For those of you who missed last’s week’s Life Update, I totally got a new Day Job to replace my old Secret Work-From-Home one, so what follows will make way more sense if you check that out first. (TLDR Version: My new job’s in an office doing a writing/editing-type activity, the conditions make it ideal for keeping up with my novel, this blog, and other creative projects, and to lessen my commute I moved to a new apartment a mere 3.6 miles from the new job.)
Now that we’re all on the same page, some of you might be wondering why I jumped ship, especially since the flexibility offered by my Secret Work-From-Home Day Job let me do the majority of my writing in the mornings when I felt most focused and also created a close approximation of my ideal daily work schedule. The reasons for the switch are numerous but all pointed in one direction—that it was time to make a change.
1.The Inconsistent Hours Were Stressful
As I’ve talked about before, my Secret Work-From-Home Day Job required me to work set shifts at my computer that I scheduled in advance. In an ideal world, I’d be able to work that job a solid 30 hours a week without having to commute and be rewarded with the perfect balance of money and time, but this only worked for a small portion of the 8 or so months that I used it as my main source of income.
The reality was that the actual number of hours I worked ranged anywhere between 0 and Too Many, including the week I worked 65 hours and had to deal with a flat tire on my Volvo. The 0-hour weeks left me with too much free time (yes, you read that correctly) to use on my own terms, which led me to get overwhelmed by distractions that led to less productivity and a lot of aimlessness. Too many slow workweeks were also taking a toll on my wallet, and I found myself needlessly worrying about money even though I was sticking to my monthly budgets and still had a bunch saved from the summer.
Having to do too much Day Job work was also causing problems: too many 0- and 8-hour weeks left me jumping on whatever hours I could get, which then led to overscheduling, working way too much, and burning myself out so I couldn’t use what time I still had.
My new Day Job, in contrast, is a steadier gig when it comes to hours and paychecks, meaning I can take financial worries off my radar and focus more on things that really matter.
2. The Work Was Starting to Melt My Brain
My Work-From-Home Day Job involved doing a repetitive, mindless activity many, many, MANY times over, and most days there was nothing to break up the monotony except a lunch break and my constant need to pace around my bedroom.
This was less of a problem when I was working in the afternoons and evenings, since that meant that I could do my writing in the mornings before the brain-suck set in. Unfortunately, though, that wasn’t always possible.
My ideal Work-From-Home schedule looked approximately like this:
8:00am – Wake up
9:00am – 11:30am – Writing/Other creative work time
11:30am – 8:00pm – Day Job Work
8:00pm – Midnight – Dinner and general recuperation time
In reality, though, far too many days were looking like this:
8:00am – Wake Up
8:30am – 5:00pm – Groggily start Day Job worktime over a bowl of soggy cereal while still half asleep and with wet hair from showering. Feel disoriented while working because not enough time went into morning focus and goal-planning. Feel distracted during the day, have difficulty thinking about creative projects, feel pessimistic and angry about general situation.
5:30pm – 8:00pm
Writing/Other creative work time Do minimal creative work, get distracted, call off creative time in favor of a lower-stress activity.
8:00pm – Midnight – Feel guilty about not having gotten enough done.
For obvious reasons, this wasn’t cool, and far too many hours of time were being lost in this way. As time went on, my coveted afternoon shifts were getting harder and harder to get, and to earn more money I began taking on more and more morning shifts that at the end of the day left me in no condition to pull open the Word file and get back to work.
Though I’ve only been at it a month, I can fully say that my new Day Job doesn’t suck away as much of my energy, and instead involves work that keeps me more focused and stimulated rather than drained. Instead of leaving me feeling tired, most days the effect has been the opposite—in the evenings, I find myself ready to concentrate on what really matters.
3. I Was Spending WAY Too Much Time at Home
The problem with working from home is that you don’t have an excuse to go someplace else, change your surroundings, and come home to a familiar place at the end of the day. If you don’t know what I mean, try spending 12+ hours a day in the same room for six months and get back to me ;-)
Staying at home so much didn’t bother me at first since things were going so well with my writing, until I found the consistent surroundings were starting to make me feel more pessimistic, and stressed. Though I’m not exactly sure of the root cause, my best guess is that not physically going anywhere created the impression that my life wasn’t going anywhere either, so when I experienced a setback, I took it a lot harder than I normally would.
