blogger.
I remember feeling like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, two sides of the same person. And being both journalist and creative writer felt that way for a long time.
So, for my friends and readers who are balancing a day job that is similar to their night hustle or writing, I offer you some tips that helped me. They seem trite now since I do things almost completely different, but at the time they were my go to’s.
- Write in the morning. I can’t stress this enough and, for me personally, was the toughest thing I had to get use to. Writers have bio-rhythms. Mine was and still is writing at night (though you and retrain yourself). I am the most creative after around 10:30 p.m. But if I waited until then, my brain would not be any use to me. Writing late also meant that the best of you went to someone else. An employer, not to you. You should get the best of yourself! So, I would have to get up early and write. I hated it since I hate getting up at 5 a.m. while it was still dark. But it worked! I wrote a bit in the morning and edited or expanded at night!
- Wear a baseball hat. This was the strangest but more interesting things I did. It was actually part of a ritual. I would put on a baseball hat (I had one from when I saw Wicked) when it was time to right. The edge of the bill focuses your line of sight right onto the screen.
- Light candles like it’s a playlist. Another part of the ritual was lighting candles to coincide with the scene or the emotion I was writing. I did that with music as well. That helped set the mood and kept me in the scene longer.
- Don’t underestimate reading. Reading is writing. If you are reading with an eye for craft, that is going to help you in the long run when you are stuck and think back about that cool thing that one writer did that you liked. Experimenting is also part of writing. So, if there is something that a writer did that you liked, experiment with that technique. There was MANY A TIME that Raymond Chandler’s chapter endings and descriptions got me through a section.
- Pomodoro technique is amazing. If you haven’t heard about it, you can read about it here. I use this technique now, like right now, to write this blog post. With 25 minutes on the clock, you race to finish the scene or a quick blog post. The idea is to put down the words on paper because 1) the book/story/poem/whatever comes in revision 2) you can’t revise something that doesn’t exist. So write fast and revise slow. Also, if there isn’t someone telling me to get up from the desk, I’ll sit there without a break. This technique at least makes me get up and walk around. There are tons of websites and apps you can use to take time for you.
- You’re writing in two languages. One of the best pieces of advice my graduate school advisor gave me was to think of my journalist and creative writing separate. I was writing in two languages. One had a different purpose than the other despite having some overlapping techniques. This was especially helpful when, during grad school, my creative writing bled into my journalist work and vice versa. Once I understood that, I focused on keeping them seperate as much as I could. And that included the blocks of time and work stations. I DID NOT write my creative work at work (no matter how many hours after deadline) nor did I write anything journalistic at home (not matter if I had to write a quick idea down). That was the rule and I stuck by it.
It’s an interesting thing about nostalgia (I just read about this as I was researching the Happiness Practice) it’s meant to give you a warm and fuzzy. But what I remember during that time was a lot of hard work.
But I guess there was a little bit of fun in it, too.
Hope these tips help you folks who have to live two lives and do your best Clark Kent impression. You can do it!
Fastening my cap and pulling on my tights,