Thursday, August 29, 2019

8 Tips on Balancing Work and Writing

By Evan Ramzipoor @ER_Ramzipoor 

Part of The Writer's Life Series

JH: It's not easy finding the balance between working and writing, but it's something almost every writers faces at some point. Evan Ramzipoor returns to the lecture hall today, with tips on how to find that precious balance 

Evan Roxanna Ramzipoor is a writer based in California. She also works as a content marketer, writing about cybercrime and online fraud. She studied political science at UC Berkeley, where she researched underground literature in resistance movements and discovered the forgotten story of Faux Soir. Her writing has been featured in McSweeney's and The Ventriloquists is her first novel. She lives with her partner and a terrier mix named Lada

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Take it away Evan…

When I started writing The Ventriloquists, I was working three part-time tutoring jobs. If you’ve never tried to teach math to a tired seven-year-old who recently found out that her best friend shared her juice box with someone else at recess today—well, let’s just say I learned a lot more about first-grade social networks than the first graders learned about math.

Evan Ramzipoor
By the time I finished The Ventriloquists, got my agent, and sold the book, I was working full-time as a content marketer for a cybersecurity company. (The seven-year-olds were good training for the tech world.) Like many authors, I’ve had a day job throughout my entire publishing adventure.

Maintaining work/life balance is difficult enough—but for authors with day jobs, maintaining work/work balance can seem impossible. It doesn’t have to be. I’ve put together some tips to help you juggle writing and working while keeping yourself sane (side note: if you can afford a therapist, get a therapist).

In the first part of this piece, I’ll help you with the psychological bit: rethinking work/work balance so it doesn’t feel quite so daunting. In the second part, I’ll give you some actionable tips for using your day job to fuel your authorial career, and for thriving as an author with a day job. 

(Here's more on Balancing Writing and Working Without Losing Your Mind)

The Psychological

1. There’s nothing noble about starving.

A while ago, an author stirred up controversy on twitter by suggesting that “real” writers forgo day jobs so they can spend more time on their writing. An unfortunate number of writers do seem to believe that they have to starve for their art: that comfort somehow delegitimizes their work. That is false.

Suffering is not art. Your work is not any better because you picked that soul-sucking job over that better opportunity, or because you decided to try living solely off of your writing, or because you haven’t eaten in two days. If you want to write, you will make time to write, but do your brain a solid and give it food and sleep. Do not quit your day job until it’s financially responsible to do so (and have that conversation with your agent first).

Like I mentioned in the intro, I started my publishing adventure while working a bunch of low-paying tutoring gigs. On nights and weekends, I delivered the same lessons over and over to kids in blue plastic chairs that were too small even for them. When I did find time to write, I was drained and sleep-deprived. But I didn’t want to look for a full-time job because full-time work was selling out.

Eventually, I had to take a full-time job to support myself. And I learned that you really can have a successful, full-time day job while launching your authorial career. When my quality of life improved, so did my writing.

To be clear, some authors face barriers to employment that are institutional or structural; some people do not work full time because of their health, or children, or care-taking, and so on. I don’t want to trivialize that. However, if it is possible for you to investigate better job options, it’s worth doing—and if you’re thinking of forgoing a day job entirely, please think hard.

Besides, nobody ever really quits working. That guy on twitter who told writers to quit their day jobs and write full time? He later admitted that he picks up the slack by freelancing—which, y’know, kind of sounds like a job to me, but I digress. 

(Here's more on 3 Good Reasons Not to Quit Your Night Job)

2. Your day job is research.

As writers, we often feel like we’re never doing enough: you only wrote a paragraph today, you didn’t pitch any bylines, you’re not keeping up with social media. For many of us, that guilt extends to our day jobs. You spent eight hours at work when you could’ve spent that eight hours writing.

But what would you write about? Think about it this way: Every eight hours, your day job gives you a new toolkit complete with everything you need to build a book. You get characters, settings, conflicts, petty jealousies. Without these elements, your book wouldn’t have plot, texture, or life.

When we’re asleep, our brains make dreams to keep us busy, but our brains are incapable of creating faces and personalities from scratch. Every person who inhabits your dreams is an amalgam of friends, family, enemies, and coworkers. Books are the same.

If nothing else, your day job gives you time to miss your characters and your world. It keeps you excited. That’s a precious gift. 

(Here's more on Six Ways to Make Researching Easier)

3. Your day job doesn’t have to be your career.

Some authors have no desire to write full time, and I get that. For many of us, though, our endgame is supporting ourselves solely by writing.

If that’s true for you, it might be useful to separate your day job from your career. This might sound like semantics, but for me, the distinction is a helpful one. Your day job doesn’t define you. It’s simply providing the food, shelter, time, and writing implements you need to build your career.

When I started working at the cybersecurity company, I felt like an imposter. I was surrounded by talented, driven colleagues who wanted to work their way to VP of Sales or head of marketing, but I didn’t want that. I just needed to put a roof over my head while I wrote about underground literature. This made me feel unanchored and ungrateful. Since then, I’ve chatted with many other authors who’ve had similar experiences. But please keep in mind that you are just as career-driven as your coworkers. You’re just in different lines of work. 

