How-To Write Your Novel While You’re On the Clock

This is an age-old, time-honored tradition: Writing a novel on the man’s dollar. Yes, you can burn the midnight oil, or work on weekends, or take a few months off to pound out your tome, but there is nothing better than writing the words to that novel that may or may not become a bestseller and make you rich and famous while you’re supposed to be on the job. The lower level the job, the worse your boss is, the more deprave the conditions, the better your words, or at least the story of how your words came to the page, will be.

Plus, it should be noted that if you’re writing while on the job, you are technically being paid, albeit in a round-about, subversive way, for writing! That is no small feat. You are probably making more money off of your writing than most published authors.

Still, it’s not so easy to get writing done while you’re on the clock: there are all those urgent emails that pour into your inbox, urgent calls that light up your phone, and urgent requests from your boss to handle the various urgent issues that pop up throughout the day.

Why is it that in life, "urgent" means someone is in the hospital, but in the workplace, "urgent" ranges from "Meeting time changed" to "Need that report by EOD."?

Whatever… As long as YOU get what’s urgent in the workplace: getting work done on things that are near and dear to your heart: for you writers out there (and aren’t we all working on a novel these days, at least as far as the idea phase?), that would be your novel!

Here then, are some ways to write your novel while you’re on the clock:

1. Show up early and pound out some writing before the start of your day. Technically you’re not on the clock, but it’s a great habit to get into, especially if you have a truly demanding job where it’s hard to sneak in personal creative endeavors. Wait! Keep reading! Sacrilege, I know, to suggest that you show up early to work. But this really is an excellent way to get some writing done without interruption.

2. Or, when you do show up for work, right on time (or the usual few minutes after the official start of your working day), instead of checking your voice mail and email, and then surfing the news and gossip sites, commit to focusing completely on your writing for a solid half-hour. You’re fresh, and have yet to get sucked into or distracted by all the work-related crapola — red-flagged "urgent" emails, obnoxious voice mail messages from co-workers asking stupid questions (for like the third time), and just the usual tidal wave of stress that washes over you at the start of each working day.

Note: There is no better way to start the day than with a personal creative effort — it will juice you up, get your mind rolling, and instill energy that will help carry you through the day. If something crappy does happen during the work day, (and doesn’t something crappy always happen?), the stage you set in the morning will help you work through the negativity.

3. Just like you block off time for meetings and various work-related projects, like the overwhelming monthly report, for example, set aside specific times in your calendar to work on your novel. A half-hour every day, or an hour every other day. List it as "Top Priority Project: NVL" in your calendar. And just like you have to show up at that meeting or work on that report so as to finish it by the deadline, make sure you adhere to your schedule and work on your true "Top Priority Project" at the designated times.

4. Commit to writing a certain amount of words each day while at the office, be it 500 or 1,000 or more. Hold firm that you cannot leave the office until you have fulfilled your commitment. You’ll find a way to make the time — especially if you’re like most worker-bots and like to get the hell out of the office right at quitting time.

5. Just like smokers trying to quit throw a piece of gum in their mouth every time they feel the impulse to light up, every time you open up your browser to check out a gossip site or the blog you are currently addicted to, fire up your word processing program and pound out a paragraph or two of writing.

6. Dread meetings at work? Of course you do. Instead of re-running the Star Wars trilogy in your mind just to stay awake, jot down notes or bits of dialogue for your novel. If you can pull-off writing actual paragraphs in that kind of environment, with someone blathering on and on and on, the most annoying people in the room naturally doing most of the talking, the more power to you. Tip: Look up every once in a while and make eye contact with whoever it is that is talking. All your writing will look like you are simply taking copious meeting notes.

7. If you really, really hate your job, and you find yourself complaining to anyone who will listen, as well as making several calls a day to your significant other bitching and moaning about your sorry lot in life (not attractive!), you need to make a conscious decision to focus not on broadcasting your complaints but to writing your novel. Every time you feel the impulse to complain about most likely the same old shit, that should be the tripwire that sends you back to your desk to write. If you can pull this off, you will feel much better about yourself and your job (and people in the office, as well as your significant other, might actually want to talk to you again.)

8. If you are really focused on doing well at your job, and do indeed do a bang-up, kick-ass job, simply take that same standard for excellence and efficiency and find a way (while you are on the clock) to make it happen for your personal project as well: prioritize time to work on your novel, and when you are working on it, give the words you write the high-level attention to detail, originality and top-notch quality you would an important work-related project.

