So, you wanna be a writer, huh?
Wait, you have a full time job?
It’s hard, right? Balancing that nine to five with the ever looming word count expectations.
Getting home and wanting nothing more than to eat take out Chinese on the sofa, watching The IT Crowd and swiping your way through Tinder.
Either way, I am sure that you, just like most people in this world, procrastinate. It’s okay—I forgive you. You are only human. (I assume)
There’s always so much to do!
Working all day and finding the time (and energy) to keep up my writing is a skill that I have only just obtained.
Realistically, it’s a skill that I am still working on.
But it is possible, dear reader!
It is possible to maintain a full time job and still progress your writing. Every day, if you want to!
Here are a few of my very own tips to help you to find the balance for everything you want to fit in.
1. Decide what you want to get done
There is no point in sitting down to do something if you don’t know what it is that you want to do.
You’re right, that seems obvious. But it’s better to be safe than sorry.
So, you’ve decided you want to write more. That’s great!
Well, what are you writing?
Most people out there know what they want to get on with. A lot of the writer’s I speak to area already currently working on a main Work In Progress (WIP), typically in the form of a novel.
Now, making time for writing in your busy schedule doesn’t have to mean making to to write an entire book.
If you are here to work out how you can fit writing a whole book between working, then that’s great, and please keep reading as the below will still help you.
But I just wanted to take a moment to say that writing a book is not the only form of writing.
You are still a writer if you wanna write short stories, poems, free verse, screenplays—anything at all! It doesn’t even have to be fiction—memoir writers, travel writers, and every other kind of writer is welcome here and can make use of these tips.
So you need to work out what it is you want to achieve.
Say we are planning for your first month implementing these top tips. Do you want to write four good poems in that time? Write the next chapter of your travelling adventures? Even just reach the next 5,000 words?
Whatever you want to achieve, make sure you know what it is. Make a note of it and focus on it.
You can achieve that goal, and you will achieve that goal. But planning is key.
In the past couple of months, my goal has simply been to write. To practice.
To ensure that every time I was inspired, I wrote down what I wanted to write down.
After I had worked through a few things that were stopping me, there was no stopping me.
2. Work out what is holding you back
Confession: I get distracted easily.
I know, I know, it’s terrible. I should be more dedicated, I should be a grown up about it, I should be stricter with myself.
These are all things I have said to myself, and all things that you may have said to yourself too.
What I realised was that we are all different. I think that’s fantastic—that should be more widely celebrated.
I had surrounded myself with people—both in person and on Twitter—that were avidly working on their novels.
And I have nothing but admiration for that!
My main WIP is a novel, and I thoroughly love my story and love working on it, but I am not always in the mood for that.
I felt like I should be writing every day, but that this energy should be directed towards said novel, and I couldn’t do it.
And so, slowly but surely, I was writing less and less.
Instead of worrying about adding to that word count everyday, I got a notebook to carry with me everywhere.
In this notebook I write down everything I want—an interesting person that inspires me, an idea for a short story, a short story in full, poems, interesting thoughts—everything!
It sounds cheesy, but I found myself writing a short story when I was on the bus home one day.
So, the confines of feeling obliged to add to my WIP was what was stopping me from writing regularly. Isn’t that crazy?
Sometimes I am just not in the mood to explore the fantasy world I have created.
Sometimes I felt overwhelmed by the enormity of my first full length novel and buried my head in the sand instead.
I forgave myself for not always wanting to write that, and it was very good for me.
You need to be honest with yourself. What is stopping you from writing?
Obviously, work is the biggest factor here.
But what I mean is outside of those working hours, being nine to five or anything in between, what is taking up your time?
Do you have kids that require your attention? Pets that demand endless fussing? Other time-consuming hobbies?
Get a babysitter. Sit in another room. Quit the other hobbies.
Ok, I’m kidding. I know it’s not that simple. But if you really want to write more, and you’re here so you obviously do, then you need to find a work around.
