Writing with a day job

Most of the writers I know manage some kind of a day job for at least 40 hours a week, but sometimes a lot more than that, as well as all of their writing projects. It can be really hard to figure out ways to manage that and in my case, I don't even have a spouse or kids to complicate my schedule further. What I want to share today are some tips and tricks I’ve found to help manage my energy while spending my day working.


1.     Taking a serious look at what my schedule actually looks like.

 I know that it may sound a little silly but actually conceptualizing the times that you are committed to anything related to your day job is vital. If your commute is an hour in the morning then you probably can't try and squeeze in an extra 45 minutes of writing without sacrificing some major sleep. If your job allows for remote working then maybe you can easily fit that in first thing in the morning.

Know the reality of your job: do you actually get to take a lunch break where you could write? It's a really vital part of figuring out what times are even available for you to write. Know when the busy seasons are for your day job. If you work in financials than the end of fiscal year is probably going to be a really stressful time for you. By knowing that, you can try to mitigate the number of projects or external creative due dates you have during that time. Be aware of the most stressful times in your job if it follows a pattern like that and try to work around them.

2.     What are your priorities?

Figuring out what projects are the most important to you can really help make sure that when you do you have time to work on your creative endeavors you actually know what to work on. For a long time I spent a lot of energy spinning my wheels trying to figure out what project I was even supposed to be working on or wanted to work on next. I lost a lot of time by not having my priority set. Now I know what projects I have coming up and what projects I really want to accomplish. It really helps make sure that the limited time I do have is used well.

3.     Figure out what your energy levels are through the day.

Some people get out of bed and can immediately write. Some people can stay up all night writing. Some people hit their peak energy in the afternoons. Figuring out how your energy cycle works give me a huge help. It also can potentially point out some problems in what you're eating or your activity. I noticed that I tended to get really sleepy in the afternoons which lead to me realizing that I probably shouldn't be having giant pots of pasta for lunch every day. It made me sleepy. Now I'm perkier in the afternoons and I've also found that I can get a lot of writing done during my lunch break at work.

While I still occasionally work in the mornings, I found that I am a lot more likely to use the mornings to read and ease into my day. Figure out what works for you rather than trying to work against your body’s natural rhythms.

4.     Take care of your body.

This one always makes me roll my eyes a little bit but it is really important to remember to take care of your body. Now I am by no means saying that you need to be a gym rat or anything like that. I know that for me if I'm not eating at least some fruits and vegetables and getting a little bit of exercise I am a lot less productive and creative. If I'm really struggling, I try to get out and take a quick 10-minute walk around the parking lot. This also means that I try to pay more attention to how I'm sitting and the ergonomics of my desk. It’s not a sexy or exciting tip but this really make a huge difference.

5.     Know what you're giving up.

Part of embracing creative endeavors outside of your day job mean sacrificing things. For me, it mostly means sacrificing video games and TV shows. I am woefully behind on every pop-culture series and I haven't played a game through to completion in years. I've given those things up for the most part because I know that my energy is better spent trying to accomplish my goals. I had to realize what sacrifices needed to be made in order to continue writing in a way that could potentially build a career. It sucks and a lot of the time I still fail and get sucked into playing the Sims. But remembering what I'm working towards and what that requires helps me get back on track a lot easier than it would other hand.

Most writers are managing some kind of a day job and everybody’s schedule and requirements will make that look very different. I'm incredibly privileged to have a remarkable amount of free time available to me because of where I am in life. What works for me may or may now work for you but I really think that stepping back and being thoughtful and deliberate about the choices you're making with your time and energy make a world of difference.


Source: Photo by Bench Accounting on Unsplash

Be Boring

When I was first starting to really take myself seriously as a writer (as in writing every day and trying to actively get published), I remember thinking that I was way too boring to write anything exciting. I mean, I don't do drugs, or get black out drunk every night. I don't go wild and travel through dangerous areas in the dead of night. Hell, I think the most dangerous thing I do on a regular basis is walk into my bookshelf nearly every morning when I'm getting ready for work because despite nearly a year of it being in the same place, it's always a surprise!