(Here's more on How Busy Full-Time Working Writers can Find Time to Write)

The Practical

1. Keep a notebook at your workplace.

Under your desk, behind the bar, hidden beneath the floorboards… Just have a notebook near you when you’re at work. To understand why, it helps to know about frames.

In psycholinguistics (stay with me), “frames” are your cognitive picture of the world. Here’s a quick example. Let’s say you bought a $5 ticket for a production of Hamlet. You will enter the theater expecting amateurish performances. In your mind, a cheap ticket is in the same picture as a lackluster show, so you won’t enjoy the play very much. But if you bought a $500 ticket for the same production of Hamlet, you’d be more likely to enjoy it—even if the actors, director, and crew are all the same. In your mind, an expensive ticket is in the same picture as a really stellar show.

By keeping a notebook at work, you change your frame. Instead of just “my day job,” your work becomes “research for my novel”. The presence of the notebook will make you more likely to generate ideas for it. 

(Here's more on Why OneNote is One-Derful for Writers)

2. Use your day job to try out writing techniques.

Most of our jobs have some writing component. If you can—and I realize this isn’t always possible—use that writing component to explore the craft. Even when I was writing about cybersecurity as a marketer, or teaching kids algebra, I viewed each assignment as an opportunity to practice my craft. It really helped.

3. Tap into your network.

Believe it or not (and I didn’t), you have coworkers who can help get your work out there, or they know people who do. Even if it’s just one coworker, that’s better than nothing!

I was initially reticent to talk about my novel at work. I didn’t want people to think I was bragging, and it’s often taxing to explain the machinery of publishing. But when I started opening up about it, I learned that one of my coworkers is friends with a guy with a lot of publishing connections. That came in handy when I was promoting my book.

Even if you’re not sitting next to Michael Chabon’s wine-tasting buddy, your network can still be useful. You’re sitting in an office full of people who might be interested in your work—or they might have friends who are.

This isn’t a cold, utilitarian way of thinking. Don’t underestimate how rewarding it can be to surround yourself with coworkers who support your craft, whether that support is financial or moral. 

(Here's more on Event Goals: Getting the Most Out of Conference Networking)

4. Your day job has something to do with your book.

My novel The Ventriloquists is about ragtag resistance fighters who risk their lives to pull a prank on the Nazis. I work for a cybersecurity company. These things seem to have nothing in common.

That’s what I thought too. Then I forced myself to sit down and take stock of the similarities. I was astonished to find a connection between my novel and my day job. As a content marketer, I’d accumulated a wealth of knowledge about content fraud. I was able to work that into a byline that tied the battle against fake news to the battlefields of World War II.

Even if it’s a stretch, you can mine your day job for knowledge and trivia that will help make your work stand out. Whether you’re querying, writing, or promoting, you’re going to need a personal and professional meta-story: the story of your book. Your day job just might be the answer. 

(Here's more on Balancing Real Life with Writing Fiction)

5. Leverage your writing to unlock a better day job.

I’ve been trying to get my work traditionally published for almost my entire life. I’ve spent hundreds, if not thousands, of hours researching how to do that. But even with all that research, I never knew how many jobs were out there for people like me. I stumbled into content marketing by accident; a friend of mine happened to work at the company. Prior to that, I’d never heard of it. Writing comes so naturally to me that I never stopped to think of it as a marketable skill.

It is. You have a skillset that other people don’t have. If you can, use your voice to get a better day job so you can sit in an office instead of standing all day, so you can get a little more sleep, so you can buy yourself some time off to write.

Content marketing, content writing, ad writing, working for marketing agencies, copywriting, content development, product training, product marketing… Every business needs storytellers to bring their brand to life. Take some time to investigate. Your writing can unlock some fantastic opportunities—whether that’s your book deal or the restaurant where you celebrate.

About The Ventriloquists

The Nazis stole their voices. But they would not be silenced.

Brussels, 1943. Twelve-year-old street orphan Helene survives by living as a boy and selling copies of the country’s most popular newspaper, Le Soir, now turned into Nazi propaganda. Helene’s world changes when she befriends a rogue journalist, Marc Aubrion, who draws her into a secret network that publishes dissident underground newspapers.

The Nazis track down Aubrion’s team and give them an impossible choice: turn the resistance newspapers into a Nazi propaganda bomb that will sway public opinion against the Allies, or be killed. Faced with no decision at all, Aubrion has a brilliant idea. While pretending to do the Nazis’ bidding, they will instead publish a fake edition of Le Soir that pokes fun at Hitler and Stalin—daring to laugh in the face of their oppressors.

The ventriloquists have agreed to die for a joke, and they have only eighteen days to tell it.

Featuring an unforgettable cast of characters and stunning historical detail, E.R. Ramzipoor’s dazzling debut novel illuminates the extraordinary acts of courage by ordinary people forgotten by time. It is a moving and powerful ode to the importance of the written word and to the unlikely heroes who went to extreme lengths to orchestrate the most stunning feat of journalism in modern history.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indie Bound | Kobo |

1 comment:

  1. Thank you! This is a great post, and I really needed to hear this today!