• On Writing at Work

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Writing at Work     Comments 8 comments

    Writing at WorkRecently a friend in Milwaukee told me that he busts his hump at the office Monday through Thursday so that on Friday he has lots of spare time to work on his novel; if he plays his cards right he hits his work quota Friday morning and then has until quitting time to write. He delays his reporting so that his bosses don’t know he’s stealing Fridays from the company. (Yes, bosses! He answers to two people. Yuck. Office Space, anyone?)

    Well, this piqued my interest. Here at WriteByNight we’ve recorded videos on finding time to write, and even created a Time Management questionnaire designed to help you target available writing time. Get up extra early before work, we say. Write on your lunch break. After work, write for an hour before turning on the TV!

    But in none of these have we suggested writing on the clock. Not because we’re against the idea—in fact, we love it. We double-extra love it. It just never occurred to me to touch on it; perhaps because writing at work is something I’ve never done.

    Obligatory List of Occupations

    Like many of us pursuing this writing life, I’ve had countless jobs: factory grunt; house painter; welding supply retailer; bartender; traveling frozen-food merchandiser; surveyor; office temp; legal assistant; fast food drone. Plus the obligatory gigs working in a bookstore and at literary magazines. Never during any of these jobs can I recall working surreptitiously on a short story while being paid to get work done for The Man. I feel robbed of this guilty pleasure. And now that I’m The Man, the only person I can rob paid time from is myself. (Well, and Justine, of course. Please don’t let her read this.)

    Every employee steals company time here and there. If you have a computer at the office you check your personal email and you surf the Internet and you play solitaire. You take eleven minutes in the bathroom even though you’re done wiping after three. If your job involves driving, you take the scenic route. You even take the scenic route to get to the scenic route.

    A Just-Remembered Anecdote You’re Free to Skip

    In high school a buddy and I worked together at a factory that had a second location twenty miles away. For a month-long stretch we were asked to clock in at 6:00 a.m. at our regular factory and then drive to the other factory to work on a project. But the two supervisors never communicated about the logistics; the guy at the second factory didn’t know that we were supposed to go straight to him after clocking in. So we’d clock in at Factory A at 6:00, drive to a gas station a block from Factory B, pop a little battery-operated alarm clock (this was 1995) on the dash, and nap for an hour. And let me tell you, never have I enjoyed such restful sleep.

    What’s the Point of All This Nonsense?

    Stealing company time is a treasured tradition. But stealing company time to write? I want to know more about the people who do it.

    So I’m handing it over to you, for a blog series we’re calling “Writers at Work at Work.” I’ve written up a few questions (on company time, natch), and if you’re brave enough to participate, I’ll send ‘em to you and publish your answers. You’ll even have a chance to plug your project. To participate, send your name and email address to david@writebynight.net.

    Pseudonyms allowed, of course. I’m not looking to get anyone pink-slipped.

    If you want to chime in but don’t want to be featured in a post, you can share your writing at work experiences in the comments below. If you’ve never done any writing at work but want to learn some tips & tricks, keep an eye on this space in the coming weeks.

    To take the scenic route, read Ben Hamper’s Rivethead, a very funny book that, in part, details Hamper’s time-stealing shenanigans on the GM assembly line. It’s WBN-endorsed.

    Now get back to writing at work!


    David DuhrWriteByNight co-founder David Duhr is books editor and fiction editor at the Texas Observer and contributes regularly to The Dallas Morning News, Publishing Perspectives, the Observer and other publications.

    0 0 votes
    Article Rating
    Notify of

    Newest Most Voted
    Inline Feedbacks
    View all comments
    vernon frazer

    I worked 26 1/2 years as a bureaucrat. For the first 6 i read abundantly because I had completed all my work. In the 7th I started writing because I realized nobody was looking at what I did. I always did my work first, several times faster than my co-workers. I wrote a play, two novels, a story collection and numerous volumes of poetry. I was very fortunate to have a job whose tasks I could do quickly. I also wrote another 3 hours after work. Management passed me over for promotions, even though I was also the agency’s chief… Read more »

    McKenzie K.

    I want to play! I write at work all the time, and it’s when I think I get my best work done. I’ll write to you, but it won’t be the name I put here, because, yeah, anonyous! I like the idea. Write on, peeps!

    […] week we asked for brave volunteers to tell us their stories about writing at work on company time—be it at a becubicled office, a […]


    […] I had with a friend who told me that he works on his novel when his boss isn’t buzzing around. I asked for some brave volunteers to share their experiences with us of writing at work, and the responses have been flooding in. […]


    […] I had with a friend who told me that he works on his novel when his boss isn’t buzzing around. I asked for some brave volunteers to share their experiences with us of writing at work; so far we’ve heard from […]

    […] series was inspired by a conversation I had with a friend who writes his novel while on the clock. I asked for volunteers to share their experiences of writing at work, and so far we’ve heard from: Raymundo, Jake, […]

    Would love your thoughts, please comment.x