by Phoebe Quinn
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.
My employment record hasn’t been awash with jobs I’ve sprang from my bed for each day; in fact, I’ve only had one job that I truly enjoyed. My current job is one of the worst I’ve had (coming second only to the private mental healthcare company who paid me five thousand pounds less than the living wage for working 48-hour weeks and asking me to devise and deliver therapies to adults with serious mental health problems, with no training or adequate supervision).
Luckily, I’ve only two months left in my current contract, so now it’s a question of counting down the weeks. But it’s been far from easy and I was signed off with stress and depression a few months ago.
A friend emailed me recently, having started a new job that she hates, and asked me how I cope with mine. So if you wake up every morning wondering if that headache is enough to let you take the day off sick, or divide up your day into manageable chunks just to get through it, or have sudden breakdowns on a semi-regular basis because the reality that you’re stuck in your current position hits you yet again – I know how you feel.
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.
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. I now get up at 6am, and whether I spend that hour napping or on Twitter or organising my schedule for the week, I go to work knowing I’ve already had some time that was just for me.
Walk when you can. I don’t walk any part of my journey in as I’m rubbish in the mornings – despite the early start, I never leave on time – but on the way home I get off the Overground two stops early and walk the last mile. Any frustrations I’ve had from the day get stamped into the pavement and it means I come home with a clear head.
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. I’ve been lucky enough to schedule two festivals and two holidays in the last couple of months in this job, and it’s pretty much the only thing stopping me from going into Hulk Smash mode every half hour.
Take one minute. The piece of advice I emphasised most to my friend, who is having trouble with her boss, is 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.
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.
…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.
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.
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 four weeks’ notice by your deadline.
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.
Keep writing. Don’t let your sucky job take over your life. I have, and I keep letting it, but it’s doing 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.
Guest post contributed by Phoebe Quinn. Phoebe is a writer of fiction with a collection of short stories to be released in 2016.