I recently adopted a gorgeous little kitten, and it’s so easy to convince myself to spend all my time cuddling him instead of working on my writing. When I move to my desk instead, he ends up sitting there too. Sometimes he’s hard to ignore!
Life is not going to make way for you to pursue leisure activities. That just (sadly) not the work it works.
But you can make way for yourself!
Even if your partner/family member/friend can only take the baby for an hour every other Sunday—that’s some writing time!
Even if you have to beg someone to take your dog on a nice long walk—that’s some writing time!
Even if you have to drop one of the classes you’re taking, or skip once a week—that’s some writing time!
It doesn’t have to be hours and hours. To find more time to write, you’ve got to take steps to show other people and yourself that writing is important to you.
As such, you can make time for it and you will make time for it. You tell ‘em!
Obviously it’s not quite as easy as that in every scenario.
Some people, like our very own overlord Kristina Adams, write and publish multiple books with a chronic illness.
I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, saying that I can relate to that struggle or that it is anything but incredibly hard to find the strength to do it.
But it is potentially possible.
3. Prioritise writing
You’ve quit all of those other lesser hobbies (like checking social media or binging Netflix), you’ve persuaded your parents to take all kids and pets for the weekend and you’ll just get that pile of laundry done before you sit down to write.
STEP AWAY FROM THE WASHING MACHINE
Or the games console, or mop, or pile of magazines, or the TV remote, etc, etc.
I’m serious. You’ve made time for writing, so use it for writing.
Of course it’s always going to feel like there’s something else you ought to be doing. But if you want to make sure you are balancing writing with a full-time job, you need to ensure you are prioritising writing.
In my experience, it is the nature of living that there’s always something else to do.
But you need to prioritise your time, and bump writing up that priority list.
You need to remind yourself that writing is important.
4. Find time to write
Now, you know what you want to get done, you’ve removed the obstacles holding you back, you’re learned to prioritise writing. You’re ready to go! But when?
Everyone’s schedule is different, you must sit down and work out when you can reasonably fit some writing time in.
Working full time means that, for most people, you are busy Monday to Friday, roughly 9am – 5pm. That alone takes up a lot of your time.
And let’s not forget that commute! The average commute is around two hours a day in total—that’s a lot of time taken up.
But if you don’t drive, that’s a lot of time that you would be scribbling away in a notebook, or even working on a laptop.
Let’s start small. If you can fit in thirty minutes, two nights a week, that’s a great start. It’s not even just a start, really—it’s a great schedule for writing.
If thirty minutes is all you can spare, and you truly dedicate it to writing, then you are officially writing regularly.
You need to nail down your schedule first, then work out where you can fit in some writing.
5. Make time to write
It’s all well and good squeezing in a few minutes here and there, but even bigger things can happen if you move things around and make time for your writing.
For instance, this year my New Year’s Resolution was to have one day a month dedicated to writing. I set aside the last Saturday/Sunday of every month.
I took the time to put this into my calendar, to make sure I don’t make any plans during the time I have set aside for myself.
So, whether you use the calendar on your phone, a physical diary, or even a cork board with everything pinned onto it, make sure that you know that time is already allocated.
It may be that every Thursday you used to catch up on the week’s TV. If you want to dedicate more time to writing, you have to assess whether you’d rather be watching TV or working on writing. Maybe you can skip half the soaps, and use an hour every Thursday to write instead.
I have one hour lunches every day at work. WASTED TIME.
Instead of just scrolling through Facebook for that hour, I now get out my notebook and jot down ideas, or work on a poem I know I need to perform soon.
Social media is a huge time sink. Don’t get me wrong, there are aspects of it that are incredibly useful, particularly when it comes to writing.
But you have to assess what you are really getting out of scrolling through the same few stories over, and over, and over. It’s enough to send you crazy!
Even if you’re not spending that time writing, there are a million other things you could be doing.
If you can make time more often than the occasional lunch, or the last weekend of a month, even better.
There is also a lot to be said for arranging all of your responsibilities and hobbies.
