• The Written Word: At Work vs. At Home

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Strategies     Comments 14 comments

    TL;DR version: I worry that my workday spent dealing with the written word ruins my productivity as a writing hobbyist (or whatever). I know that many of you who have writing goals in your personal lives also have professions that involve a great deal of writing, reading, editing, etc. How do you balance the two? At the end of the workday, how do you motivate yourself to go home and write? Please let me know in the comments below.


    Two weeks ago we manage to have a great discussion about our writing fears despite the fact that the post opened with me whining in my usual syntactically off-putting manner: “Sometimes I wonder if part of the reason I don’t write as much as I want to is that at the end of a day spent helping writers create, I don’t have enough left in the tank.”

    It’s sort of a busman’s holiday. Except, see, I’m driving the bus, the … the, uh … the word bus, yeah? And then when I’ve reached the end of the … of my route for the day, I … I … have to get back on the word bus, but as a passenger, right? And then sort of go back the way I came. But with someone else driving the word bus now.

    Does that makes sense?


    Running on E

    That whopper of a failed analogy is a perfect example of what I’m getting at. I’ve spent all day smoothing other writers’ analogies and such, so my ability to create my own the rest of the day has taken a severe beating. See what I mean? I can’t be expected to write now, when I have so little to offer.

    In fact, it would be downright irresponsible of me to try to work on my novel, with such an empty tank. It would be a disservice to my story and to my characters.

    And I’m pretty sure, anyway, that I never want to see another written word, ever.

    These are the nights the TV goes on and doesn’t go back off until I wake in the middle of the night to its eerie glow.

    Or am I just making excuses?


    Trade My Trade?

    Don’t get me wrong, I realize how lucky I am that I get to make my living doing something I enjoy to the point where it plays a large role in my personal life as well. It’s like a chef who truly enjoys cooking. (Or am I more of a line cook? A kitchen hand?)

    But even chefs sometimes get a Big Mac and fries on the way home.

    I wonder if I would be more productive as a writer if dealing with the written word weren’t the backbone of my daily work life. If I were an accountant, would I write more?

    And if so, would that be a trade-off worth making?


    Your Turn

    Well, the answer to that is no. Working with all of you on your writing is more fulfilling than any writing I’ve ever done. And in its own little way, it does allow me to be creative and express myself. But sometimes I wish I could have more of both.

    I know I’m not alone in this. Several of you, including some participants in our wonderful but ill-fated “Writers at Work at Work” series, have shared similar conundrums.

    That’s what I’m looking for today. I want to hear your stories on how the written word plays a role in your professional life, and how you balance that with your personal writing goals.

    At the end of a long day spent dealing with the written word, how do you keep yourself motivated to go home and write?


    WriteByNight co-founder David Duhr is copy editor and fiction editor at the Texas Observer and has written for the Dallas Morning News, Electric Literature, Publishing Perspectives, and others.

    WriteByNight is a writers’ service dedicated to helping you achieve your creative potential and literary goals. We work with writers of all experience levels working in all genres, nationwide and worldwide. If you have a 2016 writing project that you’d like a little help with, take a look at our book coaching, private instruction and writer’s block counseling services. Join our mailing list and get a FREE writer’s diagnostic, “Common problems and SOLUTIONS for the struggling writer.”

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    Lisa Marie Michener

    Good day to you all!! Thank you for this post David. I struggle with this constantly, and consequently do very little of what I call “my own” writing. You see, I earn a living as a grantwriter. I am fortunate to be able to work freelance and I am typically well compensated for it. That is all wonderful. My challenge is that it takes a lot of brain energy everyday. And like you David, I don’t have alot left at the end of the day. My “dream,” my goal is to write history for young readers. Or even finishing an… Read more »

    David Duhr

    Hi Lisa. Yeah, I can’t even imagine the brainpower it takes to write up grants all day. I struggle to write after days when I do a lot of editing, proofing, reading. On days when I do a lot of writing for work? Forget it.

    It’s not possible, as a freelancer, to arrange your workday so that you do your personal writing first and the grantwriting for work second?

    Do you do the grantwriting at home or at an office? Maybe a change of scenery on one side or the other might help?

