Things My Other Job Taught Me

I’ve been a graphic designer for over a decade now. Even though I’m trying to exit design to pursue writing full-time, my experience continues to help and shape my plans. I thought I’d share for those also interested in treating their fiction no longer as a hobby, but as a career.

Don’t wait for inspiration. As a designer, I’ve trained myself to sit down at a desk at 9am–okay, okay, 9.30–coffee in hand, ready to design. Anyone who works in a creative field learns the same. No one with a boss or a client is allowed the luxury of waiting until we feel like it. Taking writing seriously is no different.

If you don’t have any current ideas then chase them down. Write scenelets. Doodle in a notebook, follow odd thoughts along interesting trails. Brainstorm characters, or worlds. Research background info. Pick a time, stick to it, train yourself.

Work at itEven if it’s not writing.

That way, when you do have that spark, the surrounding architecture is already done. Once you have an idea or outline, then set up your action plan and get it done. The time is going to pass whether you “feel like it” or not. Sit your bum in the chair, figure out what makes you productive (fun music, the pomodoro method, a coffee cup the size of your head, no judgement here) and get. It. Done.

Keep track of how long it you spend gettin’ it done, too. I keep a little field-notes book with my start time, end time, number of words/pages, whether I’m writing or editing, little notes about productivity. Why? Because:

Time management.  I knew someone who was successful enough to start his own design studio, have employees and a foosball table. Yet they couldn’t get everything done in a day, working overtime consistently. The studio was bleeding money. He couldn’t figure it out. I asked what their project dockets showed.

They didn’t have any.

He’d hated having to fill out timesheets when he was an employee, so he’d done away with them as an owner. Everyone worked on a project as long as it took them to feel “satisfied”.

Quelle surprise, but as they charged clients in a lump sum, and didn’t set corresponding hour limits, they were all working for $5 an hour, and never felt like they were getting ahead of anything.

Setting time goals, milestones, and deadlines isn’t just about performing for other people. It’s about making sure you don’t end up down a sinkhole, worrying a project to death until it reaches a mythical point where you’re “satisfied”, when you could be taking care of other things. Which leads me to:

Learn to let go. You’re a creative person. Satisfaction is the horizon: you will never reach it.

I know more than a couple of people with full-fledged manuscripts in their drawers, waiting to find time to do “one more pass” before they send it out.

But there is never a point where “one more pass” is enough.

And that time the manuscript sits in their drawers has a cost: both in time that it could spend in a editor’s slushpile, and as an emotional millstone around the neck, detracting from other inspiration (“Oh, I should probably do that editing before I explore this new story, but I don’t really want to, so now I’ll feel guilty and do neither”), and derailing your sense of accomplishment the longer it sits gathering dust.

Working in design, I had to learn to judge when a piece was finished not by whether I felt satisfied–I don’t; I can always do more tweaking–but by whether the piece was effective at what I needed it to be. Effectiveness has a metric, even if that metric is sometimes vague; and once you internalize said metric, it’s easier to say yes, I am done, send it out, and move on to something new.

I’m not saying to cut corners.

I’m saying to figure out what you want to accomplish, then set dates. Turn it into a goal, instead of a dream. A job, not a past-time.

Get your voice out there.

We write because we want to share the worlds we see in our head. No one can see that world if it’s shut away, waiting for one more pass to make it “perfect”.

Write it, edit it, send or post it, let it be free. Move on to the next idea. There’s always a next idea.

You can do this.

 

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