Is there a way I can work both these jobs without killing myself?
August 1, 2006 6:32 AM   Subscribe

Is there a way I can work both these jobs without killing myself?

So, my 9-5 job is working from home as a legal transcriber. The work is boring, tedius and highly concentration-intensive. By the end of the day, all I want to do is crash and watch anime until bedtime. Accuracy is paramount in my work and a constant worry, because yanno, legal reprecussions. I also feel I don't get paid near enough [I'm on min wage, yet I listen to murder cases, child abuse & neglect cases, etc.] I'd ask for a raise, however it's been made clear that "raises" are the "quality bonus'" based on, duh, the final quality of a job. Which, let me tell you, that world view sucks major ass.

ANYWAY - the only reason I'm working this job is so I can afford to live and support my "I want to be a novelist" dream. You can stop rolling your eyes now, I realize that everybody and their mother wants to write a book, but I'm actually planning on doing this for a living, i.e. more than one book, and I plan on doing this for the rest of my life. To ask me to stop writing would be like asking me not to breathe. I've worked as a freelance magazine writer before and was also the finalist in a prestigious [well, in my particular genre] competition. I know I can string two words together - that isn't the problem.

I need a way to be able to work these two jobs side by side. Come the end of the day of listening to peopel who know they're being taped yet talk away like they're inverted monkeys - I can't stand to look at another piece of text. Not helpful when you're trying to write.

I loathe saying this, but all "creativity" is gone. I just want to crash and do nothing after a day in front of the comptuer. Weekends are the same - I neither want to work or write. I might take a walk or play a computer game, but that's it. When left to my own devices - a week off, or a stint in hospital - I'll write for hours at a time until my fingers are sore, feeling I've actually accomplished something. I also keep an open A4 pad on my desk while working, to jott down any random ideas that come into my head. However the road to actually finishing a novel while I'm working this other job seems longer than ever, without an end. I always seem to be "writing a novel", but never "finishing a novel" and that really, really pisses me off.

I need a way to work both these jobs in tandem other - something I can do at the end of the workday that'll make me want to look at & edit even more text. I do enjoy the *idea* of working at home - I'd be working like that anyway if I made it as a novelist. But the two jobs seem to be in conflict with each other: the legal one eats my soul, the part where I don't write has the same effect.

Any suggestions? Or could anybody be in a similar predicament? Anyone with the glorious vision of hindsight? [FYI *Please* don't recommend "airy fairy" stuff - Julia Cameron's book "The Right To Write" made me hurl and any BS waffling about "capturing my muse" or "plumeting the depths of my noble creativity to find my blahblahblah" will result in a sound earcuffing].

And this is anonymous because that last paragraph will offend countless people. Sorry, but I just don't buy that "ZOMG I'm a writer, watch me Emo" BS.
posted by anonymous to Writing & Language (29 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
You work from home... could you do your writing first, then the boring stuff? There might be some stuff in Getting Things Done that will help you with practical aspects of managing your time, too.
posted by Leon at 6:45 AM on August 1, 2006

None of the suggestions you claim to not want to hear are useful anyway. It seems your problem isn't creativity, but sheer exhaustion. It's like climbing Everest while trying to come up with a mathematical breakthrough.

What you need to do is simply get a few months to 'just write'. Many people who are in similar situations (not particularly writing, but any craft) have worked their fingers to the bone for, say, 6 months - 1 year, and saved up enough money to take a year off (if you budget, it's not hard to do). Once you've got a nice comfort blanket of money, you have every hour of every day to do what it is you want do.. write.

So I'd say stop doing two things half assed and do one thing at a time. Perhaps you could get a better paid, but harder, job to make up those savings.. and then, think about it, a year of writing bliss..?
posted by wackybrit at 6:50 AM on August 1, 2006

The basic thing you need to do is support your writing dream by reducing the amount of writing you do for other people.

I know this doesn't quite answer your question, but I really suggest you get a job that is very social or physically active. Either one of those will make you like being at home alone writing.

I used to want to write, and did, but then got a job where I was at home all the time writing, writing, writing and just got sick of it. Now, I can write for other people, but writing for myself is the last thing I want to do.
posted by milarepa at 6:50 AM on August 1, 2006

Oh, and I suggest you get rid of the t.v. and video games. That will help.

If you're bored, go out or read. Either one will nourish you. T.V. and games will suck you dry.
posted by milarepa at 6:53 AM on August 1, 2006

Often, in these situations, I find that my creative impulse never quiets down, it's my impulse to actually sit down and write that needs goading. If you're worrying that you're missing out on ideas, you probably are, as you'll never remember them unless you write them down.