    Barbara Mealer

    Before I retired, I had to work with words all day long. I was on the computer, typing for close to five out of eight hours. Luckily, it wasn’t creative writing…well, maybe a bit, but it was still writing. At the end of the day, I couldn’t wait to get into MY characters and take them where they were headed. Work stayed at work and I went home to do something fun. I do understand your problem but I find most of it is mindset. I can read and give feedback on someone else’s manuscript for a day, but I… Read more »

    David Duhr

    Hi Barbara. I imagine much of it is mindset, you’re right. If I *really* cared about working daily on my novel I’d do it, right? I bounce back and forth between that and thinking that there is some magical external reason. Likely the answer lies somewhere in the middle. Answers usually do!

    Haha! “I don’t need my earth bound heroine ‘propelling herself into space’ like a dragon shifter when in reality she is jumping off the bottom step of a porch to avoid a mud puddle as she is leaving the house.”

    John Liebling

    First of all I am more selfish than you. I am concentrating on ME I am not required to read over a million words. I read disjointed, naive – terribly biased papers from my students. David, as you know I’ve been a Los Angeles history teacher for the past 32 years. There was a time when my district, and society was far less politically correct. Part of the joy of being a history teacher was the engaging debates. I am confident my second career, will be as a Novelist. I’ve set up my first Novel to be one of many.… Read more »

    David Duhr

    Thanks for the comment, John. But I don’t at all think this is a matter of selfishness vs. selflessness. Your work is different than mine in a number of vital ways, sure, but at the end of the day the situations are the same. Or at least similar: We both spend much of the workday reading and commenting on the writing of other people. But you go home and write for yourself. Almost every day! There’s certainly a difference here in motivation and dedication. Do you find it more difficult to write on days when you do an inordinate amount… Read more »

    Eleanor Gamarsh

    My work day is filled with different activities than someone who is employed for a paycheck. I am retired. I believe my day’s activities take as much out of me at my Senior age as anyone handling a day job. At Thanksgiving we added a 2 month old kitten to our life. Katie has disrupted our normal ‘routine’ phenomenally. I was going to pass up reading this blog because of the essential focus. But I saw a parallel. No matter what your day’s work is, how does a writer keep up with their own writing after a da’s work? I… Read more »

    David Duhr

    Hi Eleanor. Thank you for the comments. And you’re so right! It doesn’t matter how we fill our days — chasing down kittens or chasing down errant commas — it’s tough to find the energy and brainpower to write at the end of the day.

    But if you’re putting in a couple of hours a couple of days per week, I’d say you’re doing a great job.

    Cody Walker

    My solution to this problem seems simple, and it is ……. naps! When I get home from work I take a nap that lasts usually from 20 to 60 minutes. When I wake up, not only am I refreshed, but it feels like a new day. I’ve managed to slough off the 8-10 hours, much of it proof-reading and editing legal briefs written by other people, and I;m able to start fresh on my own work. It took me awhile to get into the pattern. Not everyone can nap on command, so I had to learn how. But now, it… Read more »

    David Duhr

    Hi Cody. I’d love to try this. Right now, in fact.

    I’m not an on-command napper, but maybe it’s worth a shot. I definitely see the benefit. Especially after proofing legal briefs all day. Ugh!

    Thanks for the tip. I wonder if it’s the unconscious part that’s key or the break in the action. I mean, would, say, going to a movie between work and home serve the same purpose?


    Thanks for this post. It reflects one of my main roadblocks
    as a writer, so I’ll be curious to see what people say.

    Compartmentalization is obviously the key, but it’s difficult.

    David Duhr

    So right. What have you tried before, re compartmentalization, and what were the results?


    I have noticed that if I’m stuck, I stop and mull it over, sometimes for months. Nothing much gets on paper. However, I am constantly thinking about the story. Ideas come to me, and I rewrite it in my head. That part didn’t work; this person would not say it that way. I need to develop this or that character. I reworked both my beginning and my ending and added plot twists. I just think that when my brain is through working it out, I will finish putting it all down. I am definitely a tortoise rather than a hare,… Read more »

    David Duhr

    Thanks for the comment, E. We always say that thinking about writing is almost as (if not just as?) important as writing. So yeah, time away from writing doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re not doing important writing-related work.

    Although, for someone like me, clearly resistant at times to writing, I’m afraid I’d use that as an excuse. Or a rationalization. “I’m not going to write this week… I’m just going to think about my novel. It’s just as important as writing!”


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