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10 ways to survive your day job

If you’re reading this, I’m guessing that being a full-time writer, a fully-fledged author, is one of your dream scenarios. Working for yourself and doing what you love – it couldn’t get better.

Unfortunately, most of us have a day job, and it may not be that great.

Here is my advice, practical advice you can implement tomorrow, to make your days easier to get through and give you the headspace to devote to your passions beyond work.

1. Get up earlier. No, no, stay with me! There’s a good reason for this. When you get up and start getting ready for work straight away, the tone for the day is set: it’s not yours, and you are beholden to what you hate. While getting up an hour earlier may seem unappealing, it means you have time to yourself in the mornings – you become the first order of the day.

2. Walk when/if you can. During my worst job, on the way home I got off the Overground two stops early and walked the last mile. Any frustrations I had from the day got stamped into the pavement and it meant I came home with a clear head.

3. Always have something else in the pipeline. It doesn’t have to be big or expensive, like a holiday, just something else. A day out with friends, or a weekend set aside for writing. It needs to be something you can look forward to when you’re sat on the loo at work debating how long you can stay there before everything assumes you’re having digestion problems.

4. Take one minute. Simply zoning out for sixty seconds and focusing on your breathing. It can be on the loo or at your desk or while you’re waiting for the kettle to boil, but unless someone is in mortal danger there is nothing that can’t wait for sixty seconds. Just don’t do it while someone is talking to you. Especially your boss.

5. Having a ‘I’m home’ ritual… Mine is: dump keys, dump bag in the kitchen, go through the post, leave my phone in the kitchen for at least half an hour, and open up my laptop. Sometimes it includes tea. Fifteen minutes later I feel at home, not at work.

6. …and changing out of your work clothes. It does wonders for your frame of mind. I’m a pyjama fan, no matter what time of day it is, so those are my go-to clothes to tell my brain that it’s home now, it doesn’t need to think about work until tomorrow.

7. Write that shit down. Still thinking about work? Get yourself a dedicated ‘work crap’ notebook and write a brief list of what’s in your head, then close the book and put it in your work bag.

8. Set yourself a deadline. If you need this list, your current situation isn’t sustainable. It just isn’t. Tell yourself you will be out by a certain date and mark it on your calendar (just make sure your boss can’t see it). You may need to stay in the role a little longer than you’d like to get the experience, so work out how long will look good on your CV and schedule accordingly. Three months before your deadline, start applying for jobs and going for interviews. That should give you enough time to secure something else and give your notice by your deadline.

9. In the meantime, think ahead. What do you want to do next? Do you have the right experience, training, and skill set to move onto that role? If not, now is the time to act. Take on extra training at your current job, do some reading at home, start researching your desired field. Use whatever is available to maximise your chances of ticking all of the ‘essential’ criteria on your next job’s person specification.

10. Keep writing. Don’t let your sucky job take over your life. I have, and it did both me and my time a disservice. Whether your job is frustrating or soul-destroying or scary or boring or any combination of the above, keep writing. Turn those awful co-workers or clients into characters; use your boss as the inspiration for your novel’s diabolical super-villain. You may not laugh about this one day, unless it’s a rueful, eye-rolling sort of laugh, but you will be in a position where you’ll be able to look back at it.

5 video games to play for writing inspiration

The worst has happened: you don’t want to write. You’re bored or you’re saturated or you just plain don’t have the energy. You need something to kick you back in gear.

I have the solution for you: video games.

No, no, hear me out. Video games are often dismissed as mindless entertainment – or worse, as promoters of violence. Of course, the same accusations were lobbied at TV when it emerged as a new popular technology (the famous Bobo doll experiment, for example), but the damage has been done, and is only just starting to reverse.

I grew up around video games, from Lemmings on my first Acorn computer to locking a pixelated butler in a freezer in Tomb Raider 2 to the mesmerising open-world RPGs of today. Video games are interactive stories, and while for a writer it’s no replacement for reading, I’ve found them to be a source of inspiration when my head feels saturated with words.

Here are my favourite video games that inspire me to write better stories (with example gameplay videos linked):

1.       Skyrim

If magical fantasy is your genre, the latest edition of the Elder Scrolls series is surely your game. A wholly open world where you choose the story, without limitations. You pick your character, you decide your quests, and you choose your story. You can kill no one or everyone, become an outlaw or an outstanding citizen of the Empire. You can assassinate the Emperor or lead the revolution. The week after I finished full-time studying I fired up the Xbox for the first time in months and played on Skyrim for twelve hours straight.

Plus, there’s loads of dragons, which is always a bonus.