I've been through what you're going through right now. Hell, I work from home right now, and find it hard to do anything creative beyond a new strategy in an online game. But still, my mind keeps working.

My best time to write? Really REALLY early in the morning. Like 4:30am. I wake up, my head is absolutely full of ideas. I sit down with some caffeine, and I just start typing. When it comes around time for me to do real (read: paying) work, I'm invigorated, and I can jump in the shower feeling like I got something seriously good done.

For example, this morning, I couldn't get back to sleep for some reason. I was having this amazingly detailed dream: A complete story, setting, characters, romance, heartbreak -- the works. Sure enough, as soon as the sun started brightening the sky, I was down here in front of the computer, typing up an outline, and filling in the cracks. I got at least 3 chapters in the middle of the story finished, and a serious outline of some major characters. I think I typed for a good 3 hours straight, there.
posted by thanotopsis at 6:56 AM on August 1, 2006

Why these two jobs specifically? If all you're making is minimum wage, surely you could get a less soul-sucking minimum wage job?

If you're determined to have these two particular jobs, then I'd agree with the earlier suggestion that you write first, and then transcribe later in the day.

Also, a change of scene helps - do you have a laptop? My apartment is messy and that drains a lot of my creativity, but I find it tremendously easy to write in restaurants and coffee shops. Perhaps you need to leave your house for one or the other of these tasks. Transcribe in the library, or write at Starbucks.

Even a change of room or situation could help. Try writing longhand for a bit in another room, away from your computer. Or, take your laptop (assuming you have one or can get one) into the kitchen for writing time.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:01 AM on August 1, 2006

I think it's going to be very difficult for you to accomplish your writing goals while working as the transcriptionist. I think, as both a physical and psychological matter, a job that requires you to sit in front of the computer for a full work day is going to make sitting in front of the computer, after the work day, very unappealing. Doing the writing before work may present other problems --- are you a morning person? (If you're not, writing before work may not be feasible.) And writing before work doesn't eliminate one underlying problem, which is that you're just spending too damned much time in front of the computer.

The advice given above, that you find a job that's either very social or very physical is excellent advice. I'd further urge you to find a job that provides significant day-to-day variety, because such variety will likely provide material for your writing.

So, no, I don't think you will be able to work as a transcriptionist and accomplish your writing goals.
posted by jayder at 7:11 AM on August 1, 2006

If your current job is minimum wage, get another winimum wage job that's not about writing. What about table service? You'd meet all the people you want to base characters on, whatever your genre, and you might get shifts that work around your creative 'clock'.
posted by dowcrag at 7:11 AM on August 1, 2006

I'd honestly say you can not do both jobs. When I work in kitchens (I've managed restaurants and supervised in pubs), I am almost unable to will myself to cook in my personal time. (Yes, it's funny that I starve when I cook professionally -- I am not alone in this by any stretch.) It is my experience that whatever you do for work can not be done for fun, for your mind will always associate it with work.

My suggestion would be to find a non-writing job, or one where you are not solely writing. If you're making minimum wage right now, and have no interest in pursuing a career in legal work, then find something else. If you don't care what you're doing, as long as you're making decent money, then you have a lot of options. (Relative to available work in your area, obviously.)

If you find some braindead job at a grocery store, or some other lower stress occupation (i.e. not cooking or transcribing brutal crimes) you'll probably find you're a lot more creative -- due to less mental fatigue -- and you're alot more apt to actually write.

Also, I'd suggest keeping a notepad or notebook on you for the mean time, in case any inspiriation does strike, you can at least leave a small reminder of the thought. If you accumulate enough rough notes, your own inner motivator may finally say one day "hey, write this down properly!"

Best of luck.
posted by Dark Messiah at 7:12 AM on August 1, 2006

If you're working as a transcriptionist on the theory it is unsupervised work from home that would allow you to work on your writing at the same time, then I suggest that this post is proof that that theory will not pan out.

An out of the box idea is to use voice recognition software to produce a first cut, and then manually listen to the thing to be transcribed, making the appropriate edits -- this won't save much time but might turn out to be less exhausting.

I do mean this honestly: why are you working as a transcriptionist, if not to work from home? You are aware the working from home is so out-of-the-norm in almost all lines of work that you can expect a hefty wage cut as the price of that preference? And that your boss is almost certainly billing the appropriate parties a rate equivalent to 8-10x your salary? You really would be better off in almost any other line of work -- I am having a difficult time imagining jobs as ill-suited to your ambitions as your current one. Even a McDonalds pays better in most places, has benefits, and can't be much more exhausting in the areas you care about.
posted by little miss manners at 7:17 AM on August 1, 2006

As a general rule of thumb, you can't have a job that involves a demanding amount of attention to words all day, and then go and spend 3-4 creative and productive hours working with words. You may be the exception.
posted by mrmojoflying at 7:20 AM on August 1, 2006

Even a McDonalds pays better in most places, has benefits, and can't be much more exhausting in the areas you care about.

