How to Work Full Time and Fail at Everything Else

How to Work Full Time and Fail at Everything Else

In Getting Personal, The Writing Life by Jenni17 Comments

How do you know you’re on the right path in life? I’m not sure, but I can tell you how you know you’re not. It happens when you start feeling small and insecure and angry and on the verge of tears because the one thing you need is the one thing you can’t buy more of: time.

This is the lament of a writer with a full-time job.

How It Begins

I get up at 6:35 am. Okay, that’s not true. The alarm goes off at 6:35 am, but I hit snooze every single day. I throw back the covers at 6:42, stumble into the closet to grab my clothes, and try not to drop anything on the way to the shower. Sometimes I crash into doors because I’m not very coordinated this early in the morning.

I leave for work at 7:35. Okay, that’s not true. I intend to leave for work at 7:35, but I usually leave at 7:40 or 7:41. I drive on a windy country road, past a lake, and into the neighboring county. I get to work at 8:20, walk upstairs, and clock in by 8:30.

I open Google+, Facebook, and Twitter as part of my job, and see all my writer friends and acquaintances posting their to-do lists, their accomplishments, and the interesting articles they’ve found. I remain silent. I’m at work, after all. My to-do list involves ghostwriting articles for insurance agents, proofing consumer emails, and researching trends in marketing, tech, consumer funnels, and automation.

Someone on Google+ posts their latest word count. Someone tweets about a new editing client they have. Someone posts about their AdWords experiment to drive traffic to their website. Someone posts a review of a book promotion site. Someone on FB posts a flash fiction piece or short story they finished. Someone posts a link to an hour-long podcast that talks about how to get reviews. Someone posts a link to their blog, where they’ve written about the five-point plot structure. Someone posts about how they’ve outlined the rest of their series, 10 books total. Someone posts a graphic reminding everyone to walk outside, look up at the sky, and remember how amazing life is. I can’t. I’m at work.

I hang my head, copy the links I can’t click at work, and paste them into my Evernote file. I have 721 notes, most of which are notes on things I need to learn, master, or implement.

How It Gets Worse

How to Write Full Time and Fail at Everything by Jenni WiltzSomewhere between 9:00 and 9:30, the coffee kicks in. We used to have free office coffee, but someone got angry that no one ever made more coffee, and so instead of making more coffee, removed the pot entirely and brought in a Keurig. We must now all pay for our own K-cups and bring them to work. If I think about the irony of someone being too angry that someone else didn’t make coffee to make coffee, it makes me angry.

Under the influence of the coffee, I think of a great idea for a short story, and how to tie it into the next book I’m writing. I think how great it would be if I could make a free eBook compiling my helpful blog posts on writing. I see a public domain photo that would make a great background for a pull quote. I save the link for later, because people at work would get mad, understandably so, if I made pull quote graphics on their dime.

At 1:00, I clock out for lunch. My options are to go sit in a small breakroom without any natural light, or stay at my desk that’s right next to a window. I can try and get a little bit written if I stay in, so I choose the desk option. Then two co-workers come and ask me questions and another IMs me. 30 minutes fly by, and I’ve written two of the shittiest sentences ever. I clock back in. Three and a half hours left.

I see three new definitive guides to using Pinterest fly by on Google+. Lists of 6, 9, 15, 26, 120 ways to do everything I’m terrible at better. I can’t read them all. I can’t even click on them all. Work monitors what I click. Work monitors how many articles I write. It’s their right. They’re paying me to be there.

How I Vainly Try to Justify the Situation

Sometimes a post goes by that details financial woe. A writer, supported by her husband’s job, agonizes over spending a few dollars on books from Amazon. Another gets stiffed by a client and says she’ll eat Ramen for a month. I can pay my bills. I can take my husband out to eat once in a while. If we need a new lamp, we can go buy one. But I make less here than at every adult job I’ve ever had…at the age of 36. The bank: $35,000 plus yearly bonuses. The university: $32,500. The media company: $42,000, up to $49,000 by the time they went out of business. The department store’s advertising unit: $37,000. Now? Less than the university. Not by much, but it’s the smallest I’ve ever brought home.

