Balancing writing and a day job

I’ve been pretty fortunate this week.

I got covid – but only a very mild case.

The day before I tested positive, I got my first round of editing feedback.

It meant I had a week of isolation which I could spend almost entirely on my book.

The downside? Well, one of my best friends in the whole world has been out of the country for more than a year, working on her PhD. This past week she came back to visit – just in time for my covid positivity. Yay.

I’m thankful she’ll still be here for a week once I’m released from my quarantining, but nonetheless, when I step back from my book, it’s easy to feel saddened and robbed of time with her.

All this has me thinking – it’s so easy to get so involved with our writing we can neglect those around us. Conversely, how much harder is it to write when you’re busy with a full time job!?

So, I thought I’d share my opinion on both of those things – how to balance writing with the rest of your life – especially with a full time job.

Make a plan

Step one – take a look at your schedule and plan when you’re going to dedicate time to writing. What’s your daily routine? Where can writing slot in? If there’s literally nowhere, maybe consider the amount of time you’re dedicating to other things – can you cut down on time watching TV, or get up a bit earlier, or spend a bit less time on your phone on your break?

For me, in my final round of self-editing before I sent my novel off to the editor, I made myself get up about 5am to do my daily devotion, and get stuck into half an hour of editing. Most work days I’d take my laptop to work with me to do some writing-related work on my lunch break. Most evenings, I’d spend an hour or so editing.

Set a goal

During my first round of self edits years ago, I had my word count, and I knew when I wanted it edited by. With easy maths I calculated how many words per day I needed to edit to get it done, which meant I had a goal to work to. Figure out what works for you – a time per day or per week goal, or words per day or week, or a chapter by the end of the week, or something else entirely. Break the big goal of ‘writing a book’ into more manageable pieces. They’re easier to swallow!

Be realistic

This is important, and pretty straightforward. When looking at your schedule, it’s important to realise we have a life, relationships, and responsibilities. When making that plan, don’t be discouraged if you can only find small pockets of time. Take them! It’s ok if it takes a long time to write, the point is progress. And if you follow that plan, even if the progress is slow, it will be consistent.

Be disciplined

Once you’ve locked in that plan, that time, you need to stick to your guns! It doesn’t mean it will be easy (5am starts certainly aren’t!) but remind yourself why you’re doing this – you want to be an author. Let that passion help push you and keep you focused on what you want to achieve.

For me, I can sometimes have the opposite problem – get too disciplined and rigid. And while we need to remember that life happens, I think for most of us most of the time, it’s more a struggle to be disciplined in the first place.

So, figure out what works for you – accountability partners (see below), or reminding yourself of why you’re being disciplined, and use that to fuel you. Writing a book is hard, so you do need to be prepared to work hard for it, and yes, sometimes even prioritise it.

Be accountable

If you’re someone who lacks discipline, find someone – a writer buddy, friend, family member – who can ask you whether you’ve been following your goal. It has certainly spurred me on knowing I committed to a 5am start with other people, who can ask about how it’s going!

Conversely, if (like me) you’re someone who can become laser-focused on just one thing, find someone who can tap you on the shoulder and pull you back if they feel you’re beginning to neglect other areas of life. The point is, know yourself, and find people you can trust who can help you stay accountable to your goals.

Remember the big picture

This book you want to write is incredibly precious, but it isn’t your whole life. You life involves so many other things, so many precious people. It’s okay if it takes time. I wrote my manuscript five years ago. In that time I’ve pursued different jobs, I’ve started dating – and then married – my husband, I’ve moved, I’ve lived through the insanity of covid, and many other things. I’ve grown and developed, and my book will be the better for it too. It’s ok if your writing needs to take a backseat for a while. It’s ok if you need to put it on the shelf! I never want my writing to get in the way of my life – my relationships, my experience of living. When you publish a book there will be a time for it to be prioritised – but it’s a season, and I never want my writing to overtake the rest of my life.

So, those are my tips. What do you think? Is there anything you’d add? Or change?

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2 thoughts on “Balancing writing and a day job

  1. I’d written a few manuscripts without a day job, as well as a few with. And both times, the thing that’s helped me the most was to lower the daily requirements and prioritise consistency over intensity. I’m on manuscript number six now, with a diet of 250 words a day (I often surpass that though). It’s amazing what tiny steps can do to big goals. Anyway, thanks for this post!

    • Hi Stuart,
      Oh wow, that’s awesome! Congratulations! I love your point about consistency. Building that habit is so so important. Really does enable wonderful and amazing things.

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