And you'll have some really interesting co-workers if you're at the right (well, really wrong, but right) one. Like I worked with a bunch of prisoners. And I bet if you speak Spanish it would be even more interesting. And if you don't, you can probably pick some up :)
posted by dagnyscott at 7:23 AM on August 1, 2006

They are paying you nothing and the job is killing off your ability to pursue what you you want to do. Why would you want to keep that job?

Go work as a parking attendant or take the grave yard shift at a gas station. Both involve a lot of mindless sitting and waiting, which is what always gets my imagination going.
posted by 517 at 7:32 AM on August 1, 2006

Of course you should probably consider getting another job, but on the more immediate and practical side of your creative life you say that you're always writing a novel but you never finish a novel. I wonder if that's because you're starting out too big. Why don't you write a set of short stories? Then you'll have the satisfaction of completing a project (albeit a mini-project i.e. a short story) and you can set your limits as to how long the entire book will be. You could even decide on a story length for each one, that way you'll be disciplining yourself, you'll get the satisfaction of finishing and more importantly the confidence to embark on a large project later on...
posted by ob at 7:38 AM on August 1, 2006

I'm suffering from a similar combination - spending all of my day on the computer at work, the last thing I want to do when I get home is go back on, even to play games.
Like others, I suggest that if you're getting min wage, go find a different job elsewhere. It might not have as nice hours as your current one, but at least the passion to write will come back.
posted by Meagan at 7:41 AM on August 1, 2006

I completely agree that working at McDonald's or Starbucks or what have you will mean that you have more energy and ambition to write when you're off work. I just want to point out that if you want, you can probably find a minimum-wage job where you can write on the job. And not in any dishonest, time-stealing way. There are plenty of jobs where your duty is essentially to sit there until called upon by the customer.

I mean, there are jobs I almost can't imagine taking unless you had something else to do in your ample downtown.

On preview, something like what 517 said.

All that said, you may find the contact with people/weirdos/ex-cons is more inspiring than sitting alone in a computer lab or something.
posted by veggieboy at 7:53 AM on August 1, 2006

Long term advice: Don't work in the field you love (no matter how tenuous that "in") if your job is nothing but a paycheck to you.
posted by shownomercy at 7:59 AM on August 1, 2006

Get a job at a coffee shop. Everyone knows that caffeine is the fuel of all creativity.

The graveyard shift at a gas station was a good idea too. Sitting around with nothing to do would give you time to write your novel.
posted by cbushko at 8:14 AM on August 1, 2006

I have a friend who finished his novel while working as the night guard at a trucking depot. He sat in a little shack and wrote all night long, only interrupted by the occasional truck pulling in, for which he had to open the gate and make a notation on a list.
posted by Joleta at 8:29 AM on August 1, 2006

I'm a screenwriter; I also write novels. I've discovered that it's difficult for me to to work on a novel when I have screenwriting deadlines- too much input from other people, too many requirements I have to meet, laced into the body of writing all day long. I would go with everyone else to suggest getting another kind of minimum wage job. If that's not possible, well, I did say it was difficult, not undoable.

Wake up two hours early and spend those two hours writing what you want. Before you have anything else poured into or out of your head for the day. Stop at exactly two hours, even if you're redhotinthemiddleofasentence. Then you'll have a redhotinthemiddleofasentence place to start again tomorrow. Writing for self and writing for work at the same time take lots and lots of discipline. This is a good way to start instilling it.

"But I can't," you wail! "I have to be fresh and accurate for my transcription!" Trust me. It's a different kind of tired you get from writing things out of your head, as opposed to transcribing. You'll be fine at work. Annoyed, because you had to go from the Beautiful Other Place back to Stupid Ugly Now, but you'll be fine.

You need to be aware that you will always have other jobs to do, even if your job is writing novels. "Writing novels" isn't the whole profession, it's the production phase of a business in which you are the sole employee.

Initially, you will have to make time to research agents, prepare submissions, and respond to requests. Once you have an agent, you'll have to make time to edit and re-edit represented work, while working on something new. Once you have a sale, you'll have to make time to edit and re-edit, and go over the wild minutiae of having a book published, while making time to work on something new. If you're lucky/unlucky, you'll have interviews and a book tour, and an agent who is steadily selling your work, so at any given time start all the way over from the edit and re-edit while still working on something else new.