2.       Thomas Was Alone

An indie puzzle platformer that almost made me cry, Thomas Was Alone is simple only in appearance. The story takes place within a computer mainframe, and it is the player’s job to get newly-sentient AIs Thomas and his friends to safety. Thomas is represented by a red rectangle, and his friends all take on similar forms, each with a different style of movement. But it’s the characters that are the compelling part of the game – featureless shapes with no voices of their own (all the story is supplied by Danny Wallace’s superb narration) become almost real, the emotional investment becoming stronger as the game progresses. It is an ode to minimalism, reminding you that a story doesn’t have to be complicated to be compelling.

3.       Assassin’s Creed series

I’m taking this as a whole, rather than focusing on the part, because the point I want to make is using the same frameworks to tell very different stories. Assassin’s Creed games always switch between the present-day storyline and the ‘memories’ of ancestors from hundreds of years ago. While each game is much more linear than the others in this list, following the same basic structure and standard gameplay, all the storylines are different. This game always encourages me to think of different ways I could tell the same story – what if I tweaked this aspect, or that, would it improve the story overall? It reminds me that, if I’m stuck on a scene or aspect of the storyline, I don’t have to overhaul the entire thing – maybe just one component needs changing to make it fresh.

4.       Proteus

Don’t be put off by the appearance of Proteus – high tech it isn’t, but immersive it is. You appear just offshore of a procedurally-generated island, with full reign to explore. The only sounds are produced by your interaction with the landscape, creating a dynamic music experience of your choosing. The player goes through four seasons, each with their own aural atmosphere, and while there is an end, the end is not the goal. This isn’t a long game and can be completed in about half an hour, but I used to play it before bed to relax. I found it useful as a form of meditation, allowing my mind some breathing space between intense projects.

5.       The Sims 4

So, this is where I lose my credibility somewhat. But how could I not include the world’s most famous life simulator? When you’re becoming frustrated with your story, when you just need to vent, The Sims 4 is ready for you to do whatever you want with it. You don’t have to kill them in a myriad of imaginative ways, though that is certainly one use for it – you could create your story’s characters and have them live out their plot, or you could examine how the dynamic might change if they divorced or died or gave birth. It could even help with visualising your characters: the Create A Sim section is so flexible that almost any looks are possible. Take a screenshot and save it in your project folder to refer to later. Tell yourself it’s still writing.

7 ways to write visually

The world is pretty visual, but I’m not. Despite my insistence that, if I had to choose, I’d rather lose my hearing than my sight, I’ve never been able to work in a visual way. My mother is an artist and Boyfriend is a filmmaker and I admire the crap out of them for their talent even more so than I ordinarily would, because they work in ways I just cannot understand.

What I mean by not being a ‘visual person’ is I’ll usually choose any other medium over visual. My preferred form of entertainment or way of receiving information is words (of course), followed by audio, with visual last. I struggle to sustain enthusiasm when watching a TV series, so I’m not a fan of epic, season-spanning sagas that involve hundreds of hours of invested time. Visual’s fine, but for me it’s like eating popcorn: nice enough but just not enough.

Which kind of sucks when you’re trying to write a story and convince the reader that your world is real.

So I’ve had to pick up a few tricks, which are useful for any writer but especially for those like me – the visually disinclined.

Spoiler alert: none of these tips are on how to write descriptions. I loathe long, descriptive paragraphs unless it’s propelling the plot. Worlds can be built and shaped in fewer words, in more inventive ways.

1. Use the other senses instead. There’s five available, seven if you count the vestibular and proprioceptive senses; why stick to sight? Let’s take a beach as an example, seeing as it’s the setting for my current WIP. I would like to convey a beach, and the atmosphere and feeling of a beach, but I don’t want to just describe what I see. In this sentence I wanted the reader to be transported along with the character to a memory she has when smoking a cigarette:

“She picked up a cigarette and inhaled, the taste and dizziness instantly taking her back to the last time she’d smoked: a Greek island, the weary setting sun, the wash of the Aegean sea against her bare legs.”

Hopefully you now have a mental image of sand (cues: island, the sea), a sense of a clear sky and residual heat (cue: the sun), and a sense of temperature (cue: the sea, the detail of her bare legs).

2. Less is more – pick out salient details that add to a whole image. In the above passage I could have described the entire beach setting, from the colour of the sand beneath her feet to what’s in the distance. But it wasn’t necessary. The reader can get enough of a sense of place without all the fiddly details – tempting as it is to add them. Trust the reader. They know what they’re doing.

