Switch Off Work Brain. Switch On Writer Brain

By Darlene Cah

Most writers, even those with published books, have some kind of “day job,” whether they’re teachers, administrative assistants, attorneys, mail carriers or working in any number or other jobs.

For some, writing time is a welcome respite from the stress of life in a cube. For me, it’s a difficult transition. My day job as a Web Content Specialist entails writing, lots of it, and going from marketing and promotions writer to fiction writer is jarring. Even if you don’t write for a living, letting go of the work routine and gathering the energy to dive into another discipline may not be easy. I’m sad to admit, more often than not, I reach for the remote rather than the laptop.

Here are a few ways I’ve made the transition from my work brain to my writer brain:

Use your Commute
When I was a student at the School of Visual Arts in New York, I got my best ideas on the subway. I thought that any ad agency that hired me would have to set up an office for me on the R train. Now I pack up my bags (God knows I have bags: lunch, gym, purse, books, laptop…) and trudge to my car. With a 2-hour commute, there’s plenty of time to think. So, after a mental scan of my refrigerator and a making a reasonable plan for dinner, I let my mind wander to the story I’m working on. I may play out scenes, plot or dialogue. If all I do is get a handle on a character’s motivation or action, I’ve accomplished something. If you ride the subway or other public transportation, pick an interesting fellow passenger and develop a character sketch in your head.

Cleanse your Palate
If your commute entails a walk from one room to another, take a solid break. I sometimes work from home. I shut down my work laptop, pack it in its case, take Mr. Artie Dog for a walk, breathe, eat dinner (my go-to literal palate cleanser). Then I’m ready to boot up my personal laptop and, assisted by a cat or two, put on my fiction hat.

Snap to It
Sometimes the transition simply flips in the moment. I might be deep into a project at work that, for whatever reason, triggers an idea, an image, a line or a character trait for a new story or one in progress. In those instances, I either tap out a note on my phone or email myself, because I know as soon as I snap back to work mode, the idea will be gone.

Weekend Writer
Yeah, yeah…the rule: Write every day. Many writers assign a word count as a goal, a thousand words, or more. I’m not sure that works for everyone. But I do know if I don’t write, my skills get rusty, and it’s way harder to get back into writing when you’re not writing regularly. At the very least, set aside time on Friday night and the weekend, when you’re already winding down from the workweek, to scribble some pages.

How do you transition from work mode to writing mode? Is it difficult or easy?


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  1. #1 by inkbiotic on May 19, 2016 - 12:56 am

    Great advice, thank you. I think I’ve never quite transitioned out of writing mode this year, my head is always a little there and work is a thing I pretend. Next year I’ll have to knuckle down for a bit and focus solely on my job, I think 🙂

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