I’m like Benjamin Button for paychecks.

Still, I have enough money to buy a few books from Amazon so I comfort myself with my limited financial superiority. And then someone posts about finishing a book and planning the release date, and I feel like crying. What little money I have can’t buy me what I want: time to write.

By the end of the day, I’ve written several thousand words for someone else. I’ve done hours of research that leave my eyes and brain strained. I clock out at 5:00, walk downstairs, and get in the car. I drive the exact reverse of the route I took to get to work, only this time it takes a little longer because there’s more traffic at night. Though my daze, I try to remember to stop at red lights. I try not to hit cyclists or pedestrians. I think about all the ideas I saw that day that I need to do: make book trailers, sell foreign rights, get foreign agents, write a series, write a novella, agonize over not having a starter product to offer at a permafree price, make pull quotes, redesign the blog, write guest posts and find a home for them. I am so behind. People have been doing this all day while I’ve been chained to a desk that isn’t mine.

T.S. Eliot. Franz Kafka. Bram Stoker. These guys all had day jobs. Why am I having so much trouble?

How I Try to Reclaim the Day

I pull into the driveway at 5:59. I get out of the car and go inside. The kitchen is dark. There’s nothing on the stove, and there’s a package of defrosted chicken in the fridge. I have to cook now, or the chicken will go bad. I put down my purse, change into my play clothes, wash my hands, and start chopping chicken breasts. I stir and saute and usually burn what I intend to braise (“Too much heat,” the hubby calls from the living room). I’m such a bad cook that he can smell dinner burning across the house. I serve the burned chicken with a side of rice at 6:52. We eat until 7:15. I do dishes until 7:30. I’m supposed to work out, too, but now I have to digest my dinner. I won’t be ready until 8:30. If I work out for 30 minutes, it’s 9. Then I take a quick shower, and it’s 9:20. So that gives me an hour before workout time to…check email and start working.

I check email, and there’s nothing much there. My mom emailed, and I email her back. I glance through the dozen or so writing-oriented newsletters I don’t have time to read. I ignore the five tutorials emailed to me by a new design site. I don’t have time to do them, but if I archive them, I’ll forget they exist. “Have you checked your sales figures?” the hubby asks. No, I have not. I do not want to check them. I do not want to know if my last promotional activity has failed. It might have succeeded, but the knowledge it has failed would crush me right now and I can’t take it. The best thing I can do is plan another promotion or try to write something. It’s 7:50. I have 40 minutes left until workout time.

I open Microsoft Word. It takes me at least 5 minutes to get back into the zone of what I was writing. Suddenly, I remember I have no blog posts ready for either of my 2 blogs. I ignore the feeling of failure. I write two pages for the next book. They suck. It’s now 8:30, and I have to work out or my husband will get on my case. I hate working out. I hate it as much as I hate cooking, but part of a partnership is doing things you hate. So I do it.

How I Try to Redeem Myself

At 9:25, I emerge with wet hair and pajamas. I have two hours before bed. I turn the computer back on, and remember I don’t have those blog posts. I write something about working with images, grab some screenshots, format the post…and it’s 10:48. I hate being a perfectionist. My eyes are starting to burn from all the computer time. “Are you going to turn that off?” the hubby asks. I know what he’s thinking. I don’t have time for that. “No,” I say. I’m a terrible wife.

I haven’t done any social media. I try to think of something to tweet or pin or post. Surely something interesting flew by during the day that I can comment on.

My mind, a tired wheel ground down to nothing, goes blank.

I settle for retweeting a quote about writing. I open Facebook and close it again without posting. I don’t want to see any baby pictures or Buzzfeed quiz results.

It’s 11:09. Seven and a half hours of sleep if I go to bed now. Too early. I haven’t even read anything today. Or the day before. Or the day before. If I don’t read, I can’t write book reviews. I can’t update Goodreads. Shit, I have three books from January I haven’t rated on Goodreads. But the reason I haven’t done it is because I wanted to write something instead of just click a star rating. But there wasn’t time to gather my thoughts, let alone grab quotes or put it in any sort of coherent order.