I grew up with stories about the wild antics of writings, with the motto 'write drunk, edit sober' being thrown around by everyone I knew. I always thought I was too much of a bore to fit in, but what I've found over the last few years has been the opposite. Schedules actually help me keep at my writing more than any sort of wild life ever could. 

Knowing that I'm home by 4 every day and sticking to the schedule lets me prepare to write. It's become a habit now. I don't have to sit and wait to be inspired to write, it's simply 4:00 and time to write. Most of the writers I know who are successful do this. They write and take care of themselves. There are always exceptions to the rule, but by and large, the writers who are making it in the creative world work on schedules, not whims. 

Now clearly not every day works out in an ideal way, but having a steady life where I am not totally clueless about what's coming next helps keep me grounded. When I'm not stressing about what's going to happen tomorrow (or where I'm going to get my next fix) keeps me focused on the story at hand. I've fond that the only real way to get any writing accomplished is really simple: sit on your butt (or stand at your standing desk) and write. There's nothing else that puts the words into the world. Not talking about writing, not daydreaming, not reading. At the end of the day the only way to write is.... to write.

And a boring, stable life helps that happen.

Now, that doesn't mean you have to keep a boring life in all aspects. Try new things, travel to new places, eat weird food that you can't pronounce, and do things that scare you, but never feel like having a stable life is a disadvantage when it comes to being creative.

Source: Photo by Eutah Mizushima on Unsplash

Patient Zero- The first draft

I’ve been working away on my latest work in progress, and just crossed the 30,000 word mark last night. I’m hoping to finish it up before the end of this week.

At first I thought I was writing my first draft. And I suppose in a way I am, aside from my outline, this is the first time these characters have seen the light of the page and the first time I’ve told this story to anyone. But, about halfway through, the story veered in a direction I hadn’t seen. I realized I needed to change a major character and rework my main character and the plot in a big way.

For about a day I just stared at this mess of a draft and considered just starting it over again and making all the changes.

I’ve been down that road plenty of times before where I write the first 20,000 words over and over and over in a perpetual groundhog’s day loop of writing.

Instead of sending myself into that kind of hell, I decided to just make a note to myself (set aside with XXX) and keep going as if those changes had already been made.

What this means is that a minor character named Virgil became a main character at word 21,008, and that a main character named Darcy completely disappeared at 24,000 and I never backtracked to fix the words behind them. I’ve even gone back and rechanged the changes I made. So maybe for about 3000 words, Darcy existed again and then was erased for good.

This draft is going to be a mess when I finish, like a Frankenstein monster sewn together with hands on his head instead of ears, and eyes for a belly button. It’s ugly, and gross and going to have to be ripped to pieces to be put back together again. That’s why I’ve decided to call it a zero draft, and not a first draft.

But now that I’m nearing the end of this story, I feel more confident in the characters, in the voice and the story I’m telling. It’s changed drastically, and that’s okay. I’m sure it will change a dozen more times before it’s ready to be unleashed onto the world as a (mostly) right-side together Frankenstein.

The advice I most frequently people at any of the writing panels I’ve been on is to finish what you start, but I’m terrible at following my own advice. I want my first draft to be a perfect story and that just can’t happen (at least not with the way I write) so I make do with what I can make. I paint in the lines as best as I can, and then I go back and clean up.

So, draft zero I hope you’re ready to be finished off…and don’t worry, I’ll get your foot out of your eye socket soon.



Source: Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

Using No to Make More Time to Write

Making the time to write isn't always a matter of just sitting down and writing. It often means saying no to a lot of other things, things you may really want to do. It isn't a choice between 'scrub the grout in my shower' or write. More often than not, it's 'play this new game I'm excited about' or write. It's a eries of scarficies made. But how do you get to the point where that feels doable? Here are some things that have helped me find my way to putting writing first. As always, your mileage may vary, so take what works for you and leave the rest. 

