How to juggle a day job…

August 18, 2011 § 6 Comments

Unless you’re blessed making a living from screenwriting, you’ll probably have to hold down a job to pay the bills as you complete your latest spec and pursue your dreams.  Aspiring screenwriters must strike a delicate balance between a day job and your equally important writing schedule.  You may have a job in the film business doing something other than writing and you’ll still need to spend some quality time focused on your craft.  I’ve seen many a day job be the reason for a writer to squash his or her precious focus and lose the energy needed to complete another spec.

You may find yourself taking a job during the down times, but always keep in mind that you’re a writer – that is unless you don’t write.  A full-time job will tempt you to complain there is little no time to write, but don’t believe those negative voices in your head.  That’s just procrastination looking for a reason for you to leave the pages blank.  Remember, only you can stop you from writing.

Many years ago, I experienced a slow period and I decided to take a fulltime, 9-5 job in a law firm as a legal assistant.  I worked in a cubicle, had an hour lunch, and since I was an “as needed” employee, I could shift my schedule just as long as I finished my work.  This allowed me to take a longer lunch or come in later if I had a writing meeting.  The hourly money at this job was too good to pass up, so I stuck with it.  At the time I was in a relationship, I now had a full-time job, and I was trying to work everything around my writing schedule.  It was a rough act to balance and as time went by, it seemed like I was slowly pushing my writing aside as there was always something else to do, right?

I originally saw myself having to take this day job as a failure in my writing career.  I mistakenly saw it as a setback instead of a way for me to continue my writer’s journey by any means necessary.  I knew that I was free to quit on any day and taking the job was my choice, so leaving would be my choice and on my terms.  I always felt like I had one foot out of the door because I never gave up my writing.  As I would complete pages, I’d see concrete results that I was still working on my plan by any means necessary.  I never gave up like I had seen others do, and when I’d hear them complain about how busy life was or how they had no time to write, I knew they really didn’t want it badly enough.  I wanted it more than anything else in the world to get back to my writing life.

Luckily, six months into this job I was blessed when a producer hired me to write a movie, but unfortunately the upfront money wasn’t enough to quit, so I wrote during my lunch breaks and nights at home.  I worked until I went to bed, woke up the next day, went to work, wrote at lunch and again when I came home.  I continued this schedule five days a week.  I didn’t have weekends because I’d write on both of those days as well.  My hunger and drive came back to get out of my day job and back to my life as a working screenwriter.  It was a huge challenge working two jobs, but I never wanted my writing to become a secondary endeavor.  I completed the script and its four drafts, but it languished in development and didn’t have a start date.  So…

I continued to work at the day job for another year, but it was increasingly difficult to continue there.  I found myself yearning for my life as a full-time writer.  Every morning I’d come into work later and later and I found myself taking longer lunches.  I even left earlier and shaved off hours because living two very different lives was starting to take its toll.  Suddenly, a script of mine that was in development went into production and I finally received my bonus.  I altered my job’s schedule so I could visit the set and be around the production.  I banked the money and I started to feel like there was light at the end of this long tunnel.  I felt like I was close to giving my two-week notice, leaving on my terms and getting back to my life as a full-time screenwriter.  This job had been great for paying the bills and saving up money, but I was ready to move on — but not just yet.

I stuck with the job for another six months, when I received a call from a production company I had previously worked for and they offered me a new script assignment on a fast tracked idea.  This was the good omen that I was looking for and a way back to into the trenches and fighting the good fight as a working screenwriter.  I knew for my well-being that I had to take a leap of faith and quit the job so I could live an authentic life as a screenwriter again.  I gave my notice at my job right before the holidays and when the New Year started, I began writing full-time again on my latest script assignment.  It felt amazing.

If you have a day job, carefully manage your writing time and make it a priority even if you only have an hour a day to write.  I wrote during my lunch breaks and every night after work.  You must keep a diligent schedule and don’t skip days. One day missed leads to two, and three and suddenly you’re off track and off schedule.  You will always find reasons not to write, but don’t succumb to the temptations.

Even if you are lucky enough to become a full-time writer, you must schedule your time wisely, because it’s easy for hours and days to slip away when you are your own boss.  Trust me, you’ll find any excuse to procrastinate from writing.  That’s why you must keep a strict daily regimen that keeps you productive.  Writers write.  Tolstoy had thirteen kids and still managed to write “War and Peace.”  What’s your excuse?  The answer is “I don’t have an excuse,” because you’ll write even if it’s an hour a day or during your lunch break.  Keep chipping away at your pages and you’ll discover a finished script sooner than you think.

You may hit a slow patch in your journey as a working screenwriter, but if you keep writing you will never lose sight of your dreams.  Think of building your career over the long haul and not just hoping to hook one big script sale.  Like any difficult journey, you’ll constantly be tested to see how badly you want a career in screenwriting and how much you are willing to sacrifice to keep doing what you love to do.  Sure, you’ll have failures, rejection, projects that die and never get made, and maybe other scripts languishing in development, but if the road gets bumpy, always keep the faith and your focus on the end goal – a career as a working screenwriter.

Always stay hungry, never get lazy and keep true to your self-discipline.  Don’t allow any day job or any person to derail your plans.  Protect your dreams from all comers.  We all need to put food in the fridge and pay our rent, but be aware of the pitfalls of a 9-5 job and how you may allow it to affect your writing.  Stay hungry. If you have the drive and determination to go after your dreams, no day job will keep you away from your keyboard.  Only you can stop you from writing.

Writers write.  Make the time, keep writing and keep getting better!

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Rod Serling talks about the day jog and it’s effect on a writer:

I used to come home at seven o’clock in the evening, gulp down a dinner and set up my antique portable typewriter on the kitchen table. The first hour would then be spent closing all the mental gates and blacking out all the impressions of a previous eight hours of writing. You have to have a pretty selective brain for this sort of operation. There has to be the innate ability to singletrack the creative processes. And after a year or so of this kind of problem, you have rent receipts, fuel for the furnace and a record of regular eating; but you have also denied yourself, as I did, a basic “must” for every writer. And this is simple solitude—physical and mental.

The process of writing cannot be juggled with another occupation. The job of creating cannot be compartmentalized with certain hours devoted to one kind of creation and other hours set aside for still another. Writing is a demanding profession and a selfish one. And because it is selfish and demanding, because it is compulsive and exacting, I didn’t embrace it. I succumbed to it.”

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