Creative Advice, How to Have a Day Job, Writing Tips

The Simplicity of Giving Advice with Neil Himself

This weekend, I got to watch something really cool on Twitter.

As a bit of background because you may be new here, I think Neil Gaiman is a pretty cool guy (and the Award for Understatement of the Year goes tooooo…). His fiction is great, the people in his life are awesome and inspiring (I interviewed Cat Mihos for How to Have a Day Job, and she is a really fantastic lady), and he is a wellspring of cool.

On Sunday, while waiting for his plane to take off, Neil took questions on Twitter. About anything: writing, love, publishing, John Hodgman (well, I think John just showed up to the party), etc. And I found myself really moved by the simplicity of his answers. Not even in that ‘you only have a thimble’s worth of words to use on Twitter’ but just how straight to the point it was. It felt like finding little stones at the bottom of a rushing stream. I found myself moved and inspired.

A few of my favorites included:

“I have a lot of ideas, and even more unfinished stories… How do I pick up the pencil from here?”

“When’s the best time to write?”

“And advice to someone who want to start writing?”

“Advice to self-doubting writers-in-training who got extremely rusty after a long time of not writing?”

Notice a theme?

Always write. Even if (especially if) you don’t know what you’re doing. Make it happen. Let the words come out. Make the art. Your hands will learn what to do, but only if you hush up the brain and let them move.

And remember, whether you’re an artist or a human being:

“How do you get over heartbreak?”

 

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How to Have a Day Job

[How to Have a Day Job] 5 Ways to Survive Overtime

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Oof, there’s that word. No one wants to hear it, but chances are good you’ve been told that it’s going to be a part of your day job at one point or another. Overtime. Wherein your 40 hour workweek becomes…well, more than that. And that has been the case for me recently, which is why I want to share with you 5 ways you can keep yourself from drowning in the wake of the overtime tsunami:

  1. Take breaks: make time to take breaks throughout the day. Know what you’re entitled to and take advantage to avoid burn-out. When you’re taking those breaks, get up and move away from your desk, out of line of sight of whatever work you have. Don’t answer your phone.
  2. Sleep, eat, drink: it’s the big trifecta of not ruining your body, and probably one of the top reasons that people get so sick during ‘busy seasons’ at work. Go to bed. Eat some damn vegetables. Drink plenty of water and stay hydrated. Have options of healthy snacks and easy meals.
  3. It’s over when it’s over: this one is kind of tricky, but after you clock out – whether that be for lunch or for the end of the day – tell yourself that the work day is done. Don’t think about it. Don’t talk about it. Don’t complain about it (or if you must, set a time limit – allow yourself to only vent for 30 seconds or 1 minute). You aren’t getting paid for the time you’re spending dwelling on it, so you may as well not do it.
  4. Make plans for the rest of the time: when overtime rears its ugly head, it’s easy to just vegetate once the workday is done. It’s been a long day; you deserve several hours in front of the television, right? Make plans to do something else. Start a creative project. Take walks after work. Don’t let these extra hours define you. You are more than these repetitive daily tasks.
  5. Don’t close yourself off (except when you need to): I am a social introvert. I recharge on my own, but I regularly surround myself with friends for fun and shenanigans. It’s easy to just shut down when I’m stressed out and see no one, and ultimately I will suffer for it in the long run. Make sure you schedule time with friends and family with the same regard you would for, say, a doctor’s appointment.

How do you survive overtime? Tell me about it!

How to Have a Day Job

[How to Have a Day Job] It’s All About Who You Know

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In terms of work-life balance, this article is going to be more ‘work’ heavy.

So. You have a day job. I define that the same way Cambridge does, if we cut it down to the clinical aspects: it is “a ​job that you do to ​earn ​money so that you can do something ​else that you ​prefer but that does not ​pay you much ​money.” Generally, this is when we are working under someone else.

It is so, so crucial to work under someone who has your best interests at heart. It is also crucial to be able to have open communication with that person. My best day jobs (including my most current one) are thanks to a good rapport with my supervisor. And, likewise, my worst day jobs have been caused by fissures in that foundation. When I’ve felt like I haven’t had someone to go to, everything has fallen apart, ruining my life outside of work as a result.

It has become very, very important to me to maintain a solid relationship with my leadership in my work.

