Staying Productive as a Writer with WFH Job


Hope you’re in good health, safe and sound. Displeased and enraged with what’s happening in the world lately, though. Oh, what a time to be alive.

Today’s post is about how I manage my time as a writer as well as a product person in my day (well, can be till late at night) job. I can’t pick only one gig for two reasons:

  1. The “calling” or “ikigai” reason. Which means being in product gives me a purpose to live, a sense of what technology could bring good to this world, real numbers as proof of how the reality as we know it is actively shaped by the ever-changing disruption. I’m a cog in the machine of this Digital Revolution and I’d be glad to continue contributing for the greater good.
  2. The practical reason. Being in product helps me grounded to the fact of life such that I can’t create arts properly when the basic necessity of my life is unfulfilled. My primary job provides me a salary to live on, health insurance, and ample opportunities to socialise with big-hearted hardworking colleagues. Without a steady income, my high-strung brain would be spent worrying and exerting on ways to make ends meet. I’d be struggling in finding gigs to sustain life. Stability is the keyword here, so I can focus my energy on writing without fear.

I’ve been there done that in solitary writing and no income condition in 2016. To be frank, I’d advise people against such situation. You’d be drained. Don’t quit your day job.

If this is not convincing enough, try reading this and this so you know even these famous writers have their day jobs.

But the WFH of late doesn’t help the socialising reason. Nothing grounds me right now. What happens is a writer’s been holed up in a room all day (which more or less what I’ve been doing these past 3 months due to WFH), no human contact to read. Figures of speech. Eye contacts. Any human-related behaviour that simply reading wouldn’t do to learn. Every contact is limited to onscreen only. I can’t give you a scientific backing of my claim but interacting naturally with people, commuting to work, or holding a regular conversation flows into my creativity juice. It’s like the confinement of my room also confines my brain as if it has to derive its drive from a physical plane. I know that writing starts in your brain, but apparently, mine eats from my reality. I haven’t really compared my works before or during WFH to see if limited human interaction (only to occasional delivery drivers or grocers, gee) alters my writing gradually. But I feel it does.

Little by little, I’ve been growing to overshare on social media, particularly Instagram story. Because I feel like relating what I do or write to people I know, unlike on Twitter. I don’t know what I’m doing on Twitter anyway. I barely know anyone there. I feel pressured to maintain my Twitter presence because that’s where the publishers and agents lurk and stay so somehow I have to spread my net. Back to IG story, I feel the need to relay what I’m cooking, what book I’m currently reading, what nice quotes I’m hooked on, etc. I know this is pathetic and stemming from the fact that I have no real people to talk to or simply just converse.

I digress, so much. Back on the time management topic, here’s it. Now without 3-hr a day commuting, you might think I’d have 3-hr extra to write. Wrong. I stay at home but those hours would be spent preparing my food, cleaning up home, organising this and that. Well, not necessarily taking up the whole 3-hr, so I still win. But after sitting (and stretching on occasion) for 9 hours facing the same white wall, same monitor setup, same browser, I need more time to see something else before getting back to the same electronics for my writing gig.

Back on the time management topic, here’s it. Now without 3-hr a day commuting, you might think I’d have 3-hr extra to write. Wrong.

It’s like I’m just changing clothes but the setting is the same. So in total, I’d face the white wall for 11-12 hr a day. 75-80% sitting before the same setup for work, the rest for writing. Can you imagine how this starts taking on its toll towards my creativity?

When I was working at office, I still had 2-3 hours a day special for this gig, but at least the gig was done from a totally different spot. I worked in a brightly illuminated open office space for 9-10 hr, then spending 2-3 hr commuting by public transport sometimes by reading/writing which doesn’t really count due to distractions, and finally finding the quietness I associate with home. The 2-3 hr for writing can be split 1hr in the mornings, and 1-2hr before bed.

Like this rough schedule below.

Why My WFH Writing Promise Fails

But when I WFH, things are not as simple as converting that 2-3 hr of commuting to writing, to total up to 6hr of writing a day. No.

In the morning, knowing that I’ll spend the next 9 hr rooting in my room, I deliberately enjoy my breakfast or preparing for lunch. This is so I’ll be efficient in my lunch break.

At 7pm, generally I’m done for the day. I take shower, munch some less carbs for dinner. Obviously it takes 1hr max. So, technically, after 8pm, I should be free releasing my creative juice, right? Sometimes. Because then I could be online shopping, browsing for unnecessary articles, but on good days I read my poetry class book.

This is what my ideal WFH writing should look like.

So How to Stay Productive Despite Lack of Settings Change in WFH?

Yep, settings change is what is normal. But we live in a new normal so I can tell my brain to start adapting or being left behind by other prolific writers.

Talking about prolificness, I think this article opens my mind. Keeping finding excuses does no good for my writing gigs, so I list down what I could do to amp up my productivity despite I’m stuck at home.

1. Write anywhere, even if you’ve only got 1 working desk all day. Every day.

Well, I can practically write in a bus, with one thumb, because my other hand holds the handgrip so I would not be tossed around like a ball inside the chockfull bus. In Jakarta, finding a free handgrip in rush hour or after hour can be a matter of life or death, just kidding, there’s no “you’re my neighbour” mentality here.

My point is, why can’t I write in a sturdy desk, with proper monitor and lighting, with no moving vehicle to shake me off? The environment is already way more supportive, so I find no excuse in “no settings change”.

2. Need a change when WFH? Change your writing medium.

From phone to laptop to pad to paper notebook and pen. I find pen and paper helps me more relaxed and connected to my core. It instantly changes the ambience into something sacred, as if I’m talking to my subconscious that has to be coaxed by handwriting.

3. Read a lot. 

If I’m not writing, I’m supposed to read a lot. And I should not whine because I still have plenty of reading materials in my room. They’re not just for decoration purposes.

Reading is an investment as a writer, okay?

4. Write short pieces. Many. Copious.

So that you wouldn’t hide behind the writer’s block nonsense. Similar to books, you have plenty of books to read, don’t complain you don’t have any. You have many unfinished pieces, don’t be a spoiled child by saying you don’t know what to write.

5. Separate research, writing, and editing sessions.

Writing time is for writing, not for researching. Researching is a playground where your mind can go branching infinitely. But a single piece of writing must have a singular plot or objective defined. Later, on editing, you can be in researching mode again. As editing will inevitably invite the what-if questions to vary your approach.

I’ve practised this in my latest writing course assignment. I wrote an essay, backed with data and regulation, but I kept the highlighted blank spaces to indicate where I had to put citation or numbers. I got the main prose flowing first, and left the details for filling later. When I was researching, I worked with many angles of distractions. But when I wrote the essay, I had only necessary browser tabs open. The least chance of distractions. 

The same idea applies for the editing session. This way, on the second and the next editing sessions, I would not come to an empty page or unfinished piece. I would just reorder the paragraphs, polish some sentences, add few extra points, remove details, and insert the citations. And I can go back to research mode here and there to pepper in some more facts.

This is very healthy for my anxiety-addled brain. I can be productive in a way I know what to expect. When I know I’m going to write, I can be in the zone for hours. But when I know I’m going to either research or edit, I know I will be distracted or fix many small things in my prose.

So, peeps, how are you hanging on there? I wish nothing but your wellbeing, and I sincerely hope the future looks up.