About Me

My photo
A writer by predilection, an aunt by blessing and a friend by choice, Shelley has spent many years journaling before sitting down to draft her first novel. She has a B.A. in English discourse and is currently working on her third romantic-suspense, the title of which will be announced soon pending publication. Shelley is a member of the Romance Writers of America as well as her RWA state chapter of the Maryland Romance Writers.
"I love story-telling. It's a way to live an experience through the eyes of a character." - Shelley N. Greene

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Second Shift

When I was young I had heard the term used, and I never really knew what it meant even though I’d seen the work in action.  After an 8-hour workday, my mother would come home to a list of chores including cooking to get dinner on the table, laundry and all the other tasks required while she was running an active household.  It was called, “The Second Shift,” and it exists for writers, big time.

The term kind of goes along with the old adage, “don’t quit your day job."

Writing is an art and like any artist out there we all strive to leave the “starving” adverb out of the title as much as possible, and publishing success typically doesn’t happen overnight.  The realistic expectation of a fledgling author is that you will not be making a steady paycheck until well after your third published book. So many writers work to supplement their income with a 9-to-5 job until their star slowly rises, making the second shift a mandatory part of the daily routine, just in a different context than what mom used to do.

The second shift is there, waiting for you when you get home, tacked on to the bottom of your list of everyday responsibilities.  At least that's the perspective of a single writer; if you’re a parent the second shift inevitably gets bumped into a third position on the responsibility tree, which is even more challenging.

  And while the laundry starts to pile up and the water boils over on to the stove, the priorities are shuffled into a new order.  No matter how tired you may be, how hungry, you still need to make the time to get your writing in.  It’s the second job and the work is made all the more tricky by the fact that you designate your work hours.

As rule #3 of “The Only 12 Writing Rules You’ll Ever Need” (framed over my desk) reminds me every day, you need to “Get a writing routine and stick with it.”  If you write every day, at the same time of day; your body, brain and emotions will start following the rhythm.  As with exercise, your internal systems will become expectant and patterned - ready to write - with the set schedule and over time you won’t feel as worn-out.

Working a day job and writing primarily at night, I like to mentally compare nocturnal superheroes to writers.  Similar to the split-personalities of Zorro or Batman, the analogy fits because there is a distinct feeling of separation between the day-self and the night-entity of a writer.

Personally, I can’t really gush about my writing at my day job.  For practical reasons, that’s simply not wise.  Strong exterior hobbies may give your employer the impression that you are only there for the interim, and that they can't rely on you to stick around for the long-term, which may or may not be true.  I can say that I’m skilled at what I do for a living, but the writing is what I’m passionate about.  Unfortunately, it's difficult to determine whether or not writing is destined to become a career. And while it's flattering to think that I have the potential to become an international, best-selling author overnight, I’m not eager to let anyone else believe that until it happens. 

So it really does really split you in two.

Banker by day, novelist by night. 
*Cape billows out behind my statuesque, armor-clad body*

(For real, I’d love to own a pair of knee-high, crime-kicking boots.)

 And I feel like the latent talents of a writer truly do emerge at night, in all their badass glory.  Night-writing is empowering (or any writing that gets the job done).  It feels good to develop your stories, even when you have to keep them a secret.

When I feel like a current story is really coming along, I go to work with a satisfied little grin on my face.  I imagine it must be how Bruce Wayne must feel after a night of saving the city as Batman.  Smug in an accomplished kind of way like, "Yeah, you wanna know what I did last night?"

When you’re really making progress, the elation that comes from hitting plot points with finesse or navigating pitfalls (i.e. editing your ass off) leaves you sitting on top the world.  Your world.

It makes you want to prop your super boots up onto the desk with pride.

Until the next morning. 

(You notice how superheroes never seem to suffer from sleep-deprivation?)

At this point I’m going to interject with a short, true story:  

The operations at my day job are pretty efficient; lunches are scheduled, making it where if one person leaves later than scheduled it affects the person going to lunch after them, understandably.  This utilitarian system is respectable, straight-forward and usually followed to the letter.  What the system does not leave a lot of leeway for is the accommodation of  “rough mornings.”  Those times when some external ailment or personal ineptitude knocks you off par, creating a window of time where you're just not very civil.  Note: A situation where a little human empathy is always much appreciated. 

And, of course, I experienced the rare occurrence of one of those mornings yesterday when, because of the short work day, lunch breaks began at 9am.  A long night of writing had resulted in a rushed morning routine of getting dressed - make-up haphazardly applied in the car - which left me far from primed for work.  Add in the hurdle that I'd missed my morning cup of coffee in the mad dash getting out the door, the morning was quickly classified as bad.
Bad mornings – evidently humans have them while superheroes do not.  And Bruce Wayne is independently wealthy as well as the CEO of his own company.  He could probably just call in late, dead—whatever.  Lucky bastard. 