Instead of just making time for writing, do you need to actually arrange your entire schedule? Could you benefit from scheduling in all of the required chores. How much easier would it be to find time to write if all of your other tasks have been scheduled in and completed?
Maybe don’t just make time for writing, make time for everything.
But in order to balance your job with your writing, you need to make your own writing time. You deserve it.
You’ve flooded the front of your fridge with writing flyers, locked the kids in the cupboard, cancelled church on a Sunday, and you are ready to write.
There are two very important factors to consider—environment and motivation.
6. Create the perfect environment
You’ve gotta set the scene. Make sure you’re comfy, got all the food and water you need, and that nothing is going to distract you.
Again, and I’m sorry for repeating myself, but everyone is different.
Music plays a huge part in finding the right writing environment that works for you. I have seen writers even go as far as not being able to start their next WIP until they have put together the perfect playlist for it.
Make sure you have a selection of the perfect music, or the perfect silence, to aid your writing.
You could even give some background noise a try—there is an app called Noisli that will simply play background noise to allow you to focus, if that’s what does it for you.
But, of course, there’s a lot more to it than that.
One person might need a busy cafe filled with people and noise in order to be able to work on their writing.
Another may need absolute silence and a comfy arm chair at home.
If you aren’t sure what the most conducive environment for writing is for you, then experiment!
There was a recent podcast from ‘No Such Thing as a Fish,’ done by the QI elves, (Episode 256: No Such Thing As A Puddle Photographer) in which they discussed how a study found that people work more efficiently when the weather is rainy and miserable.
You can find some details on the Harvard version of the productivity study here. They theorised that:
When the weather is nice, people become distracted by thoughts of what else they could be doing outside. In one of their studies, they even controlled for this psychological effect by priming subjects with photographs of fun outdoor activities, such as boating and dining al fresco. Productivity on tasks dropped.
So make sure you’re not staring out at the sun, wishing you were out in it!
Try everything and anything. You’re worth investing the time in.
7. Stay motivated
Step one, knowing what you want to write, is a great place to start. But starting and staying dedicated are two very different things.
Motivation is a huge factor in whether or not you really stick to a new way of doing things.
Think of all those fad diets! I am great at starting a healthier diet, horrendous and keeping to it. (Not that you should consider your writing in any way similar to a terrible diet!)
If you don’t already know what works best to motivate you, try everything!
You could said daily or weekly targets, for instance. One poem a week? 800 words a day?
For some people, simply seeing that word count go up is motivation enough. I know I sure feel good when I hit a new threshold for word count.
Unfortunately, I learned that this is simply not enough to keep me motivated long term.
This brings me on to rewards.
Just as I did with homework when I was at school, having a reward in mind when I get through a chunk of work is a very good motivation.
Don’t go crazy—you don’t want your writing to kill you.
But you could use something sweet or savoury, maybe treat yourself to a hot chocolate or a cup of tea, a cheeky kitten cuddle, or even five minutes reading for every hour of work!
Spending time with pets will help to reduce stress and comfort you and your little buddy.
This might also be a great time to reward yourself with snuggles from your pet. Stroking a dog is very comforting and can help you relax after doing lots of work.
Whatever helps you to keep going.
8. Keep it interesting
Variety is the spice of life.
If you are the kind of person who can do the same thing, week in and week out, then fair play to you! I admire your willpower.
I, and perhaps you, cannot. I need variety, I need change and I need to keep it fresh.
So mix it up!
Let’s say you get two hours a week to write, and you are working on a long novel as your WIP, try and vary your activities each week.
For example, week one we are planning chapters six and seven. Week two we are fleshing out the backstory for a main character. Week three we are writing chapters six and seven.
This way, not only are you switching up the schedule, you’ll probably find yourself more eager than ever to get to your Monday evening writing session as you can’t wait to get the next thing done.
What about other writing, you ask?
Well, why not work on different poems each week, or different types of poetry each week. Spend one of your writing sessions performing your poetry in front of a mirror—though you may not be a performer, reading it aloud will help you to improve it.