1. Write out a list of all the things vying for your time. 
See what all is on there. You can make this as exhaustive as you want. Include all the nitty-gritty like grocery shopping, bathroom cleaning, etc., if you want to, but it works just as well with only the big things on your list. Your family, friends, favorite TV shows, favorite games or other hobbies, everything that calls to you. 

2. Prioritize the list. 
Be ruthless if you have to. For me, that's meant that I keep up on very, very, very few shows anymore. I made the commitment that writing was more important than having seen the latest Games of Thrones episode. For you, maybe that means that you only go to game night with your friends every other week. Figure out what you're willing to sacrifice now so you don't have to figure that out in the moment. 

3. Commit to it. 
If you decide that once every other week for games is all you can manage, tell your friends and stick to it. It's going to be hard for a while, but it will slowly become a habit and take less willpower to do. Write out what you'll say to yourself about putting your writing first, give yourself support. Future you will thank you. 

4. Forgive yourself when you screw up. 
A bad day at the day job can send you into a Netflix marathon without much of a thought. That's okay. Beating yourself about it, isn't going to make it any better. In fact, beating yourself up is only going to make it harder to get back to the writing. 

5. Do not sacrifice things required for a healthy life. 
I know there's a #goals around not sleeping and hustling harder, but that is not a great way to live. Sacrifcing your health is not the answer. 

Taking time now to commit 100% to your writing is the way forward and the way to help keep your writing going. I'm not going to say it won't require sacrifice, because it will. Right now I've not watched American Gods, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Daredevil, The Handmaid's Tale, Blackish, and on and on and on because that is what I've decided to sacrifice to make the time to write. 
But you can do it! 

Source: https://unsplash.com/@alexrds

Crossing Through No Words Land

Sometimes in life, you hit a patch where the words just won't happen. I don't just mean a writer's block or the dreaded soggy middle. I mean the times when your whole mind turns into an arctic tundra where nothing thrives. You can't think of a new idea, you can't think of writing at all. The idea of writing fills you with sickly dread. It sucks. So what can you do? Well put on your snow boots and let's figure this out. 


1. Take a break.

Sometimes you just need a break from writing. Take a day or a week and just rest. Give yourself some slack and time to recharge. This is especially true if you have been really pushing yourself hard for a while. 

2. Read out of your usual genre. 

If you write romance, pick up a western. If you write horror, pick up a space opera. Read something totally different than your usual fare. Sample something different and give yourself some fresh ideas and new genres to look into. You never know when you might find your next beloved book. 

3. Enjoy a nap. 

Seriously, sleep is rad. Take a nap and see how you feel after some well deserved shut eye. 

4. Skip that scene you hate. 

If you're avoiding writing, unable to write or just hating everything about the certain scene or chapter you're working on... just skip it. Put in a placeholder in and move on. If you hate that scene than does it have to be like that? Figure out a way to make it fun for you and the reader.

5. Get help. 

Sometimes this kind of a block is a big red flag that something is wrong. I know for me, when I found myself unable to write for months I knew something was wrong and went to find help. For me, this tundra of no words is a big ol' sign post that I am entering the depression bad lands and it's a good time to talk to someone and get help. There's no shame in needing help. 

So that's what helps me when I enter the tundra of no words. Is a sucky place that I don't even like to visit but sometimes you just have to cross it and get to the other side. Writing is hard mental work and it can be taxing to do. So keep on plucking on and we'll get to the other side together. 

Little Rebel, Write However You Want

Sometimes I think there might be more writing advice out on the interwebs than there are actually stories. Everywhere you look, you can find some new tip or trick that supposedly will make you a better writer. The ideas vary wildly from using no technology to using nothing but technology. There are people who get up at 4am to write and people who stay up until 4am to write. There are those who writ every day and those who write in bursts and then don't write again for days. 

