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:

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Two Productivity Sites of Note — “Killer Resources for Entrepreneurs.” Lots of links, lots of product reviews, with an emphasis on cool apps (why they are the “killerist”), efficiency, and helpful advice. — “Your Descriptive Source of Solutions.” This site focuses on web applications, products and services — excellent, insightful, in-depth reviews.

How To Stay Cool

For the past few days here in NYC, it’s been terribly hot. It’s been that way all across the country. During this heat wave, I haven’t done a damn thing — except complain about the heat. Here are some "notes to self" on how to stay cool.

Try not to say "It’s so fuckin’ hot!" every three seconds.

Keep the ice cube trays filled, as well as a reserve bowl filled with ice.

Do not decide to ease the pain by drinking a beer or two. Or five.

Take a cool shower right before you decide to go to sleep.

Be naked as often as possible.

Keep as many lights off as possible.

Keep the curtains drawn during the day.

Enjoy the guilt-free sensation of NOT going for a run.

Change the cat litter more often than usual, so that your apartment does not reek of cat pee.

Don’t let the annoying weathermen on TV make you want to hurt people, or yourself, or the television.

Do not cook, or even think about quickly heating something up on the stove.

Do not kill your significant other when he/she decides to cook up all those vegetables from the Farmer’s Market because he/she doesn’t "want it all to go bad."

Make sure the fans are positioned in such a way so as to circulate the cold air from the air conditioner.

Have ice cold bottles of water at the ready to take whenever you have to leave the apartment/house.

Eat salads and sandwiches and fruit. And popsicles.

Have a ready supply of popsicles in the freezer.

Do not threaten bodily harm when your partner accidentally lets his/her leg touch your leg while in bed or while lying on the couch. Politely say, "This is a non-body-heat sharing zone" in a friendly, but stern voice.

Making Time For Project-Making

Probably the single biggest obstacle to making projects is the simple excuse of not having enough time. "How do you expect me to make projects? I don’t even have time to do all the stuff that I HAVE to get done."

It’s true. That’s one way to look at it. Life gets in the way. Work. Family. Errands. Emergencies. Chores. Someone has to change the litter, make dinner, go to the store to pick up milk. You’ve got to bring home the bacon, and you’ve got to fry it up in the pan. Then you have to wash the dishes, and make sandwiches for the next day at lunch, and deal with the complaints about BLT sandwiches, again.

But just like you get all that stuff done — the way you’re able to hold down your job and run the household and remember birthdays and plan vacations and call about the newspaper that keeps not getting delivered and bring in your computer to get fixed and get the car an oil change on schedule — you can make time to start and complete projects.

If you really want to.

So that’s some simple advice to say that it can happen. Easier said than done, you say? It always is. Here then, are some basic, practical ways to make time for projects-making.

Turn off the television. This is the biggest time magnet of all. You flip it on in the morning to check out the weather, or the traffic, or just to have a little background noise. You turn it on while you cook, or maybe while you eat dinner. You want to catch the news. There’s a new show you’ve been wanting to check out, or you have to see the show you’ve been a fan of for years. Then there’s the news at 11, and then Nightline or Leno or Letterman. Is turning off the television the last thing you do before turning out the light and hitting the sack? Hour upon hour, every darn day, your television is burning up your spare moments. Turn it off and keep it off. You just bought yourself some serious project time.

Get rid of cable. That way, even if you do turn on the television — admittedly, we all need a little down time in front of the boob tube — there aren’t so many options to suck us in and keep us clicking on the remote. It just makes it easier to shut if off if there are only a few channels to choose from, instead of all those endless choices that cable offers.

Limit the time you surf the web. I’m all for checking out cool websites. But one click leads to another, and another, and so on and so forth, and when you finally look up from the computer screen, several hours have passed you right on by.

Stop wasting time reading those silly celebrity and fashion magazines. PR spin, paparazzi shots and gossip collide in an attempt, I think, to instill the idea that our own normal lives are simply inadequate. Total BS. Do we really need to know the sordid and/or PR-cleansed details about Britney and Ben and Christina and whoever happens to be the reigning throwaway king and queen of the reality television this particular week? No, we don’t. It’s that simple.

Schedule in time for projects. Sometimes it’s as easy as taking a look at the schedule book and marking off time for your project. Just like at the office, when you schedule meetings or training sessions or block off time to complete a major report, if you fill in open slots with your project in mind, you will instill a regimented sensibility into your project-making routine.