Tomorrow. It will all have to wait until tomorrow. I’ve said that every day for three weeks now.

I put my computer away and brush my teeth. The hubby follows. When I crawl into bed and turn on the Kindle, it’s 11:17. I’m thinking of all the things I didn’t do. It’s the way I end my day, without fail. I didn’t submit to a literary journal. I didn’t complete a project. I didn’t schedule a new promotion. I didn’t put the Google Analytics tracking code on my website. I didn’t write a blog post. I didn’t make a pull quote image to share online tomorrow. I didn’t do anything but survive and I feel like I’m barely doing that.

How It All Ends

The hubby crawls in bed beside me and says something about the mortgage. I tamp down the irritation. I only have a few minutes before I fall asleep. I need to read. If I don’t read, I don’t know who I am and I don’t know what I’m supposed to talk about. Who gives a crap about the mortgage or the neighbor or the car? I want to care. Being a good wife means I have to care. But I don’t have any time left to care. And I don’t have the money to pay off the car. I don’t sell enough books to make enough money to pay off the car. And I don’t sell enough books to pay it off because I don’t have more products to sell because I didn’t have time to write them because I had to go to work to make the smallest salary I’ve ever made as an adult.

The anger burns itself out as I try to respond to the hubby’s question and read at the same time, without falling asleep. I want to cry because I’ve accomplished so little. If I complain, the hubby says, “Give up sleep.” If I give up sleep, I also give up functioning eyes, a good mood, ability not to bitch-slap anyone who asks me for something I can’t give, and a general willingness to live. So there is my dilemma. Am I a shitty person for clinging to six and a half hours of sleep a night? Is this what dooms me to obscurity and unhappiness and last place in the race to support myself via fiction writing?

Every day, I feel like I’m running a race. A race where everyone else gets a 10.5-hour head start.

When it’s finally my turn, when I’ve waited through those 10.5 hours, I find out I’m now supposed to polish my shoes for an hour before I can start running. That’s how I feel about cooking, grocery shopping, working out, or anything that takes more than 10 minutes away from writing and marketing time after work.

It’s not that I need to compete with anyone, per se. It’s the fact that I know I could make this work. I know enough about marketing and have enough determination to actually pull off this whole indie-writer-and-marketer thing. But it takes more than an hour or two a day.

If I quit to focus on writing, I’m bankrupt within a year.

If I work to stay solvent, I’m emotionally bankrupt.

How It All Gets Resolved

That subheading is a trick. It doesn’t get resolved because I don’t know what I’m supposed to do about any of this. I’m clearly failing at earning a grown-up salary. I’m clearly failing at progressing in my writing career. I’m failing at getting back in shape. I’m just treading water, screwing most things up. It’s like bailing out the Titanic with a thimble.

The worst part of it all is that I realize this is such a first-world problem. Complaining about it makes me seem like an ingrate. I have a home. I have my health. I have a fantastic husband and family. Everything else should be…everything else.

How much is a dream worth? How much is time worth?

Number of minutes to burn 200 calories on a stationary bike: 30

Number of minutes to brush teeth: 4

Number of minutes to shower: 6

Number of minutes to comb hair after shower: 5

Number of minutes to figure out what to wear: 2

Number of minutes to unload the dishwasher: 3

Number of minutes to put dishes from the sink into the dishwasher: 3

Number of minutes to check 3 email accounts, no responses: 3

Number of minutes to make lunch to take to work: 7

Right there, that’s more than an hour.

Gone.

GONE.

We haven’t even talked about the laundry.

Or how long it took me to do the graphics for this post.

Making stuff look good is hard.

Tell the World

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Jenni

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I write thrillers, romance, historical fiction, tiara posts, and more. Right now, I’m working on a series of Natalie Brandon thrillers. To find out when new books are released, click here to sign up for my mailing list and get two free books!

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Comments

  1. Brutally well done. Did you take the “writing” job for less money on the theory that “at least it’s writing” and therefore useful?

    1. Author

      Hi BDF!