And that's the idealized life, if you're pulling down comfortably midlist advances with absolutely no need of supplemental income. If your first advance (like most people's) is somewhere between 5000 and 10,000 dollars- you will have to write in the morning, do other job all day, and work in the editing, re-editing, and other regular business needs of being an author around that.

I don't say this to discourage you, I say this because you've offered up a very simple problem with the naive belief that it'll get better someday. It will get different someday, but there will always be work needs competing with your creative needs. This is your first challenge. Buckle down now. It's fantastically rewarding when you get there, but it's still work, and if you want it, you have to work for it. Reality doesn't stop just because we can look you up at Barnes & Noble.
posted by headspace at 8:45 AM on August 1, 2006 [1 favorite]

Amen, headspace, amen.
posted by mothershock at 8:53 AM on August 1, 2006

Get a job that pays you for the work you do... If you're doing way more work but earning the same amount of money as a Burger-pusher, be a Burger-pusher...
posted by hatsix at 9:27 AM on August 1, 2006

I have an aspiring author who works for me at my library. I have no problems letting her scribble away in her notebook while working the circulation desk, provided there's no other task that needs to be completed at the time.

Consider getting an evening job at a local college library. Much of the time, students just want to use the late night hours for study, so you'll have some decent swaths of time to dedicate on plotting, editing, and so on.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 9:47 AM on August 1, 2006

Agree with others that the exhaustion from legal transcribing job and working from home is a problem. If you're only making minimum wage, what compells you to stay with this particular employer? Go find another job that is something completely different from writing. Retail, wait tables, receptionist, admin. assistant, anything.

Right now, home is your living place, your work place, and your writing space. That's too much to expect of one setting -- it's no wonder that it's hard for you to switch gears.

Unlike some others here, I write best in the early evening. My freelance writing gigs are my treat after a long workday at my job.

Also, if you're watching TV because you're watching specific shows that really interest you, fine. But if you're just vegging out to whatever's on, try giving it up. I found that I started writing and thinking a lot more creatively (and reading more again) when I cancelled my cable (ensuring absolutely no reception) because the only things that I then watched were shows that actually engaged my mind on some level.
posted by desuetude at 9:57 AM on August 1, 2006

Is there any scope for changing the hours of your transcription job so you work a compressed week - same number of hours but over four days rather than five? This was my tactic in a somewhat similar situation. It is very tiring for the first few months though.
posted by paduasoy at 10:49 AM on August 1, 2006

Sure you can do it! I do it. I work a full-time, 10am to 6pm job. After work, I direct plays from 7pm to 10pm. And I'm currently writing my third book (not a novel, but still ... a book). Many of our ancestors worked STAGGERINGLY long hours and got all their work done, so obviously the human mind and body are up to it. By the way, teaching and directing are very similar, so I don't buy the whole "you can't do two similar jobs" things.

What I CAN'T do is work at home. Home is where I relax and veg out. So even when I don't have an office to go to, I go to a coffee shop instead and work from there. I NEVER try to write at home. I simply won't do it. The home/relax (or home/do-the-dishes link is too strong).

And I ABSOLUTELY don't go home BETWEEN jobs. If I do, I will probably just STAY home and zone out on the sofa. Home is the place I leave at 8am and return to at midnight.

Strangely, I'm rarely tired. I'm often scared that I'll be too exhausted to get all this stuff done BEFORE I start -- and there's a danger that I'll procrastinate because of this (not-based-in-reality) fear. But while I'm working, I'm too busy to reflect on my internal state, so I'm not tired.

I never pause. Pausing is like going home: it creates a crack for exhaustion to get in. I work through my lunch break. This doesn't make me feel overworked. It makes me feel ALIVE. My "down time" is when I go to bed. It is also on special days -- set aside for downtime -- like Sundays.

I eat right and work out. (When? I get up at 6am and do it before I start the day. Doesn't this make me MORE exhausted, because I get less sleep. Again, that's the fear, and the danger is giving into it. But if I actually DO it, I am LESS tired and more energized.)

Finally, my work is about the WORK -- not about "making it" or "one day being able to quit my day job." Sure, I would love to give up teaching and write (or direct) fulltime. Maybe this will happen, maybe it won't. I don't waste time thinking about it or planning for it. I am quite prepared -- if the dice throw this way -- to work three jobs for the rest of my life. I write because I love it; I direct because I love it.

I've seen SO many people give up their dreams because -- after five years (or whatever) -- they haven't been able to make money by doing their dreams. Screw that. Being a director or a writer isn't about money. It's about directing and writing. So assume you'll have the day-job forever, and plan accordingly (find ways to do it in SPITE of this). And then, if you ever strike it rich as a novelist, it will be a happy surprise. But it won't be necessary.

