How to write when you have a day job

Pondered, queried, and despaired over… This one’s a toughy, I can’t deny it. I work full time myself, but am also trying to paint my life as a poet, a novelist, and occasional features writer. I’ve had uncountable bits and pieces published here and there over the years, have just launched a collection of poetry (Bone Ovation) this year with Valley Press, have a second lined up for next year, am playing with a graphic novel, and am currently working through redrafts of my prose novel.

Inspiration when you work a day job

I’m also pretty tired. Life’s a punishing whirlwind at times, in between the small moments of victory. Why do I do it? I just have to. It’s the only thing I do that doesn’t make me feel like I should be doing something else. I have to find a way around it. I have to make it work for me as best I can while this is my routine, we all have to. So this blog post is really going to be a stream of consciousness on that theme, so I apologise now! There are doubtless countless writers and authors who’ve listed their methods for writing when you have a day job, but what are the big issues, when you get down to it?

I think there are two challenges here. One is the physically of it, the sheer lack of time you have.

You work long hours, might be faced with a stinking commute, and then there’s the matter of having a family, not becoming a social recluse, and remembering to have fun from time to time. I definitely don’t advocate cutting all fun times from the agenda but it seems to me (and most other authors you’ll read) that sacrifices do have to be made. What’s up to you is how much you sacrifice from each side. There’s a quote from JK Rowling, which states that you should put your writing time first and she’s right. If you’re constantly saying yes to social gatherings it’s going to be become physically impossible for you to ever write a single thing. You have to see writing as an important endeavour that comes first, like taking a shower, or eating lunch.

I’m not great at this, I must admit. And I don’t mean the shower thing. I’m determined to fit writing in wherever I can but I’m god-awful at saying no. But I’m still learning. The joy of poetry is that you can pick it up in all sorts of locations, but this isn’t the same with prose. When I was writing the first draft of my novel I knew that the more days off I took the less I was immersed in that world. So I told myself that I had to write 1000 words a day until the draft was complete. I remember reading that while he had a full time job, Terry Pratchett allowed himself the time for 500 words a day. For me, setting such a target was truly satisfying. I recorded my word and day count in a spreadsheet, and rewarded myself every 10,000 words. Telling a few select people what I was doing helped too, and meant that I didn’t have to make excuses. You should be confident and proud to be so dedicated to a project. No guilt allowed!

If you’re brainstorming or writing poetry, another option is to fit in into lunch breaks or while you’re commuting. While this isn’t such a good idea for drivers (don’t try it!) it’s ideal for train journeys or bus journeys. I spend quite a few lunchtimes editing printed-out poems. My brain is usually quite active at this time, and I find that it suits editing quite well. I can be quite ruthless, and have no qualms about killing my darlings during these lunchtime edit sessions.

Writing with a day job

The second challenge is motivation.

What’s your incentive? What’s going to be the thing that drives you when you come home after a hard day and all you want to do is not think at all? Is it the win at the end – the moment when you can hold a physical copy if your book in your hand, or is it when you first hear someone tell you that you moved them? Let it be the sheer smug glow of knowing you’ve handcrafted something beautiful, whether it’s as little as a haiku or a novel the size of a brick. Both are feats lots of people aspire to and never manage. But you’ve done it. You’re a hero!

One way to potentially bring together your aspirations and your day job is to try to find a job where you write.

Think about it – if you’re struggling to pound away at those drafts each evening, having a day job where you can use the time to practice phrasing, spelling, grammar, and how to speak your mind means that when it comes to writing what you want to write you won’t have to loosen up with writing exercises. You should be already primed to roll off the word-smithery like no-one’s business.

But ultimately, you have to look after yourself too. Writing when you have a day job can be tiring, draining, puzzling… but it’s so rewarding. When others look back in years to come you’ll have busted a full time job and crafted some pieces of real beauty because they’re YOU.

And you ever know, you might not even have to have a day job forever.

 

 

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5 thoughts on “How to write when you have a day job

  1. That was beautiful, Caroline; thanks for sharing your thoughts. I, too, have to juggle writing and promoting, a day job, and a family (if you think having a social calendar is hard, imagine having a hyperactive toddler). So, I particularly like the “you’re a hero” line, as it applies to all authors I know!

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      1. Please, don’t beat yourself. It takes years of practice (read: sleeplessness). I started in my twenties, so I’ve had over 20 years of honing my skills. Maybe some day, if you party hard enough, you’ll reach my level. Until then, I hope you don’t mind if I take a nap.

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