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  • D A Howe

The problem of thinky day jobs and writing

Updated: Jun 1, 2021

Let’s face it–most of us in the Land of Creativity need to hold down a day job. We’ve got bills to pay, groceries to buy, and the landlord doesn’t care we that we can’t pay the rent. (And the bank doesn’t care that we couldn’t pay the mortgage.) Daily living translates into a need to be a responsible adult. Apart from the need to earn money, there are also the other regular tasks such as laundry, housework, lawn mowing, gardening and home maintenance (if you own your own home). Being an adult means devoting time to pursuits that are in the Land of the Mundane.

This article from Slate talks about writers that have effectively managed to hold down a day job, raise children and still found time to write–and some that did not. There’s a nice quote in the article, “Any artist who can make up his mind to spend three-quarters of his life being an insurance man and another quarter being an artist is a pretty unique compromise. It is not often done. It is a very difficult thing to maintain the equilibrium, and I think that he fell off it. He couldn’t maintain it after a while.”

Not all creatives manage to put together a schedule and stick to it. (As is often the advice from other creatives.)

Part of the issue seems to be that most careers, professions and jobs of the 21st century demand that our brains spends hours solving an endless litany of problems. Stuck in problem solving mode, our brains don’t know when to stop. At two in the morning it wakes us up to announce that a particular business problem can be solved by reading this document, contacting that person, or writing an email.

Is it any wonder that thoughts about plots, characters and a third draft of the book are driven away? Writing and other creative tasks also happen to be about problem solving and asking the brain to multi-task on multiple problems drains any spare capacity like an off-grid house trying to cope with a lack of solar power in the middle of winter. It’s overcast, and wishing its sunny won’t make the batteries charge any faster.

I’m not convinced we’re asking the right question as creatives. It’s not about schedules or procrastination. I think the question we’re actually asking is: how do we train our brains to compartmentalize our lives? (That is; I only think about work during working hours, I think about my children as much as as I need to, and when I’m writing I only think about writing.)

I don’t have the answer, but I’d like to find it. And if I do, I’ll write a follow up post.  In the interim, let’s stop blaming ourselves because another day went by where we didn’t write 500 words, or edit another chapter of the book. We assume that the journey from the Land of the Mundane to the Land of Creativity is a gentle stroll across a meadow–maybe we should assume it’s like battling our way through an army of Orcs instead. And doing that on a regular basis is exhausting…

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