I tried leaving the house at least once a day to run errands, socialize, or even just take a walk to clear my head, but it was getting harder to find excuses to leave when I also wanted to get a lot done—taking a daily walk felt like a time-waster when I had so much to do, and most days it was easier to just stay in and work.
In contrast, going back to the world of outside Day Jobs provided a good dose of the head-clearing I was looking for—plus, a little human companionship never hurt anyone, even if it’s just someone to say hi to after clocking in ;-)
4. The Income Wasn’t Quite Sustainable
For about eight months, most of my income came from my Work-From Home Day Job, my editing work, and a few other side gigs. Though my monthly income fluctuated widely during the time, when all was said and done, I just about broke even financially.
This was really encouraging, since I wasn’t sure what to expect when I moved from working in a greenhouse in Nebraska to focusing more on my novel, but I knew I couldn’t just keep breaking even for too much longer—eventually my car was going to need repairing, I was going to cave and take a semi-expensive vacation, or the Day Job hours were going to vanish for longer than a few weeks. Any of these things could drain my savings to an uncomfortable degree, and that definitely wasn’t what I was looking for.
Lack of money wasn’t the main decision by any means (that’s why I have this at number 4!), but combined with other stresses, mid- to long-term money worries were starting to influence my thinking. They were also a major contributor to another problem:
5. My Low-Cost Living Situation Was a Temporary One
Part of what made my escape from Nebraska possible was that I had some like-minded friends back in New Hampshire with a spare room in their house who didn’t think it was weird that I wanted to sit in my room writing novels and keeping a blog all day. Their support made it a whole lot easier for me to take the risk, which shows how associating with people who’ll respond positively to your life goals is SO INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT for everyone, creative people or otherwise.
In the end, though, my low-rent situation wasn’t meant to be a long-term one. Renting out a room in a friend’s house is a hell of a lot cheaper than leasing a one-bedroom apartment at a time when housing costs in my home state are on the rise, so getting by on a lower income was really only possible as long as I was saving $700 or so dollars a month in rent and the cost of sharing food and utilities.
The higher paychecks from the new Day Job fix that problem, while making it possible for me to live on my own again and still save a good chunk of money per month (that’s the plan, anyway…). Having my own space again was also important to me, and something I knew would benefit both my creative life and my personal life.
There’s one more really important thing, though, that surpasses all these other factors, and if it hadn’t lined up the way I wanted, I wouldn’t have made the change:
6. Work on My Novel’s Going Really Well
I wrote the first draft of my new novel while working full-time (or more than full-time) in Nebraska, and it took me a solid 9 months without getting much else done in the meantime.
As an added bonus, while the first draft was riddled with holes, vaguely-written chapters, and scenes waiting to be filled in later, the new drafts have been stronger, more developed, and bolstered by a lot of ideas that wouldn’t have come to me if I hadn’t been devoting so much focused time to solving plot and character problems.
While a lot of work still remains, I feel more comfortable lowering the time commitment in favor of a revision schedule that leaves me more time for other things (including earning money!), and find that I don’t necessarily have to work on the novel first thing in the morning anymore to produce decent scenes.
That’s because fine-tuning a fourth draft of a novel is a hell of a lot easier than building up a rough draft that’s full of holes, which means that a lot of the revising can be done in the 8:00pm to 11:00pm timeslot I outlined last week. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but I know the work that remains will be less intensive than the work I’ve done already.
So that’s where I stand now, and I’m still feeling really positive about the transition. Who knows, though—all this could change in a year, and maybe by then I’ll find myself needing to sort through different challenges and pursue different goals. What lies next is definitely on my radar but not quite ready for the blog, but rest assured that when it comes, I’ll let you know ;-)
Hey you. Yeah, YOU. If you liked this post, why not like this page on Facebook to show your support and get more sweet updates on the creative life?
Not into Facebook? Twitter’s better for that stuff anyway.