3. Don’t be afraid to let the reader fill in the gaps. As an example: Boyfriend, aka Chief Beta Reader, and I were discussing one of my WIPs. He said he pictured the setting – a couple’s house – as carefully selected vintage, a house that’s trying to be rustic and homey without actually having kids there. In my head, the house is cold, almost sterile, and decorated entirely in whites and neutrals, because of the absence of children. Although our mental images differed wildly, it doesn’t matter – the point is that this couple doesn’t have children, it’s a key point of the story, yet our mental images of the same house communicated the same thing in different ways. This is okay. In fact, this is unavoidable. Embrace it! It lets you off the hook. Describing sofas in excessive detail is not my idea of fun.

4. Make sure it all ties together, or rather, be smart about what you choose. Stumble across the sand + reflection of the sea = beach. Stumble across the sand and searing heat = desert or beach. Tall trees and twittering birds = jungle or forest or wood or riverside or emerging into a clearing or… You get the idea. What’s particular about thisplace? Get these details in first. If it feels right, you can add in others later.

5. Actions can also be visual, depending how they’re done. He walked across the sand – bleh. He stumbled across the sand, in addition to being more interesting, makes said sand fly everywhere. Or say you want to convey that someone is being sexy, without just saying she said sexily (which must be my least favourite adverb). How about, …she said, licking her lips so they glistened in the evening light. (Or something. Romance isn’t my forte.)

6. Use visuals. Obvious, but true. If you’re really struggling, Google what you’re trying to visualise, then try and place yourself there and go back to point one of this list. Think about the smells, sounds, textures. It may start to feel more real after a while.

7. Watch TV. Yeah, counterintuitive I know, and quite difficult for me given my disinclination towards it. What I mean is, pay attention to what you watch on TV, whether it’s a series or a film or even an advert. Especially adverts. Adverts are my favourite thing to watch, because they’re so gloriously manipulative. They also convey a lot of information in a short period of time. Perfume adverts are amazing at this – how do you convey a smell visually? Pay attention to the audio on whatever you’re watching, too, as audio tends to tie in with bodily sensations – think the dun-dun, dun-dun heartbeat bassline in a tense scene, or swooshing, soaring orchestra in a dramatic romance scene that mimics heady bloodflow during arousal.

30 thoughts you have when writing your first book

1. Right, I have my idea. I have a fresh notebook and a Word doc open. I have a mug of coffee. I have some free time. *cracks fingers* Now is the time for the LITERARY MAGIC to happen.

2. I’ve been refreshing Twitter for an hour, for Pete’s sake.

3. Okay, chapter one. First sentence. One down… thousands to go.

4. Wait, that first sentence is terrible, deletedeletedelete.

5. Wordcount: 0. Hours passed: many.

6. Shit.

7. This is really fucking hard.

8. Okay, it’s a new day. Time to get going.

9. Yes! Three pages written!

10. Oh wait, no, this is all wrong. Let’s delete the last two pages.

11. This idea I have five seconds ago is much better than the shit I’m writing now.

12. Wait, no, it isn’t. Back to the first idea.

13. Fuck it, I don’t even care how good this is. Whatever crappy words I can type will do.

14. *months flip by on a calendar as if ripped away by an invisible hand*

15. WHY HAVEN’T I FINISHED THIS BOOK YET I AM HONESTLY THE WORLD’S WORST WRITER.

16. Oh, I seem to have written the entire thing. ‘The End’.

17. Ah, that feels good. Brief pause while I sip my beverage of choice in sheer contentment.

18. I have finished. I am part of the elite club of People Who Have Written a Novel. I’m one of them. I am a writer.

19. No, scrap that: I am the greatest writer in the world. Let’s just confirm that with a re-read.

20. Oh… oh no… oh, this is awful.

21. EDIT EDIT EDIT EDIT EDIT.

22. *months flip by on the haunted calendar*

23. Oh thank fuck that’s finished.

24. Betas and critique partners have spotted unforgivable plot hole. Bollocks.

25. Sigh. I suppose it’s time for MORE EDITS.

26. *months flip by on the haunted calendar as it hovers outside your bedroom window, watching you sleep*

27. Right, it’s either finished or I’m sick to the back teeth of it. I’m going to go with finished. Hooray. Done.

28. While it’s out for querying/waiting for people to buy it online, why don’t I have a bash at that other idea I had a few months ago…

29. Right, I have my idea. I have a fresh notebook and a Word doc open. I have a mug of coffee. I have some free time. *cracks fingers* Now is the time for the LITERARY MAGIC to happen.

30. Oh Twitter, you seductive beast. How could I ever stay away?