By the way, part of "plan accordingly" means to find a day job that you love -- or at least like. This is doable. If you don't have the skills, get them. Take a class, get a certificate or whatever you need. Get yourself well positioned to SUPPORT your passion.

Disclaimer: I have a wife, but no kids. I don't plan on having any. Some of my responses would be different if I did. I DO think that choosing to have kids makes some of this more difficult -- or maybe even impossible (at least until they are grown). So bare that in mind.
posted by grumblebee at 11:38 AM on August 1, 2006 [4 favorites]

Seconding headpace's words, and also you might want to check out Lawrence Block's works on writing as a career. Telling Lies For Fun And Profit is excellent. He is NOT hippy-dippy, he is a businessman and knows it; he makes a living writing fiction novels, and he tells you how it's done.

You can work both jobs, but you've got to dedicate the time to it. Get up, write for 2 hours, 1 hour, or even fifteen minutes if that's all you can spare. Every. Working. Day. Whether you feel 'creative' or not. It's slow steady progress that will get your book done, not trying to grab a week's vacation for a white-heat of scribbling. Set yourself a word quota; Terry Pratchett produces , he says, only 400 words a day, and he manages to turn out a book or two a year.

But it does sound like your 'real' job sucks. I'd say do try to get a better one, but every day, first thing, wake up, and crank out your wordcount (500 words? 1000 words? keep it realistic and easily doable), and it will become easier and more 'creative' over time, and you can do the math; 500 words @ 300 days a year (let's give you sick time, weekends, etc) and that's a 150,000 word meganovel by New Years, or, 3 small novels (each the size of Fight Club). Slow and steady wins the race.
posted by Rubber Soul at 11:48 AM on August 1, 2006

What you have to remember, anon, is that it's not a sprint, but a marathon. You may have days where you can't get your pen off the page (or fingers off the keyboard) but there are obviously days where you can't get moving at all. Then you feel like crap because you aren't writing. I know, I've been there.

Everyone else has had some really good advice, here, but this is what's worked for me: Pick a goal. Three pages, an hour at the computer, two thousand words, whatever. Just pick one, and do it every. day. Even Saturday? Yes, even Saturday. Get it done, and then you're done for the day. You've gone one step further toward a finished novel. If you wrote two thousand words a day, in a month you'll be more than halfway to a mass-market paperback. But -- here's the important part -- do NOT make it a goal you can't reach. My daily goal is three pages. Sure, there are people who write a lot more each day, but I'm not one of them. Three pages is good for me. If I go over, great, but if I don't, at least I've done that much. If my daily goal was ten pages I'd stare at the screen in despair and then maybe curl up in the fetal position for a while. That's just me, though -- if you can pound out ten pages a day and feel good, go for it. The important thing is to make it reasonable for you and your process.

Also, I know you said no to the Julia Cameron, but what do you think of her idea of Morning Pages? Three longhand pages in a notebook (I get mine from Target for a dime) about whatever's in your head. Even if it's just "blah blah blah blah blah blah blah," because it won't be blah blah blah forever. Some days I can't stop plotting ahead in my novel, some days I can't write anything more than "I wish the cats would stop fighting." Either one is okay, and it gets the crap out of your head to write. Don't get hung up on the idea that the pages have to be written first thing, either. I don't write mine till the afternoon and they still work fine. The important part is in the doing. I swear by Morning Pages.

If you're having a hard time finishing a novel, what do you think about outlining? I write genre fiction, so I think it's a bit more accepted, but even if you write literary fiction, if you have five or six high points to write to you'll find the bits in between come more easily.

I've just come off a really long bout of writer's block and I feel really good about it right now, so I have plenty to say, heh. I am procrastinating on my daily goal, though, so maybe I should wrap this up. I'll just say this much: figuring out my process has been the most difficult thing for me. It's harder than sitting down at the computer every day. You are doing well for yourself if you are trying to find out how you can work.

If you have any questions please feel free to email me. I'll try to keep the Julia Cameron stuff out of it. :)
posted by sugarfish at 3:52 PM on August 1, 2006

What about teaching?

The pay isn't fantastic, but it's better than what you are making now. You'll have summers off to write if that's what you want to do with them.

Also, from what limited knowledge I have of the transcription field, having considered doing a little work in it myself, you're getting shafted on the hourly pay. If you're making it work financially on your current wages, perhaps you could find a new job (or freelance) and work less hours at a higher wage.
posted by anjamu at 10:46 PM on August 1, 2006

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