How can you manage to get off the ground as a writer when you are saddled with a full-time job? I struggled with this very dilemma for many years. Yes, I’d love to dive headfirst into writing each and every day. But I have this funny habit…I like to eat. So how do we keep food on the table and a roof over our heads, yet still fulfill our passions as writers? The secret to fitting writing around your work lies in shifting some priorities and also shutting down diversions.
1 Start with the Big Rocks
We’ve all heard the advice of putting rocks and sand into a jar. The big rocks represent the important priorities and the sand stands for the nitty gritty chores we fill our day with. If you don’t put the big rocks in first, you won’t be able to fit them in around all the sand. Better to put the big rocks in first and then let the sand slip around into the cracks. Thus, we need to make writing one of our big rocks.
This means you will have to knuckle down and become a morning person. I’m not crazy about waking at 4:30 beach day. But know that if I don’t tackle my baseline writing right out of the gate, it gets lost in the shuffle of day-to-day demands. I even go one step further and prep my writing so the very first thing I do is sit down and write.
2 Plan During Downtime
This is one of my favorite techniques. Writing doesn’t just happen when you sit at the computer. You can do research and outline anytime. Not only does this make you feel more productive, it helps your actual writing sessions because then you know what you’ll actually write. The more you plan and outline, the more actual words you can get onto the page during your allotted writing time.
You can be a plotter and use your outline. But if you’re more of a pantser, at least have some notes ready to go so when you hit your writing time next morning, you have some idea of where you intend to go.
3 Set a Daily Goal
Writing can’t happen only when the mood strikes. This sort of inconsistent behavior is why it took me four to five years to finish my first manuscript. Your muse sometimes acts like a spoiled child. You have to teach it good habits, train it to join you on your writing journey.
Make writing a daily endeavor. The only two times I don’t tend to write are Xmas Day and my kid’s birthday. All others, I get the time in.
Your goal can be the traditional words per day. This works if you have a good chunk of time and need that word goal as a finish line to cross. But for me, who has a full time job, I measure progress by time. My baseline goal each day is one hour. If I get more, awesome sauce. Sometimes I get a little less. But I always get the writing time in.
4 Shut Your Phone Off
I saw an author talk about how they came home to write a short story but decided to look at TikTok first. Three hours later, no writing. Just scrolling. Put your damn phone down. And if it still tempts you, shut the thing off. This is your writing time. You fought for it, so get to work.
5 Make Writing Fun
If all this sounds like a lot of work, it is. So you need to make sure you enjoy writing. Don’t try to copy other writers or hop onto trends. This will only frustrate you. Write the kind of book you’d want to read.
You can also make writing special. Take one day a week and write somewhere else. Away from your regular digs. Interesting locations can spark creativity and also you might have less distractions. One caveat. Don’t spend so much time searching for that special writing place that you skip the actual writing. You’re a writer, not a sitter or coffee drinker.
So get to writing and finish your book.