Confessions of a Chronic On-the-Job Writer

WritingorComputerNoteTaking-300x200By Guest Contributor Anonymous

Hi. I’m writing this blog post at work. A few months ago, I revised the final draft of my first novel right here at my desk, and since then, I’ve been writing short stories, drafting novel ideas, and researching things very much unrelated to my “real” work, all while getting paid. This is not to say that I never get anything done, I just schedule in “real” work tasks around time to write. Sounds great, right? Yes, it does.

Here’s where the obligatory caveat about following my lead should go, because after all, it is dangerous and irresponsible to encourage people, many of whom are desperate for just fifteen minutes of solid writing time, to simply shirk their duties and very possibly get themselves reprimanded or even fired. I’m living on the edge, for sure, but I have a slight advantage in that I’m essentially a drudge. Seventy-five percent of my job consists of showing up and plopping down in front of my computer for the next eight hours. I do have my responsibilities, but usually once a month, a whole week will pass where I find myself more or less left to my own devices. On those weeks, some days I’ll fritter away anywhere from 3 to 6 hours just writing, and I’ll keep on doing this until finally I cock something up and my boss takes notice. Luckily for me, no one has quite figured out yet that writing benders are to blame for my periodic downturns in productivity.

You get why this post is anonymous now, right?

I can’t be the only one who does this. No matter how many articles I read about how to balance work with writing time, or writing with family time, I do not believe for one second that a perfect balance is to be reasonably expected of those who live paycheck-to-paycheck. “Set aside two hours at the end of every day,” “Get up a few hours before you need to be up for work” (ha ha ha—hilarious), “Use a voice-recorder app to write while driving,” “Spend all your weekends writing—your family will understand!” Maybe somewhere out there is a fit, healthy, uber-autor who worked a full day, picked the kids up from school, took a jog, saw a few friends, helped the kids with homework, made dinner, put the kids to bed, got caught up on Game of Thrones, had amazing sex with her partner, got a full night’s sleep, and put the finishing touches on Chapter 24, but until I’ve met her and grown to hate her personally, I just won’t believe it.

Perhaps poor time management on my part is to blame, that and my general disinterest in what I do for a living, which has always been and will always be a means to an end. I should feel terrible about myself, or so the advice columns tell me: I’m wasting my time and other people’s by refusing to focus my energy into building a grown-up career in Client Acquisitions Management or something like that, and I’m my own worst enemy because spending most of my days on this earth wishing I was somewhere else is as exhausting and depressing as it sounds. It is also isolating—I’m ashamed of my work habits, so I try not to share them with anyone, especially my coworkers, with whom (I’ve calculated) I actually spend more of my waking life than even my own family. Nor do I really want other writers to know my dirty little secret—I desperately want to be one of those people who can write absolutely anywhere, in five-minute bursts if necessary, but try as I might, I’m not. I’ll always struggle to hunker down and focus, and I tell myself that this means I’ll never be a real writer. The real writers don’t need to write at their day jobs; they’re all topping up the word-count with one hand and doing the dishes with the other.

But hey, am I not actually living the dream? Am I not being thoughtless of the multitudes out there whose jobs don’t even allow for an occasional sit-down, much less hours and hours of unscheduled time? Have I been doing this for so long that I’ve forgotten what it was like to stand at a cash-register for eight hours, flexing my cankles and unable to snag even five seconds to think of anything other than hitching up my “Would you like to apply for a store card today” smile? Do I have the perfect scam going, or what?

And yet, the guilt nags at me. For a writer, a desk-job with minimal supervision and fluctuating responsibilities is a kind of privilege, and no one is more privileged than the person who thinks of their privilege as a burden. The time I spend chastising myself for being a terrible employee and a disappointing adult would certainly be better spent transmuting that self-loathing into prose, which is the thing that gets me up in the morning in the first place. I’m not doing this the way we’re all supposed to, and the part of me that yearns to fit in—with my coworkers as well as my writer friends and acquaintances—fears that I’m in a losing game, no matter how cushy it appears on the surface. I’d like to believe that I’m making some sort of statement, stealing back a bit of the time that the daily grind steals from me, saying “up yours” to the Man, but the reality of it is that I’m living with a secret that I’m convinced few will understand. I could choose to be grateful for every day that I get away with it; instead, I tell myself that I’ve already failed because “getting caught” at something I love that should be totally harmless is now a threat to my livelihood.

I often imagine how it will go down: the incredulity and betrayal in my boss’s voice as it all hits her, my long grift, followed by an awkward conversation behind closed doors. Maybe I’ll Fight Club my way out of it. Maybe I’ll stick my nose in the air and resign to a life of poverty and indolence. More likely I’ll cry and beg her not to fire me. Whatever the case, somebody will ask me why I did it in the first place, which I can answer for myself far better than I’m able to explain to someone else. If I’m lucky, they’ll offer me a break. A probationary period. They’ll make me promise to never, ever, ever do it again. And I’ll say, “Yes, yes, of course!” and I’ll be lying my face off.

The 9-to-5 keeps me housed and fed; the writing keeps me sane. One is pretty damn empty without the other.

Bio: ANONYMOUS lives on planet Earth, is bipedal, and has a day job. For now.

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1 comment

  1. Pretty much every word of this rings true to me. Back when I was a full-time desk jockey, I wrote at work all the time. I had jobs where I was either super busy or super bored. In the down times, I tried to think of myself as a full-time writer who was on-call for work emergencies between the hours of 9-5. That helped, but the low-grade anxiety and guilt was always there.

    Love this post for its honesty. And you made me laugh. Thanks for sharing!

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