So after valiantly getting my mortal bahookie in to work on time, I was still very groggy and irritable, so I did my best to get my head in the game.  Checking the time I was assigned to take lunch, I saw that it was assigned as12:30pm.

The 3-hour gap then standing between me and the opportunity to go get Starbucks felt like a decade, so I approached the co-worker who’d been given the 9:30am break-time, looking to strike a deal.  Gladly willing to switch because she wanted to eat lunch at lunchtime, fairness and equality was soon restored as we were granted approval to trade and everyone was happy.  

All was well and good in the ‘hood. 

The ugly came about 30 minutes later when a transaction took an unexpectedly long time, pushing into my time to leave.  At 9:35am I hustled to lock up my station and leave only to be stopped at the door.  Because I was late for lunch I was denied.  The co-worker originally scheduled for the early break was begrudgingly told to go and I was made to wait.

Over 5 measly minutes.    

Yeah, I know that it’s nobody’s fault.  There are rules for a reason, we adhere to them to ensure that things run smoothly for everyone…blah-blah-blah.   I repeated this mantra to my caffeine-starved, homicidal id-voice for 3-hours straight.  And id rarely makes an appearance with me, truly.  On the outside I probably appeared no more threatening than a kitten, all while my internal sense of justice was cursing like a sailor and out for blood.

Keeping my composure, I grumpily thought of Zorro’s alter ego, Don Diego del la Vega.  He wouldn’t saunter into the pueblo on a Saturday morning and take someone’s head off because they didn’t give him his coffee…uh, spiced cider—er, sarsaparilla(?).  Whatever.  He's a caballero, he would mosey in looking all debonair and damned perky in the morning.  Then again he probably has it as good as Bruce and actually has time to dress accordingly.  Darn him.

                                  Courtesy Walt Disney ©

And isn't that the big discrepancy between fiction and real life?  Heroes aren’t seen sitting down or  recouping.  You don’t see them flinch the next day after being punched in the stomach the night before.  While humans—and human writers—need a more flexible routine.
Yeah, you won't catch Superman doing this...

Admittedly keeping it together takes will power, but it also requires compassionate self-discipline.  (And infinite patience for other people when you’re having a not-so-great morning…)  The best way to handle it all is to create a good schedule and stick to it.  Give yourself enough time to really warm-up and really get in the zone with your writing, and if you have a session that’s really grooving, don’t stop.   Just know that you will have to make up that time in other places.  Recognize that your late night will result in a rough morning and prepare for it.  Trouble-shoot the changes in schedule as they come and compensate by pairing your high-volume work times with self-pampering activities.

Basically, treat yourself like a person with two jobs.

Or as my mom says, “Be kind to yourself.”  

The amount of down time and sleep you get is important.  Even more so when you’re pulling the writer's second shift every day.  So, the other part of the scheduling see-saw is making sure that you take breaks as they’re needed.  

This is where you give yourself official permission to take the night off to go see that new movie everyone’s been talking about.  The only stipulation that you get back to the writing schedule the following night.  Allow yourself breaks, just don’t wonder too far from your set writing time, it needs to remain your “habit.”

This morning I slept in, washed a few loads of laundry and then took a walk.  After that I finished reading a great book and then I sat down to draft this blog.  I’m going to be dragging tush tomorrow, the alarm clock is already set for early, so I will need to get up and get caffeinated before starting my day.

It’s not easy.  I wish a pair of red, patent-leather boots would make it so but unfortunately, they don’t.  Care of your daytime alter ego is the only way to make certain that your internal, night-writing superhero is raring to go and vice versa.  

That and tucking a thermos of coffee into your utility belt.  That saves lives.  ;0)

-   SNG


  1. Great points! I loved your comparison of us to nocturnal superheroes like Batman...how true. Bruce Wayne doesn't have dark-and-puffy under-eye circles, dammit. Routine, routine routine. I need to get into one myself, and, sadly, it's harder than it looks. But we will prevail! *nods*

  2. @Sarah - You know, re-reading it, I bet Bruce Wayne has secretaries get his coffee. He probably has a mini-Starbucks build into his bookcase, next to the Bat-pole. I can imagine him hitting the speaker on his conferenece phone on a crappy morning. "Janeane, I need a venti, nonfat double espresso - yesterday!" Lol. It just takes so much time and energy. And you have to be your own barista. *pout*