Working Time and Writing Time. What’s In-Between?

“Tuesday is the day before hump day. Thursday is one day after hump day. Except Friday is WOOOH!!! FREEDOM!!! Day, Saturday is Mostly Hungover day, and Sunday is PreDoom day.”

I’m voting for a change in the calendar. If there can be “hump day” and TGI Friday and “doomday,” and “pre-doomday,” then why not a catchy name for that day or afternoon or morning that comes after work but before writing?

I don’t know about you, but I never drive away from my office ready to dive into my current work in progress.  In fact, there are weeks when the hardest part of writing is the transition from worker-brain to writer-brain.

I love my job as a communications director for a busy non-profit. I feel fortunate to work 32 hours per week, usually Tuesday through Friday.  Oh yes, I hate when that dang alarm clock rings.   And I despise the pre-work choreography–you know, the cereal-coffee-shower-select-an-outfit routine. I’m never awake enough to get it right first time.

But once I get the matching socks on, once I actually get to work, the day flies by and I enjoy my colleagues and my daily tasks.   I enjoy it all the more because I know that, come Friday evening, I have three whole days of writing time.

Or do I?

The older I get, the more transition time I need.   I need a metaphorical green room in which I can rest up and make that switch from worker (public) me to writer (private) me.

Writer and worker. They are quite different people. At work, I think my colleagues would say that I’m chatty and upbeat (on good days), deliberate but efficient at getting things done. But holed up in my writer’s den, I’m much, much more organic (scattered?).  I’m more given to self-flagellation and artistic despair. I’m quiet and solitary. And, even when I’m writing (or trying to write) witty, I’m often serious and dark.

So once the working week is done, how to do that old switcher-oo?  How to put all that efficiency and teamwork and left-brain-ness into cold storage until the alarm goes off and it’s time for the matching socks again? How do we shush the workplace water-cooler chat to hear, instead, our own unique writing voices?

The switch isn’t easy. Not for me. In fact, some weeks are so busy, so all-consuming that I need a down day.

Down day? Um … No. Hate that name. Hate its connotations (down = feeling down = downward slide = getting down on yourself).

Listen, whatever we’re going to name this writer-in-transition time, this set of hours and mental space betwen work and writing, we can start by making that time more productive, restorative, more writer-ready.

Here are 5 strategies that work for me: 

1. Exercise –  You’ve had enough desk surfing. After work, get out there and walk or run or go to the gym.

2. Small assignments – Before you set out on that walk or run, stuff a work in progress in your backpack. After your workout, grab a tea and spend an hour reading and editing. It’s just an hour. You’re just reading. But this gets you back into writer-you.

3. Do something just for you  — A yoga class, a massage, a visit to you local art gallery, lunch with your kids or partner or a good friend. A deliberate spate of self-nurturing helps us to feel like our day jobs neither own nor define us.

4. Write in your journal. Writing about your work week gets it out of your system. Oh, and don’t forget to list of all the wonderful things you accomplished this week.

5.  Read–A poem, a novel, an article on writing, a personal essay that inspires or informs.  Reading something we love is a great way to say, “Goodbye work. Hello me.”

Whether it’s an hour or a day or an afternoon, how do you transition from day-job you to writer you? And writers, what should we name this transition time?

About Aine Greaney

I'm an Irish writer living in greater Boston. I've published four books--two novels, a small collection of short stories and a how-to writing book, "Writer with a Day Job" (Writers Digest Books). I've also published lots of short stories, essays and feature articles. My latest project, "What Brought You Here" is a non-fiction narrative about being an expatriate in America. Find me on Twitter @ainegreaney. Or at my author web page, As well as creative writing, I am the communications director for a healthcare non-profit. I also lead creative writing workshops at various libraries, schools and arts programs. At my workshops, I've been inspired by lots of wonderful writers--most of whom work a day job!
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5 Responses to Working Time and Writing Time. What’s In-Between?

  1. geekgirlat40 says:

    My goal is to work a few hours less (or live closer to work) so I can have more time to write. But for now, I have about 20 minutes an evening I can give it (amongst my commute, chores, dinner and a few minutes getting reacquainted with my husband). I can give it a few minutes more if I don’t exercise – but skipping that isn’t always a good thing for my writing. My transition time is in the car on the drive home. I have a 40 minute commute and I usually spend that time in silence, letting my mind float and ponder. I hold onto a few ideas I have and let them sit while I put on laundry, tidy and do some exercise (usually just 20 minutes). Then I set a timer and write. Not ideal, but it’s what I have now.

    • Aine Greaney says:

      Hi, thanks for your comment and your insight into your writing time. I’m a great fan and advocate of using our car-commute time to let my mind wander or at least to mentally “visit” our writing. I’m intrigued by the idea of setting the timer to write. Lately, I’ve been using MacFreedom, and, as well as the freedom from the Internet, I find that it has that timer-effect also. I think I do better with structure in my writing time–maybe a leftover of the day job?

  2. What a great share, thanks for this reflection.
    I would name the in-betweeny time, “looking within and listening”.
    At work, most of my focus is the opposite; outwardly focused, organizing and expressing in clear terms large amounts of new information for others in a helpful way. And family time is about listening – but not to me of course (as a mom) I mean listening to the family, and supporting and advising them.
    Writing time in contrast is blessed, inner reflection. It is listening to the thoughts and ideas that at all other times just float by and away from me. I love writing. More than just about anything else. Can you tell? My best writing time is early morning in bed, on the subway on the way to work, and on vacations. Nights are just about impossible, and writing when exhausted is, well, a drag.

  3. Aine Greaney says:

    Hi J.J., thanks for your great naming. Yes, it is that kind of inward time, isn’t it? And there’s so little opportunity for that nowadays. That’s why I really love to write even a small entry in my journal. As well as my regular journal, I keep a really tiny notebook for those morning when I really rushed but just want that tiny piece of personal silence. I’m sure your colleagues and family are all the richer for that time you spend in “blessed, inner reflection.” It makes us into better people.

  4. Loretta Worters says:

    Powerful stuff. Thanks for sharing that. I can totally relate to the “self-flagellation and artistic despair.” A common trait, I suspect for most writers. When you have a stressful job, particularly if it’s a day job that involves writing, we do need some “down” time or “alone time.” Time to reflect on the day and help us transition to our writer jobs. Love the idea of a good walk, also helps you think about your writing before you start in again. Great tips! Thank you.

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