For a long time I thought that there had to be some secret for writing. Something that would make writing suddenly super easy and always succusful. I dove into every writing guide I could get my hands on, read every blog post, tried every tip and trick I could get my greedy little hands on. And I hated it. I felt like I never was doing enough, was never writing 'correctly'. I always felt like I was failing some final exam and any moment, someone was going to snatch my laptop for me and tell me to stop faking it. 

I stopped writing for a while and that was just as miserable. I longed to write but I remained scared on how to actually going about getting it down on page. Until I realized the very simple, no duh moment that it didn't matter. How I got the words onto page didn't matter. What mattered is that I wrote. I didn't have to make the process this grand scary thing that required a certain candle to be lit at a certain time. All that mattered was writing. Even if I wrote horrible crap that no one would ever see the world wouldn't end. 

I'd built the process of writing up so much in my head that fear paralyzed me. I worried about somehow getting it 'wrong' and ruining everything. 

But the process only need to have one step: write. 

Now I'm not afraid to try different things, to play with my process and take the time to learn what works and doesn't work for me. I've realized there is no one way to write that matches for everyone. There are a variety of ways to write and no shame in doing what works for you. You don't have to write like Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Roxanne Gay or anyone else writes. You can build it your own way, you rebel you. 

All you have to remember is to get your words on the page. 

Don't Give A Damn

Writing is a lot of ignoring everything else around you. You ignore the lure of the television, video games, and even time with friends or family for the chance to get those words down. That's a struggle but what tends to always freeze me is when I start caring way too much about what I'm writing. I can't progress the story because I'm hung up on what color my main character's eyes should be. When I start getting too caught up in the little details, I have to remind myself, all of this is going to change anyways. 

When you're first drafting, it's okay for the character to go from green to grey eyes in the span of a chapter. Stop giving so much of a damn about your words that you get paralyzed and write nothing. 

It's easy to feel like every detail and word you write is worth stressing over, but if you spend your entire life writing the same page over and over again then you've not really accomplished anything. If your goal is to get your words out into the world you have to stop giving so much of a damn about them and just worry about getting them done. It can be liberating to let go of the worry and just write. 

Lately I've gotten hung up on worrying about if what I'm writing will ever sell. What if no one wants to read this? What if no one cares? I worry and think about that so much I get nothing writte and instead I just circle the drain of self-pity and wallow in a gallon of ice cream. What I've had to remember is that while thinking about market and sales is important, you have to remember what you're passionate about and write that story. Sitting paralyzed because you're too concerned you're never going to sell anything doesn't help either. 

Maybe the market isn't supporting your paranormal romance right now but write it. If it doesn't sell, put it in a drawer and move on to the next project. Trying to write to the market is like letting a blind, drunk elephant guide you through the plains. You're going to end up lost in the grass and eaten. 

Writing's a strange mix between having to care deeply, and having to not care. There are points in the process where caring is more important, so here I'm talking specifically about getting down your first draft and organizing your thoughts. You need to let go of the idea of the perfect, just-right-for-the-market, flawless story that exists in your head and start writing it. There's no shame in writing an awful first draft and then taking the time to carve out the story in your mind, but without that first block of clay there's nothing to even sculpt.

That image of the story that exists in your head can never reach this world if you keep it locked up because you're too afraid to make it. 

The quote I've found that almost always keeps my butt into creating is the incredibly popular quote from Ira Glass on creativity: "Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

Starting out it's painful to realize that what you have in your head is not going to be as awesome as what you like, and what you see. You have to keep going, not give so much of a damn and get through all the crap to find the diamond buried in your own work.

Write Like You Because There is No One Right Way to Write

Write when you can when it's best for you, and forget what other people are doing. Maybe some people would rather sleep until noon and write until 3am, if it works for them awesome! Maybe some people write in marathon 10,000 word binge all nighters. But don't ever feel like someone else's process has to be yours

Read More