A lot of folks with day jobs find that call, that passion, that need to create something. However, when you’re out for 10 or more hours a day — the morning commute, work, lunch, more work, the commute home — the energy level you feel in the morning is depleted. But the drive, and perhaps even guilt, aren’t gone. So you’re trapped in that hell where you think you need to quit your job before you can be the Great English Novelist or America’s Next Top Game Designer or whatever.
I won’t say you aren’t that person, but I have talked before about this feeling. Baby steps means trying to create stuff at night, but then how exactly do you do that when you’re running on fumes?
[Before I go further, this is an audience participation post. I'm looking for your tips as well! Please comment.]
Stop, Drop & Write
When I know I need to get something done, I don’t go home right away. My commute home right now takes around 75 minutes. I take a shuttle 25 minutes to get to the part of town that has some open coffee shops, and I sit down to work.
By not immediately going home, I deny myself the restful rituals involved in arriving home — dumping my bag, laying down, etc. I’m so used to doing that the first few minutes of getting home, as a way to shed the day’s stress, that it breaks my flow. So I hold off. I write, or edit, or whatever I can do while in a public place. (Recording a podcast is right out, not that I’m a podcaster anymore, but I have edited some in a coffee shop.)
Those uncomfortable-after-too-long chairs, those just-big-enough-for-my-laptop-and-coffee tables, the lighting that’s crap-but-sufficient, the endless coffee you get if you do the free refill thing, all of that helps me push forward for an hour or two.
I don’t generally stay for more than two hours. But still, that’s two hours I might not have worked if I went straight home after a hard day. The siren call of “chill the fuck out” gets strong sometimes. And then we’re able to trick ourselves into thinking we’re working by lying around just thinking.
You don’t need a laptop to do this. There’s a great new app called “paper and pens”. I gave it five stars.
You have problems sleeping while it’s light out? Use that.
Monitors are designed to look like a close approximation to sunlight. So far things like fluorescent bulbs. Gets bright, white lights and use them in your work space.
Now, that’ll play hell with you trying to sleep later, just like drinking caffeine late at night would. So be warned. (I know someone who used to do this and take melatonin shortly before work was done for the night.)
Related, if you do a lot of work at night, I recommend checking out the color temperature regulation software for PC & Mac, f.lux. I’ve been using it for nearly three years now. I have this on most of the time, but turn it off if I need the light to be bright and keep me awake longer.
Sit Up Straight!
Seriously, sitting up straight works. And get a desk & chair that’s at a comfortable height. And then sit up straight. Don’t slouch. That posture can keep you alert, because it’s not a restful one.
If sitting up straight seems to be an issue for you, and it sometimes is for me, there’s something I discovered this past August when I rented the tux for the ENnies. I have suspenders, and when I wore them, they made it awkward and uncomfortable for me to slouch. I still need to pick up some to see if it’ll help my productivity, but I’m thinking right now it couldn’t hunt.
Yes, I’m talking about having “big boy worky time suspenders.”
Better Yet, Stand
Standing desks are all the rage. But not everyone has one, has room for one, or has room in the budget for one.
You know what makes a great standing desk? Your kitchen counter. And it’s conveniently located near your coffee maker, tea pot, or whatever caffeine injection systems you use.
Keep your back straight when you do, though. Get some phone books or whatever to have your laptop or notebook or pad of paper at the right height. And put something near your feet you can rest a foot on, like how bars have rungs at the bottom so you can elevate one foot and shift how the weight is distributed on your knees.
Easy on the Stimulants
You might be guzzling coffee or chain-smoking to keep yourself up, but that doesn’t last long. And it comes with side-effects — restlessness that’ll keep you up, headaches, things like that. Take it easy on the stimulants. In the long run, they’ll fuck you.
- 9pm: Oh man, I have a hell of a night ahead of me. Time for the coffee!
- 2am: Jeez. Done. Okay, time for sleep
- 3am: SLEEP BRAIN SLEEP
- 7am: [Alarm goes off]
- Every moment after 7am: Utter exhaustion
And that’ll carry over throughout the day and into that evening & night. When you’re young, you can bounce back, but I’m not able to bounce back like that today in my mid-30s. You’re time-shifting your exhaustion, not dispelling it. And it’ll come back to crash on you.
Keep your energy up with playlists that motivate you, that get you moving. One of my is the Tron: Legacy Reconfigured soundtrack/remix album. And Korn. Yes, I dig me some Korn — when the work I do can bare to have lyrics involved.
Sometimes I do headphones. Sometimes I do stereo. Depends on if I feel I need the music in my ears or around my space.
What music do you groove on when you’re in the late-night zone?
Flip It Around
Working at night, after you’ve been working all day, is hard. You have all that energy and passion in the morning, and having to wait until half a day later to act on it is rough.
So why not go to sleep earlier, wake up earlier, and do your creative work before you head out? Seriously. I know so many writers that swear by that. It’s not unlike people who get up early to go to the gym
Try it for a week or two. You can DVR your favorite shows and postpone some social engagements for a little bit.
Take Some Time Off
When I was working on the Dresden Files RPG, I was working between 55 & 65 hours a week (again, day job). I was burning myself out, and toward the end, I crashed on one of my chapters. Luckily, Clark Valentine was there to put the finishing touches on City Creation, but if I had taken a couple days off here and there, I wouldn’t have crashed. This is something I see from a lot of during-my-spare-time creators. Take some time off. Don’t try to push something out every night. Know your energy levels, and know when you need to replenish.
You cannot be productive at night if you create a situation where you have no energy at night. (And, really, you can remove the “at night” parts in that sentence.)
What Tips Do You Have?
So, faithful readers and newcomers, what tips do you have for working at night after you’ve been doing day job work all day?
 I look forward to the day where this is an honest-to-god anachronism.