Screenwriter? Maybe you just wanna write action scenes this week? Write them! Instead of forcing yourself to move chronologically with the story, do what you love and improve your craft at your own speed.
All of these tips can naturally be applied to any aspect of writing.
Finding ways to keep yourself excited about your writing is hard, but very rewarding. (Cake!)
9. Don’t make it feel like a chore
The attitude that you have towards writing is also very important.
You need to maintain a positive outlook. You need to make sure that you continue to look forward to your writing sessions, and that you are getting something out of it.
It’s gonna be hard work—there’s no doubt about it. But as long as you are getting something out of it, you should still be looking forward to it.
A lot of this comes down to your perspective.
You need to make sure that you are looking forward to the next session. If you are not, it may be that one of the steps above has been missed.
Are you dreading doing MORE words on your WIP?
Are you not looking forward to sitting in the uncomfy desk chair for the next couple of hours?
Are you worried about not having clean clothes for tomorrow, as you haven’t done your laundry yet?
Try going back and making sure you’re ticking all the boxes.
Ensuring that the previous steps are complete will mean that you should, hopefully keep that excitement and momentum.
10. Listen to your body
Now, things don’t always go to plan.
Tiredness, pain, illness, etc. You’ve gotta be able to listen to your body and know when to not push it too hard.
There will be times when you are not able to work hard, and you need to be kind to yourself in such situations.
Doing some planning in a notebook instead of hours at a desk is still contributing towards the effort.
Or simply reading is a close second to writing—no matter what you’re reading, there is always something you can learn.
The key here is balancing work with writing. Exhausting yourself and potentially hurting yourself is not balance.
Looking after yourself is more important than hitting the target.
Balancing means that one week you may need a rest, and that’s ok.
Listen to your body, be kind to yourself, and never forget the importance of resting can have.
Here is a blog post about when you need to stop being productive, and give yourself time.
11. Set reasonable targets
‘Rome was not built in a day.’ – Some smart person.
It’s true. Nothing great can be done in just one day.
Even if you do most of a short story or poem in a day, there’s a good chance this will be edited to a higher standard later down the line, or perhaps included planning (written or subconsciously) beforehand.
We have a blog post here about different levels of editing, and the benefits of that.
My point is, the best work out there takes planning and time.
Planning what you are going to do, both with regards to time management and story/WIP progression, will make your life—and your writing—easier.
Plus, there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to finish everything you want to do!
So you need to ensure that when you are sitting down to write, you are doing so with reasonable targets in mind.
If you are working on a novel, and haven’t had a strict schedule before, aim for just a couple of hundred words per session.
If you are working on a script, maybe just a short scene per session.
If you are simply writing short stories, write as much as you feel inspired to do so in your session.
Don’t put pressure on yourself to massively exceed all of your targets.
(Unless, of course, that is a huge motivation for you. In which case, lay on the pressure!)
You will feel a sense of achievement from reaching that goal, and you can always increase it as you see fit.
Make sure you are assessing the time that you have, and applying achievable targets to that time.
Consistently reaching smaller targets will be more beneficial in the long run, in terms of how you feel about your writing, than consistently not reaching excessive targets.
BONUS TIP: Enjoy it!
The most important advice I can give you is to enjoy writing!
Writing is a glorious pursuit. There is so much enjoyment to be found in writing.
It’s cathartic, inspiring, challenging, rewarding, and so many more things in all the right ways.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s hard work!
Hard work is often rewarding, it normally pays off, and writing is no exception.
So, be kind to yourself when you can’t work as hard as you want. Unless you have good reason, don’t let writing stress you out. And have fun.
Over to You
Being the fantastic writers that you are, I am sure that you already have your own tips. What sort of tricks do you use to find time to write around your job?
Do you have anything to add to the points I have made here?
Is there anything I’m mentioned that will fit perfectly into your schedule?
I’d love to hear back from you!