9. Take advantage of the lunch hour. Either find a quiet cafe and write in your journal, or write while you eat at your desk. Finding a cafe is preferable — gets you away from your ringing phone, incoming emails, people popping by to talk with you, not to mention that big old stack of papers that needs to be dealt with.

10. Incorporate events and characters from the workplace into your story. Annoying co-workers and your boss will certainly provide loads of ideas. Writing them into your story has the added benefit of helping you mentally deal with their shit in the real working world: you’ll find that taking the time to reveal the absurdities of your workplace in the form of the written word has a soothing effect — it provides a way to take a step back and laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. Plus, there’s that whole revenge thing: in the pages of your novel you can expose — in a no-holds-bar fashion — the idiotic and petty behavior of your terrible boss and lame co-workers to the reading public-at-large (or at least to the people in your office that you like).

11. When working on your novel, spread out paperwork all over your desk. It will look like you are really busy, and if people stop by to talk with you about something, you can just point to all the papers and say, "I can’t talk right now — I’m in deep." They’ll totally get it, and leave you alone to write.

12. Form a writing group with like-minded co-workers. Reserve a conference room each week and hold your workshop sessions right there during the middle of the work-day.

13. End your day with an allotted amount of time to write — say the last 15 minutes or so before quitting time. It will clear your headspace of the day-job baggage and put you in a writing frame-of-mind as you head out the door. It’s also a great way to reignite your energy level and find your second wind after a long day at work. You can then use that second wind to carry you home and continue with your writing efforts until it’s time to hit the sack and begin the work day, I mean novel-writing, anew.

Be sure to check out the Simple Things You Can Do Right Now to Jumpstart Your Writing Efforts, as well as the Not-To-Do List.

And be sure to also check out the Working For the Man Book:

Order now: Amazon

More details at workingfortheman.com.

8 thoughts on “How-To Write Your Novel While You’re On the Clock

  1. God, I can’t believe you forgot this: When you finish writing for the day, TAKE IT HOME.
    Either save it to your own thumb drive and take the drive home; or send it–via gmail or other non-work service–to yourself at home. (DON’T use your work email account, which can be read by half the higher-ups in your company.)
    (While you’re at it, send yourself everything else on your work computer that you’d miss if you were suddenly fired–your novel, personal correspondance, work samples you want in your portfolio, etc.)

  2. This is nice tongue-in-cheek advice, and actually doable, for the most part. This is a great post; it reminds of a guy I once worked with who wrote a novel, albeit a porn novel, at work. Worse, though, was that he saved it on the hard drive and it was discovered. He was canned.

  3. Very nice. A good kick in the ass — I work nights, and I’m usually knitting, thinking about writing. I blame my annoying coworker and the TV constantly on for not writing. But I can write a few paragraphs, can I not? Get paid to do it? Good inspiration. Thanks.

  4. I’ve actually become pretty successful at working on my novel while in the cubicle environment. Since my day job is as a copywriter, most people don’t think anything of it to see a manuscript on my screen. They have no idea if it’s mine and thus, I can write for a few blissful minutes without no one being the wiser. I actually finished editing my first novel at work when we had a couple of weeks with nothing to do.

  5. If you are writing with publication and a career as a novelist in mind, demote yourself and a job without responsibility or meetings and garbage like that.
    I’m a receptionist/office bitch, and about 80% of the time I write 10 hours a day. (that includes the fact I get in 3 hours early to work).

  6. As a boss..
    I’d like to remind you that I am not evil, I am a person just like you, who would like to write a novel at work, but has to feed her family… Just because I own the place doesn’t give you license to steal from me: yes, this is exactly what you are suggesting. Shame on you.

  7. I second the notion of taking the work with you. Use a paper notebook or if you are typing on the computer try Google Notebook or similar apps.
    Yet, what’s even better is to have a boss that supports your desire to write a novel…
    Enlightened bosses know that happy workers can get more done in less time. If someone can get 8 hrs of work done in 3, I don’t care if they use the other 5 to write a book.
    I’ve done it and I’ve had people who have worked for me do it. Not only did we accomplish more work-work we were – gasp – happy!

  8. I think you just saved my life … or at least my sanity. I’ve been way too seriously considering walking out of the day job from hell to attempt writing full time, but some part of me knew this would be near suicidal, financially. While I’ve toyed with the idea of writing at work before, you somehow just legitimized it for me. Now I can actually – dare I imagine it? – not dread going to work. Thanks for the inspiration.

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