      I took the current “writing” job because my student loans were about to come due. The hubby floated me through grad school, money-wise, so it was high time for me to get back in the game and earn some money. I say “some” with an ironic smile. This job has taught me a lot about social media, some helpful computer programs (Adobe stuff), and some minor programming things. I’ll use all of it, no question. But at the moment, I need more time to implement what I’ve learned for my own stuff.

      Thanks for commenting…I appreciate it. 🙂

  2. Oh Jenni, how I can relate! I too have a full-time day job and try to write around it. I’m grateful for my job, like you, because my husband was laid off last year (which was a good thing, ultimately). But there are times when I’m resentful of it, like you, because I want to be writing all the time AND doing all the other stuff that I need/want to to connect with readers, to connect with humans in general. I wish I had an answer. I don’t. I’ve just realized that I have to lead two lives until one is robust enough to take over the other (and all the benefits it brings). Will that happen before I’m old enough to retire (whatever that means these days)? Who knows. But I have to try, and I feel the same from you. So let’s keep at it…in the long run I believe we’ll be glad we did.

    1. Author

      Hi Kelly!

      It definitely does feel like leading two lives, doesn’t it? You hit the nail on the head. I agree that we should definitely keep at it. I’d never, ever give up, even if I knew I had to keep my job until the ripe old age of 65. As painful as it is to see myself aging without accomplishing what I want to, I also know patience is a good thing. 🙂 I’m trying to see it that way anyway. Hang in there…and I bookmarked your site, since I already see lots of things we have in common. 🙂

  3. This post spoke to me at an incredibly deep level.

    I know exactly how this feels, the low-level anger at wondering what your time is worth if you have to spend more of it earning a living so you can have a roof over your head, under which you barely get to enjoy yourself, much less pursue the reason you’re here in the first place-to write. What is the point?

    That’s me, too. I’m a full time digital marketer and I run The Procrastiwriter and I am a distance runner and somewhere inside I have books tearing at the corners of my brain, demanding to be let out. But I have no time. The blog is a priority. My job is a priority. My husband is a priority. My house and my running and all of these things all take precedence, in turn.

    Do I have myself to blame? Only sometimes. It’s a hard cycle to break, this first-world, mortgage-making, stuck-in-traffic-ing, bill-paying, weekend-warring cycle.

    I don’t have the answers either. Just wanted to chime in and say, I identify with this, you’re not alone, and most of all: Even two shitty sentences are something. Even just one is infinitely more than nothing. Keep writing just one sentence, even though it feels impossibly, unfairly slow. You’ll get there! Don’t give up and try not to get too frustrated. You will get there, and it will be great.

    1. Author

      Shanan,

      I can tell you’ve faced a lot of these feelings, too…there’s definitely anger boiling under the surface, isn’t there? It’s so hard (and annoying) to see all those positive quotes on social media (“Embrace your dreams! What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?” etc.)…because they don’t say anything about what to do when the mortgage is due, or when the laundry needs to be done, or when a spouse deserves more than a smile and a nod. I do believe we’ll get there. They say that a successful writer is just the writer who didn’t give up. (I guess those positive quotes do come in handy some of the time.) I’ll be cheering you on…and visiting your blog! I can see quite a few posts I need to check out. 🙂

  4. OMG! You just described my life – right down to the coffee-pot-at-work issue. I feel your pain. I hope to someday be able to claim the title of “award winning” author but for now, I don’t have time to enter contests. 🙂 Hang in there!

    1. Author

      Thanks, Isabella! You hang in there, too. I can’t believe that coffee-pot-at-work incident happened to someone else! Those Keurig things are kind of evil. 🙂

  5. I don’t know if you’re asking for help or advice here, but in case you are, then here is my tuppenceworth – feel free to ignore! I am currently working on in my day job well past my retirement age but I have written and published 12 novels in the past 3 years, as well as chairing a local committee and helping at a community theatre group. On the other hand, my children are grown-up and my husband and I are estranged so I don’t have these distractions!
    There is too much going on in your life and in your head. If I were you I wouldn’t worry so much about the tasks you think are important but that are essentially peripheral to your writing career. Once you’ve embarked on writing a first draft then just write it and don’t do any of the other things you mention such as reviewing on Goodreads, Don’t even think about Goodreads. (personally I prefer not to anyway) Don’t spend so much time opening your mind to input from other people. There are phases when it’s healthy to do this and phases when it isn’t.
    Is there any way you could cut back on the hours in your day job? Or even plan to do so in a reasonable timescale.
    Is there any way working out in some way could be built into your day so that you don’t see it as the last straw? Sometimes going for a walk (or run if you must) will free up your mind to think about writing ideas or even just to a bit of calmness.