What does that mean exactly? How do you know that you have a winning supervisor? Here are a few prize-winning attributes. A good supervisor:

  • Recognizes your accomplishments and appreciates them.
  • Respects your time and space.
  • Asks for your feedback and thanks you for it, even if it isn’t implemented in some way.
  • Brings issues to you immediately in a courteous manner.
  • Allows you to grow, even if it means it is out of a given area or company.

You can feel the difference between good management and bad management. You can see it in your department and among your teammates. Does poor leadership mean you should leave a given occupation? Not necessarily, if it’s work you really love, but it means that the onus is on you to know where your ducks are so you can keep them in a row.

There are also a few ways you can create a stronger bond with your leadership, including:

  • Engaging them in a friendly manner in passing.
  • Being prepared for interactions and proposing solutions to problems rather than just complaining.
  • Asking questions about what you’ve been doing and how they see your work, including ways they think you may improve.
  • Making your expectations clear about what you want from them.
  • Be honest.

It’s really easy to want to slip under the radar, but that really doesn’t work for me, I’ve found. Over time, when crisis has arisen, I’ve felt better knowing that there’s someone in my corner who I can talk to.

What are things that you’ve noticed about your superiors in day jobs? What have been your best experiences? Worst?

How to Have a Day Job

[How to Have a Day Job] On the Importance of Spiral Notepads

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As I was unpacking paperwork from our move last summer, I came across a small, spiral-bound notebook. I had had it for notes about the new house and little scribbles about mortgage figures, etc. However, without thinking, I put it into my pocket. It fit perfectly.

I started carrying it around with me. I put it on my desk, in my purse, in my pants. I started taking all kinds of notes in it: blog post ideas, lists, grains of story sand, reminders of things to do.

It has been a godsend.

No matter what you do – whether you’re a desk jockey, a janitor, a veterinarian, or a vacuum cleaner salesman (if you are, tell me, I want to know if this is still a thing) – always have a simple, nondescript spiral notebook.

The best ones are:

  • Thick
  • Have enough room to fit a pen into the side
  • Sturdy
  • Have nothing printed on the cover or any inference that it is anything other than a plain notebook
  • Perforated pages

Keep it on you at all times. Here are ten rapid fire things you can do with it to achieve ultimate work-life mastery:

  1. Write a poem.
  2. Rant about something that is bothering you.
  3. Make a list of places you want to visit before you die.
  4. Keep track of hilarious quotes you hear in the lunch room.
  5. Write down your favorite songs of all time.
  6. Imagine what the world would be like if you were king/president/high chancellor.
  7. Create doodle animals.
  8. Sketch out an editorial calendar for your blog.
  9. Complete a self portrait.
  10. Make a list of bizarre character names.

So do it now. Go to the drug store and get a spiral notebook. It will save your soul.

How to Have a Day Job

[How to Have a Day Job] On the First Monday of the Year

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This week is always rough. Every year, without fail, the Monday of the week after the last day off until MLK Day feels like…the End of the World.

In Pittsburgh, it hasn’t snowed more than a few flurries this year. This morning, my husband and I were out in twenty-some degrees, huge bunches of dandruff-y snow coming down at our car. There was traffic. It was dark. Everyone had left their warm cozy spot in the bottom of their stockings and gone back to work or school. Or both.

I know that not everyone is lucky enough to get holidays off, but I can’t help feeling like the first full week of the year is long. The winter is so very, very present – short days, long nights, cold hours. The expectation and happy buzz of the holidays comes to a screeching halt, and you’re just left trying not to think too much about how long or much or badly it’s going to snow. That last bit may be a yankee problem, but it’s definitely in my head.

So here are some tips of how to stay sane after the holidays are over and you’re facing nothing but grind ahead:

  • Stay well-stocked: I know few people who have said, sincerely, “I love grocery shopping.” It’s very tempting to just stay in bed on the weekends or order food for dinner on the sly. But you’ll actually find it much, much less stressful to have extra food and household stuff on hand during these horrible months, especially when the work day is draining.
  • Sleep. Eat well. Exercise. Even if it’s just running up and down your stairs a few times, or doing calisthenic exercises in-doors. Anything to get your blood pumping.
  • Plan ahead: take this time to really decide how you’d like the year to go. The winter will be over before you know it.
  • Take a look at your current job and decide if you want to develop certain skills or work on goals. During this time of year, my day job is really, really big on career development. Is yours? Is there anything you can do to try something different? You’re stuck there for a large portion of your time – make it happen on your terms.
  • Start new projects, especially ones that are just for you: try painting. Journal. Create collages. Take photos (B&W is so in this time of year). Expand your imagination.
  • Get really, really into things you enjoy. Recently, for me, that has been anime, movies and really good television series. I do make sure to monitor my time, though, so I know I am being productive as well as recharging.
How to Have a Day Job

[How to Have a Day Job] Six Things!

