Sunday, January 16, 2011

Back-to-work Blues for Writers - Solutions

Yesterday in "The Age" newspaper there was an article on all those people suffering back-to-work blues after being off over Christmas and New Year. It was interesting as the writer compared the "syndrome" with post-natal depression! And said that for some people, the normal feeling of being depressed about going back to work can slide into real depression and be dangerous. But the key thing, of course, is that the people who suffer the most are the ones that hate their jobs.

You would think this was a given - if you hate your job, then it's natural to feel depressed about going back to work after two or three weeks off. But most of the year, we understand that we need an income, we have to work, and we squash down all those feelings about our job because what's the point of moaning? The break, however, gives you time and headspace to realise how bad the job really is, and the thought of returning to it is even worse.

We're lucky in Australia that we have low unemployment at the moment, so if you really hate your job that much, it's a great time to look for a new (better) one. But for writers, there's more at stake - psychologically and logistically. (You knew this was going to be about writing sooner or later, didn't you?) These days, if you have a spouse who is willing to work and support you, and you're making some kind of income from your books, you get to stay home and write. And read. And think a lot. All of these are things that make you a writer, and help you be a better writer.

For those who have to work to pay the bills, I think one of the key problems is not whether you hate your job or not but how much it takes away from your writing. Obviously, it takes time away. 40 hours out of your week, more or less. Throw in sleeping (50-60 hours), eating and all that living stuff (12-20 hours), exercise (0-5 hours), there's not much time left for actual writing. Although there would be a heck of a lot more if you stopped watching TV!

So your holiday break could well have been days and days of slobbing around in your trackies and T-shirt, writing, reading, dreaming, thinking - feeling like a real writer for once! Suddenly, you have to be up early, dress nicely and be at work by a certain time. But more than that, for those 40 hours, your brain is going to be chock-full of work stuff. Paperwork, work emails, phone calls, people complaining, people wanting you to fix their problems, more paperwork ... No wonder some writers prefer to work on a building site or in a factory, where their brain isn't so overloaded with other people's words.

What to do about this? The first thing is probably to get a grip - the sooner you come to terms with the reality of this, the better off you'll be. Because then you will be able to look for ways to solve the problem. Here are some ideas:

* Get up half an hour earlier, don't talk to anyone, or turn on your computer. Read or write. You will be starting the day as a writer, and from there, it will all look much better.

* Take a proper lunch break (I need to work on this one). Get right away from your workplace. Find a quiet cafe or a park. Either write or read. Or edit something in your current project. Breathe. Daydream. Don't talk to anyone. Why would you want to? This is writing time, your time.

* Carve out one hour at night. If you have a family, tell them how much you need it and then make sure you get it. Start your hour with a few minutes of relaxation and breathing - don't just launch madly into trying to write. You've had a day full of eight hours of other people's stuff. Give yourself some time to let it all go. If you're having trouble, journal it away. Then write.

I think one of the things that can hurt us is putting too much pressure on ourselves. By maintaining the reading and thinking and dreaming, as well as the actual writing, you can hopefully keep your job where it belongs - in the job part of your brain, not the imagination and creating part. I'm sure you have other ideas on how to maintain your writer's life after you have to go back to work. Share them with us!


MacDibble said...

Shhh! Don't mention work... I'm saving my depression for next month.

Sherryl said...

Mine starts tomorrow. And I've given up Lotto so there's no hope of getting out of it.

Elaine Ouston said...

I'm now one of the lucky ones who get to stay home and write - but for 46 years, I worked too. Yes 46 years - I started work at 14 and finished at 60. However, I didn't start writing seriously until I retired. I just wrote for my children and grandchildren. Being a single mother to four children there was no time. I am now enjoying doing what I want with my life. I admire the dedicated writers who try to juggle family, work, and writing.

Sherryl said...

Good for you, Elaine. Hope you are getting lots of writing done. I've been working for ... (wait while I count) ... 37 years. Goodness. A way to go before I catch up to you!

Snail said...

Bad luck about the end of the hols, Sherryl!

I remember hearing Alain de Botton talking about his book The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work. As I recall, he pointed out that the notion of expecting to enjoy and be fulfilled by work is a recent phenomenon. Not sure if that helps or not.

Sherryl said...

Yes, well, you know where I'm going back to!
It's funny, isn't it? I must read that book - I know lots of older people who have endured 40+ years of working. I just can't imagine that long hating what you do for 40 hours a week.
I must admit that it's only 20% of my job that's painful!! But I'd still rather be writing.

Sarah Allen said...

Oh, work. Thanks for the advice, very helpful. Its so hard to balance writing and working, but your tips help do exactly that.

Sarah Allen
(my creative writing blog)