    1. Author

      Hi Sheila,

      Wow…12 novels in 3 years! That’s incredible. I’m jealous, but also inspired. 🙂

      I’m not a big fan of Goodreads, myself…it would be easy to ignore that site. I may end up needing to do exactly what you suggest, and stop the social media (as much as I can, seeing as I still have to be on it for work). I’m not sure how much it helps book sales, anyway. The big, paid promotions are what I’ve had better luck with.

      It’s interesting that you mentioned walking/running as a way to think about writing ideas. That’s pretty much the only way I can force myself to do it. I do tend to come back from a run with a bunch of book promotion ideas, but then I never have time to implement them, so they go nowhere. But, as you say, writing the next book is probably more important.

      Thank you so much for your comment!

  6. Hey, Jenni,
    You sound so fed up in this post and I feel really sorry for you. I know what it’s like to juggle so many things and to feel like you’re failing at all of them. Last year, I had to make a change because I couldn’t stand it any more. We looked long and hard at our finances and eventually, we consolidated all our loans into one and remortgaged, reducing our mortgage payments by enough to allow me to go part-time (3 days). Now I write as much as I can on the other days and I feel so much better. I’m not even published so it must be even harder for you but my advice is to try and go part-time if you can. I know this isn’t possible for every one but I hope there’s a solution out there for you because you sound close to breaking point. Take care x

    1. Author

      Hi Julie,

      Thank you so much for sharing your story…it gives me some hope! Going part-time is ideal for me, so my next step is probably doing just what you did. The finances have to come first, but if we can clear that up, I’d love to drop some hours. I’m so glad it’s working out for you. There’s nothing like having the time to follow your dream. I think about all the time I wasted in college and in my 20s, and I just want those years back! But I guess that’s the kicker….sometimes your dream doesn’t seize you until a bit later!

  7. Trying to work on a dream while working full time is difficult, isn’t it?
    You are not failing, you are trying to do more, a lot more than most of the people out there. But the problem is, since you can’t focus on your dream, it will take a lot more time to achieve it. Don’t give up! And let yourself rest a bit every once a while. It won’t be a lost time, it will let you regain your energy and stay positive. 🙂
    Warm hugs from Dublin, Ireland, from someone, who can relate!

    1. Author

      Hi Melfka,

      Oh, it is ever difficult! But the good thing is that my dream and my willpower strong enough to see it through. Deep down, I know I’ll do anything to make it happen, even if that means carrying so much for a little longer. But I’m definitely going to take your suggestion and rest a little bit once in a while. Being exhausted is never good for the writing! Dublin, Ireland…what a lovely place to be. Someday I hope to visit and see it for myself. 🙂

  8. Thank you for such a heartfelt blog post about something so many of us struggle with. What if the hubby did the cooking/cleaning stuff a couple nights a week to allow you to focus on your business those nights? Money is tight, but what if you did sandwiches on your own (you each prepare your own on your own time) a couple days a week, or ordered pizza or something like that? Regardless, stick with it Jenni, agonizingly slow progress is still better than no progress.

    1. Author

      Hi Kristy,

      So glad you related to the post. I feel better knowing I’m not alone as I struggle with all of this. I love your idea of sandwiches on our own…even a couple hours of cooking time saved would add up each week. I also said I’m going to eat cereal a couple nights a week for dinner. No prep time, no fuss, low cost. If that’s one of the few ways to eke out some more time, I’m game. And I’ll definitely stick with it! Thank you so much for your comment. 🙂

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