Saturday, May 28, 2011

How to Balance Your Writing and Your Day Job – Part 5: Get Help

No man or woman, even a writer, is an island. To get through your day, you need a group of people, seen and unseen, who support you.

I take a train every morning that someone conducts for me. I purchase a coffee someone else has brewed and poured out. I accomplish the daily tasks at my work because my colleagues help and assist me.

Paid or unpaid, willing or indirectly conscripted, we depend on these offerings of assistance from other people every day. So why shouldn’t we need and want help in our writing careers?

Sources of assistance

Everyone around you should be viewed as a potential source of help, support, and even inspiration.

Books contain disclaimers, acknowledgements and thank yous for a reason. A novel might be created by a single person whose name appears on the front cover but it’s also a team effort involving all those who appear on the dedication page and even those alluded to (in the negative sense) in the usual disclaimer: “Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead...”, etc.

The usual suspects are your friends and family. But you may also want to think about your colleagues and co-workers, your writing friends (both in person and online communities) and your idols or mentors.

If you’re in the process of paring down your time drains, you may be thinking about hiring someone to assist you in one of many ways, such as: performing a chore you spend time on (either daily tasks like cleaning or one offs like designing your website) thereby freeing up your time for writing, providing expert advice in a subject you aren’t versed on (accounting, legal, and editing come to mind), and providing emotional support (often gratis).

Getting help

The only way to receive help is to ask.

The people around you who love and care about you won’t know what they can do to support you unless you tell them. Don’t be afraid. It takes a few minute of conversation, as formal or informal as you want to make it.

If you want to get some time off from your day job to write, such as a leave of absence from your employer or a flex time arrangement, this will be a more formal process. First, look up your company’s policies and find out if you qualify for what you’re thinking about requesting. Next, put it in writing. Offer solutions. If the company’s needs may be negatively affected by your proposal, brainstorm solutions to mitigate these affects before you make your request. Plan out your finances and make sure you can afford the resulting decrease in your income.

For people you may not see on a regular basis (online friends, influences, mentors, etc.), this conversation will take effort and forethought. Think about how best to approach the issue. It may be as simple as starting an email off with “Can I ask you a favour? Feel free to decline you don’t have the time or interest. I won’t be offended :)!” And make sure you aren’t. When you’re asking someone to do something for you, their refusal should not make you grudging. It’s not personal. People have other time commitments and interests that take up their free time. Just as you’re trying to balance your life, they’re trying to balance theirs. Be understanding.

For formal arrangements like hiring someone to mow your lawn every week or file your tax return, look for referrals from the people mentioned above. If you can’t get a good local referral, try the Better Business Bureau and, of course, the internet. Up front research will save you trouble later.

What kind of help do you need? 

You want: an expert to tell you how to perform a task, more time to write without encroaching chores or commitments, daily reminders to keep at it and a cheerleading section for when you try and fail. Some of these kinds of help may be out of your reach for financial or other reasons.

Free types of help include: 
  • ask someone to discuss your goals with you on a regular basis (doesn’t have to be daily) – this will serve to keep you on track
  • ask someone to give you a daily reminder of when it’s time for you to write – this might work better for an online friend
  • tell your friends and family what times you’ve dedicated to your writing and ask them to leave you alone during this period (except for emergencies) – it may help you both to outline what matters you think qualify as ‘emergencies’
  • ask someone to trade time-consuming chores with you, such as cleaning, cooking, babysitting, so that you can write – you don’t have to trade the same chore as you can easily promise to watch your neighbours’ kids on Saturday night in exchange for having him cook you a week’s worth of dinners – remember to keep up your end of the bargain when the time comes
Remember that the ultimate goal of obtaining assistance is to further your writing career. Be flexible. You may not be able to have your mentor read through your entire manuscript but she may give you an introduction to a worthwhile contact such as a great editor. Take what you can use and be grateful, even if you have to decline.

Good luck on your writing goals!

Photo courtesy of Pixomar at

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