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So in the midst of a lot of different things going on right now, I looked up and realized that a special day had passed. September 28. On this day six years ago, I entered the company I currently work for. It shall continue to remain nameless, but the lessons I have learned…those I will share.

Here we go: 6 things I would not have learned without my day job.

  1. Finances: money can’t buy me love, but it does pay the bills. And there’s a whole other world of insurance, retirement, stocks…all those words that get thrown around that would not have made sense to me if it weren’t drilled in year after benefit year. And I feel much more comfortable being able to budget and handle finances in my personal life now that I can put those things together.
  2. How to present information: I used to sing in front of my school and church growing up, but it’s different when you actually need to instruct human beings. I have become very eloquent and comfortable working in front of people, and there is no way I would even be able to make that happen if not for the trainings and presentations I’ve held.
  3. Dealing with mean people: despite what anyone tells you, there comes a time when you have to work alongside folks who are not your favorite crowd. Is it fun? No. Will it kill you? Also no. Do you learn how to deal with it and get things done? Unfortunately, yes.
  4. Why bad habits are bad: skipping breakfast, not washing your hands, drinking a lot of soda…it just builds up.
  5. The importance of working hard and playing hard: being present means knowing when to get deep into your job and when to really enjoy life. That means being able to go to bed each night knowing you did your best. That means taking risks, using your sick time, traveling, planning weekends, having parties. By living with joy and adventure, you stop counting down to Friday. And on that note…
  6. How to let go: my day job gets 40 hours of my week and not a minute more. It took a long time to get that skill honed, and now it’s more than my nine-to-five. It’s releasing regrets, anxiety and fear. It’s not always easy, but it’s way better than holding onto things that try to push me down.

What have you learned from your day job?

Creative Advice, How to Have a Day Job

[How to Have a Day Job] On Kindness and Magic

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This week, I’ve been listening to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic. This was a Christmas morning surprise of a book – I was browsing Audible with my monthly credit in hand, and it popped up in the new releases. A book on creativity by the Ted-talking, globetrotting, smooth-talking (not in the sleazy sense, but in the read-me-my-library sense) authoress with the mostest? Yes, please!

In the midst of her discussions on being kind to your creative spirit, I hit a chapter called “Day Jobs.” My throat tightened just a bit. I was a little nervous, because I was afraid that this was going to completely take the wind out of my sails. Was the world’s foremost authority on eating, praying and loving going to take over what I had started?

Okay, I’m being a little dramatic. I was actually really excited about hearing what she had to say.

I did not expect that she would so perfectly summarize what I’ve been trying to convey with How to Have a Day Job from day 1.

To yell at your creativity, saying, “You must earn money for me!” is sort of like yelling at a cat; it has no idea what you’re talking about, and all you’re doing is scaring it away. Because you’re making really loud noises, and your face looks weird when you do that.

She also talked about how she kept up her day jobs through three book publications before she quit to write full time. Three books. And admitted that if the third book hadn’t been such a success she would still be working day jobs so she didn’t have to put that pressure on herself, her craft and her finances.

So if you’re wondering why I keep talking about this, about all of this, about balancing your life and your paycheck, about managing your sanity while you clock in and out, this is it. It isn’t fair or nice to say to your vocation, “Hey, pick up the slack, buddy.” Who would stick around for that kind of abuse? Feed yourself, pay your bills, and give your muse the time it deserves to flourish comfortably.

5 Things, How to Have a Day Job

[How to Have a Day Job] 5 Things I Never Would Have Learned Without One

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Some days, it’s hard to have perspective about your day job. Suddenly, something happens and you’re all 1) crying, 2) stressed out beyond all sanity, or 3) gassy. Hell, sometimes it’s all three. And you get those Lifetime movie moments where you think, “I could just get in my car and drive. Drive away from all this.”

