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Balancing Writing With A Day Job | My Tips For Making It Work

Unless you've got friends like Harper Lee's who are in a position to pool together a Christmas gift of one year's salary so you can write the book of your heart and dreams, chances are that as a budding writer just starting out on the journey, you've got a day job.

And to be honest, even writers who are published may still work a day job or have another form of income apart from their books. Writing is seldom a lucrative business to be in even with advances and royalties (should you earn out and begin receiving the latter); it can also be unpredictable compared to a day job that has a more consistent hourly rate.

Not to mention the high probability of keeping up with other non-negotiable responsibilities like the day-to-day chaos that can come with being a parent, being in school, medical stuff, and life in general.

As such, writing tends to be something we have to squeeze into our free time, limited as that can be some days.

That's been the case for me pretty much the entire time I've been writing. I started when I was a high school freshman juggling homework and extracurriculars, something that would remain consistent in my college years in addition to my work-study job. Once I graduated, I found myself struggling to balance part-time and full-time day jobs and other stuff with my writing.

Outside of being furloughed during the pandemic, I've never been able to be a full-time writer. All of my writing happens in pockets of time and late at night (despite my best efforts, I don't have it in me to be a member of the 5 AM Writers Club).

Writing a book, whether you're a fledgling finding their wings or a seasoned pro, is a fun and meaningful experience, but swinging between your day job and your creative aspirations can feel overwhelming. Being able to find the right approach and mindset is a valuable skill to have in your writer's toolkit.

Coming from a part-time writer dreaming of the day she can officially become a full-time writer, here are some of my tips for making it all work.

Remember That You Don't Have To Write Every Single Day

If you have ever consulted the internet for writing tips, it's likely that you've been told that you need to write every day. That's one of the most common bits of advice given to budding writers and while it's well-intentioned, it's also flawed.

Establishing a steady routine can help you make the most of your available time for writing—as I'll be covering in the next segment of this post—but it can also be the crux of burnout.

I've run into this more than once, and I'm sure I'm not alone.

While I do make an effort to write for at least a few hours on my day off and even for a bit when I get home from work (or even on my lunch breaks), I've become cognizant of how important self-care is—and I don't mean simply lighting an aromatherapy candle and putting on a face mask while you sit at your computer (even though that's something do in fact do occasionally).

Sometimes, you need to regroup and recharge or to get out and do something new and different when you "should" be writing. For me, this might include doing stuff for Plot Bunny Hollow, baking, video games, or a guided meditation sesh. And on the days that I'm feeling really run-down, I give myself permission to curl up with a comfy blanket and take a nap.

Throughout the past few years, I've learned to forgive myself when I want or need to spend some of my free time doing something that isn't directly related to writing, and I've found that I feel more productive as a writer than I did when I would scold myself for these breaks. Time away helps me focus better when I return, often with a new perspective.

Creativity is like any muscle. It grows stronger when you give it a workout. But, like any muscle, pushing it too far can cause damage such as fatigue or even burnout. Working constantly can be draining, so give yourself time to refill your proverbial cup.

Be Intentional With The Time You Do Have

Like I mentioned at the top of the post, it can be difficult to find time to find time to write between your day job and other ongoing obligations. That's why it's crucial to make the most of the time you do have.

I currently have what I'd call a steady-ish schedule and don't have to many non-negotiables in my life. My current job's hours of operation are a bit later in the day so my mornings tend to be open and I have Wednesdays off since the business is closed. Things fluctuate beyond that.

I try to make Wednesday my main writing-focused day, which might mean working on my WIP or tending to the blog depending on what needs more attention at the time. That of course doesn't preclude me from writing on my other days off (or keep me from squeezing a bit of writing time in when I get home from the day job), but having that constant of Wednesday has helped me be a little more intentional as I settle in to write.

I find it's easier to set goals and have a game plan for my Wednesday writing sessions, when I know I have a bit more time to dedicate to whatever I'm working on that day. I find myself more immersed in my writing during these sessions since I know I won't have to stop in the middle of something to head off to the day job; I also make a point to tuck away my phone and other distractions. I've also taken to using Wednesdays as deadlines because that fits better within my schedule.

Writing doesn't have to take up your entire day off and, like I mentioned in the above segment, it shouldn't. But if you're able to regularly dedicate a couple of hours of that time to writing, I recommend it.

Additionally, find ways to immerse yourself in your writing. Put your phone on vibrate or silent and stash it away if you can. If it helps you concentrate, put on some music that fits the vibe of your story (or try out earplugs to block out noise); just make sure that you're remaining aware of your surroundings and staying safe if you're writing in a public space while using noise-reducing or noise-canceling accessories.

Experiment with different ways to get yourself in a writing mood. When you find something that works, it will make it easier to cross that mental threshold and sink into the world of your story.

(For more tips on getting into a writing headspace, check out this post.)

Set Reasonable Goals

While we're on the subject of being intentional with your writing time, let's talk about setting reasonable goals.

This is something I continue to bring up in my posts because it's so important.

When you're setting goals in any context, it's wise to look at the bigger picture. What steps must be taken to achieve your goal and how can you fit them into your day-to-day life?

Be realistic about the time you can feasibly dedicate to writing amid your work schedule and other responsibilities. That will look different for every writer. For me, I know it's unlikely that I'd be able to write for twenty hours per week—at least, not without me standing shakily on the precipe of burnout like a sleep-deprived baby llama on a glacier floating in the middle of the ocean.

Therefore, I might aim to do writing-related tasks for a total of ten hours spread out over the course of a week. That number fits more comfortably within my schedule at the day job while allowing me to still get stuff done elsewhere and indulge in other hobbies without feeling stretched too thin. Any other writing I get done beyond that is just the icing on the cake.

Another writer might be balancing their day job with other obligations like childcare and only be able to write for a few minutes early in the morning before getting the kids ready for school. Or your day job has you doing a crazy amount of travel so you do your best to sneak some writing in at the train station and during the ride.

When you're setting your goals for writing, remember to consider how they will fit into your life. Make sure you're taking things like the day job, day-to-day responsibilities, and general human upkeep like making dinner and sleeping into account. Knowing what your average day looks like will make it easier to tuck your writing time into an available nook or cranny.

Learn How To Say No (And When Not To)

Writers have a lot of plates to keep spinning—and sometimes you may feel like those plates are on fire. The higher this stack of flaming dishes gets, the more difficult it gets to manage.

As writers, we're strongly advised to avoid crutch words, which refers to words or phrases we repeat noticeably often. But there is one word that can be good to lean on from time to time: No.

When your available time for writing is limited, it becomes all the more important to make the most of it by saying no to particular indulgences or distractions. This might include watching only one episode of your new favorite binge-watch or only giving yourself a few minutes to scroll through social media before turning your phone off. Or you may decide that you have to bow out of a shopping trip because you have a deadline swiftly approaching.

Prioritizing your writing and making a commitment to it ensures consistent progress towards your goals.

That comes with a caveat, though. Don't become so overprotective of your writing time that you close yourself off from life. That's one mistake I've made all too often. Spending every speck of your available time writing can be detrimental in its own way.

Don't say no to absolutely everything that comes your way. Remember, breaks and rest days are healthy. Go out for ice cream with friends or watch another episode. Who knows? You might even find story inspiration along the way.

Value your writing time, but remember to value self-care. Both matter.

Balancing a career with your writing goals requires discipline and dedication. Establishing a routine, setting reasonable goals and expectations, and being flexible all contribute to your productivity as a part-time writer with big dreams.

By keeping these tips in mind, you may even eventually be able to call yourself a full-time writer!



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