Incorporate projects into other things that have to get done. Instead of just sitting there reading a magazine while you do the laundry at the laundry mat, use that time to make a project. Or, instead of just making dinner and serving it up, start documenting the process with your camera, or collecting the recipes you use in a booklet, with stories about what happens during the meals at your kitchen table, a sort of culinary diary.

Prioritize project-making just like you prioritize the fact that you have to eat. Don’t simply relegate project making to the status of a recreational activity you partake in when all of your other tasks have been completed — after the dishes are done, the car is washed, the lawn mowed, all the phone calls returned, and the burned out bulb in the garage is changed… As you can see, the list of things that need to get done never, ever ends. So fit project-making in there, somewhere. There is time for projects, if you make a point of making the time.

Wake up an hour earlier than you normally do, and work on your projects then. Being productive from the moment you roll out of bed is a great way to start out the day.

Use your lunch break at work for project-making. This is either a good solid hour or half-hour to do as you please. Instead of surfing the web or reading the paper or your book, or going and spending money that you don’t have on $10 lunches with co-workers that you don’t particularly like that much anyway, use this time to work on your project.

Do your project on company-time. Why the heck not? Sneak in some time while you’re on the clock. Do you know how many novels, screenplays, plays and more have been written on the job? This is an old tradition. The main issue here is not to get caught. Don’t miss deadlines. Get your "work" work done, of course. But factor in some time here and there to work on your project. You’d be surprised how much time there really is in an 8-hour work day to find time for yourself if you plan things out and work efficiently.

Involve your kids. Surely between work and managing the household, keeping the kids fed, safe, clean, and occupied is where all your time is spent. So create projects in which they are either the subject, helping you out, or collaborating with you.

Incorporate your schoolwork into the projects. Create projects that are simply extensions of the various homework assignments you have to complete — term papers or research, books that you have to read, words or history lessons that you have to memorize. Building personal projects around school work doesn’t just allow you to make projects, but might make doing the homework seem a bit less painful.

Change one habit that eats up a consistent amount of your time on a regular basis. Stop watching a soap, waking up late, surfing the web for nothing in particular, renting a movie every single night of the week, staying up just to watch the sport recaps of games for which you already know the final score. By taking this one habit out of the equation, you can open up your schedule for more inspiring, productive project-making time.

Instead of talking and talking and talking about your project idea, just get to work. Procrastination is a huge time magnet, and it sucks up a lot of energy. It also breeds negativity, and lets your mind wander into the mine field of dangerous rationales for avoiding the project, such as finding all kinds of excuses as to why you can’t get started, or all the materials that you’re lacking and don’t have access to, or the fear that you won’t do a good job. Just shut up and get to work. The momentum you create just by getting started will move you up and over the challenges that you might be confronted with as you make your project.

Here’s a project: make a list of all the stuff you always have to get done, and how long it takes you to do it all. Document your time. Not just your work schedule, or your monthly calendar, but how you spend your minutes during the day. How long does all this stuff really take? How much time do you spend spinning your own wheels, either sorting out what to do next, worrying about what’s not getting done, or fretting that you don’t have enough time to make anything happen? Write it all down. Next, write down all the things you want to do: All the things you feel you never have enough time to actually get started on and fully sink yourself into. Once it’s all written out, spend some time thinking about how you can strike a better balance between the items on the two lists. Be sure to make the things you want to do a part of what has to get done.

See also the Not-To-Do List.

"Making Time For Project-Making" is an excerpt from the 52 Projects book.

Summer Projects

Ahhh, summer.

It’s definitely here, and it has finally registered, but I can’t decide if summer is for setting everything aside and simply laying out that blanket in a shady area in the park and just lying there all day, or if it’s a time to go into super-project-making mode. I suppose trying to find that happy-medium is the key. Enjoy the hot summer sun, but also, make the time to make those projects.

And then of course, there are all those cool projects and excursions that summer itself inspires, so much to see and do, places to visit and people to see.

I don’t really have a specific project in mind right now, and I kind of like that. There are the ongoing projects, of course, but I’m at the start of the summer with an itch to begin something new. I know that I’m going to keep my camera on me at all times, that I’ve got a brand new journal to write in, and I have all kinds of events on the calendar and new places I’m planning to visit. I’m going to let this new project unfold as I make my way through the summer days. And in a way, that’s a perfect summer project — one that combines both the impulse to relax and the desire to get things done, thereby letting the true nature of these summer days shape what it is that I decide to make.

I was going to end this post with: "Get started on your summer projects!", but that’s not quite right, not really in the spirit of the season. So I will end with this: "Get started on your summer!"