That’s why it’s good, when there’s a pause between the bombshells going off, to think what experiences you would lose if not for your job. And as much as I’m sure you’re going, “I could live without those experiences, let me tell you,” I think that is wrong.

Here are five of mine.

  1. Resumes: yeah, I know, I got the stickiest one out of the way first. But this has actually come up surprisingly often. Because of my business writing experience, I have a resume for my writing career. It helps me to focus and see where I want to flesh out my abilities.
  2. Appreciation for customer service: I’ve heard it said that everyone should have to work retail or food service at least once. I’d like to add to that that everyone should have to take inbound calls in a call center for a day, minimum. You have no idea what the other end of that feels like until you’ve been in that seat, sweating and being screamed at and then having to come right back with a big smile and a “Thank you for calling Such and Such, how can I help you?”
  3. Being an adult: I was grappling with how to word this one, and I’m not trying to sound condescending. If you can make it through life without ever having to deal with the crowded fish tank that is the corporate life, you are fortunate. But when you are exposed to drama, cliques, gossip and catty crap for 40 hours a week, you really do walk away with a lesson or two about how to fight clean, be the bigger person, and deal with having no control over the people around you.
  4. Balance: Life. Work. Commute. Car problems. Illness. Finances. There’s no HOLD button for any of those things. By having this constant movement of live, work, eat, sleep, rest, rise, I’ve learned where, when and how to insert the things that are really important to me.
  5. Microsoft Excel: Man, spreadsheets are so useful for real life stuff. I wish I was being sarcastic. Being organized makes things so much easier.

What have you learned from your day job? Any hard lessons? Convenient truths? Helpful computer programs?

5 Things, How to Have a Day Job

How to Have a Day Job: Monday, Monday

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Every week, that iconic song by the Mamas and the Papas plays in my head. Which, while it’s a softer tone, isn’t too much better than the saccharine Office Space voice saying, “Somebody’s got a case of the Mondays!” And then there’s the manic Monday, the rainy day Monday, the I-don’t-like Monday (tell me more!). Think Monday and you get doom, gloom, short tempers and wailing grievers, bemoaning the loss of those sacred seconds in Saturday and Sunday.

When was it that the world decided to hate Monday? How did Monday get the short end of the stick? What high school told Monday that it was the Least Likely to Succeed? What bus drove through a puddle and soaked Monday in front of all his coworkers? Well, I’m sick of seeing Monday eating lunch alone every day. It’s time to flip the script with this. Life is way too short to begin each week with resentment, immediately counting down to the end of it. I say no more to that!

Here are 5 ways you can make Monday more awesome:

  1. Start something new: have you been meaning to start a new book but just haven’t made the time? Maybe you want to go for a walk every afternoon, or cook more, or create a better cleaning schedule. Mondays have historically been seen as an auspicious day for good habits. It’s a clean start. Give it a try!
  2. Eat that frog: if you’re dreading a certain item on your To Do list, Monday is a great time to knock it out. You’ll get a kick of encouragement and motivation that will set you on a success streak for the rest of the week.
  3. Meditate: I love alliteration, and the gentle m’s of Monday put me in the mood for some mellowing out. Take 15 minutes out of your day, find a quiet space, and take long, deep breaths. Focus on the feeling of each inhalation (7 seconds) and exhalation (11 seconds). Clear your mind and refresh your core.
  4. Begin with the best: Monday is also a great day for assessing your morning ritual. Get a good breakfast, do a few stretches, fill up a water bottle. Leave your house a little early so you don’t have to worry about running to your desk. Load up your phone or iPod with some good music, books, or podcasts. Sit in your car and drink in the morning.
  5. Recognize Momentum or Management: There’s that glorious ‘m’ again! You don’t know how your Monday is going to go until it’s over. If it’s good, you can ride the momentum and let it supercharge the rest of your week. If it’s not, take a step back and try to figure out what you can manage. Did something happen that was outside of your control? Let it go. Did something occur that you can learn from? Make a note for the future. Stay in the moment rather than dwelling on what’s in the past. Tuesday is right around the corner! Just make sure Monday doesn’t feel ignored…

What do you do to work through the beginning of your week?