When a Job Gets in the Way of the Work of Writing

“I have one of two choices – stay in the post office and go crazy … or stay out here and play at writer and starve. I have decided to starve.

-Chatles Bukowski, from Jay Dougherty, Introduction to Charles Bukowski

The other day I wrote about my take on the perennial struggle that many writers and other creators of art face: how to pay the bills while making their stuff. Well, today, that arm wrestling came into stark relief as I reported for duty at my new, albeit temporary, job. As a result, I’m getting to this blog quite late, later than usual even. Aside from throwing a wrench into my schedule, and reducing my bicycling time, I still did my walking and yoga. But the job had some positive things about it, too. Maybe you’ll relate.

dude and bukowski
The Dude, The Big Lebowksi and Charles Bukowski: brothers from another mother? Source: Rodney Curtis

Observation is a vital skill for writers. Because writing by humans is often so much about humans, what better a place to observe them? Situations that come up in work settings are great fodder for writing. At times stressful, boring, busy, challenging, or otherwise providing some input, work involves interactions and provokes emotions. What can you learn from this? I found it fascinating to be both part of the situation and also an observor of others. What this has to do with my predominant themes and hobbies of bicycling, walking, yoga, writing, health, etc. is not directly related. But honing ones instrument to be more observant cannot do anything but to help you in life and also in your writing.

“I remembered my New Orleans days, living on two five-cent candy bars a day for weeks at a time in order to have leisure to write. But starvation, unfortunately, didn’t improve art. It only hindered it. A man’s soul was rooted in his stomach. A man could write much better after eating a porterhouse steak and drinking a pint of whiskey than he could ever write after eating a nickel candy bar. The myth of the starving artist was a hoax.”

Charles Bukowski, Factotum

More self-awareness has never hurt a writer. Just as you can and should pay attention to other people around you at work, you can and should do the same for yourself. While of course you have to pay attention to others and do your job, at some level, even subconsciously, there is an observer. That inner knowing has a way of recording alot of information. The trick is to being open to it in the moment or later, upon reflection. How did you handle a tense situation? What was going on inside your mind-body while you were doing your job? In what ways were you your best self, and in other ways maybe you weren’t at your best? What are your gifts? Weaknesses?

For example: I like making puns and jokes to make other people smile, but I’m not very good at it myself. So when a young woman told me a joke (I presume to make me smile), I had to laugh at both the joke and at myself, and lighten up a little. The joke? “What did the duck say to the bartender? Put it on my bill.”

People are not two-dimensional, so neither should your characters be. Although I’m writing a memoir of my two years of bicycling a heckuva lot, in a way, it’s about me as a character. Same as this blog. It’s no accident I use a nom de plume; partly that’s shyness, another part is privacy, yet another is that it’s really not about me as much as the activity, or thoughts, or interactions that others can relate to. But even so, I’m always changing, evolving, adapting from moment to moment, just like everyone else. So when at work, what character are you playing? What roles are bosees, co-workers, clients, vendors, et al. playing? The more you can notice, the more you can infuse your written characters with real, authentic traits.

Work makes you prioritize. If like most writers you have to have a day job, that by itself has value. If writing on a regular or daily basis is a goal and practice for you, as it has become for A Dude this year so far, then your time is limited. This will force you to carve out the necessary minutes to record whatever it is you are authoring that day. If you have the luxury of not working, good for you, and believe me, I would love to have sponsors, patrons, publishers or a sugar mama funding me to write. Since most of us seldom have that, what can you do to maximize your efficiency when you do find space to create?

(Remember how I said I could link most anything to a bicycle? Well, Bukowksi’s book Factotum has a character who works in, among other places…. wait for it! …. a bicycle factory!)

““It was true that I didn’t have much ambition, but there ought to be a place for people without ambition, I mean a better place than the one usually reserved. How in the hell could a man enjoy being awakened at 8:30 a.m. by an alarm clock, leap out of bed, dress, force-feed, shit, piss, brush teeth and hair, and fight traffic to get to a place where essentially you made lots of money for somebody else and were asked to be grateful for the opportunity to do so? ”

Charles Bukowski, Factotum

Planning your day in the modern world takes alot. First there’s your self-care — making sure you eat, sleep, drink water, exercise, take your vitamins, recreation, entertainment and so on. Then there are your chores, errands, family obligations especially if you have kids can consume all of your time if you want to or let it. Then there are community duties, viewing what’s happening in your neighborhood, reading the paper or watching the news, clubs, teams, volunteering, and so on. Work is by far the biggest time suck for most people. So prioritizing everything else is key to keeping a little time for writing.

In the end… There are no easy answers, and no two writers’ situations are the same. There are certainly plenty of other thoughts and themes to be explored when considering working to live and doing one’s deeper work of writing. I will continue to explore them, by necessity. At least I will until such day as sponsors, patrons, publishers or sugar mamas come into my life. What has been your experience of working for a living versus writing being your true work? How do you balance the two? What sacrfices do you make? Not cleaning as much? Sleeping less? Skipping other favorite things?

You comments are welcome. Until next time, keep on keepin’ on.

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2 thoughts on “When a Job Gets in the Way of the Work of Writing

    1. Thanks but it’s only temporary, so I will have to keep searching and hopefully find something that pays a living wage that doesn’t stink. Ironically I need a car to do a more lucrative job I trained for, but I need money from a job to get a car.

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