I was honoured to be asked by Craig Martelle to be on a panel at 20Booksto50k Edinburgh this week, talking about juggling writing with a day job.
Craig asked us questions about the tools we had each used to help us juggle writing and work.
By way of backstory, here’s my journey.
I’ve always wanted to write. As a kid, I always had a notebook, then a typewriter, a word processor and eventually a computer. I was hooked on writing stories and creating characters.
Then I grew up, got a job, started a family, and before I knew it, writing was something that I used to do. I’d occasionally start a piece, then get distracted by life.
At the end of 2017, I realised I was never going to have everything lined up perfectly. My life was never going to suddenly throw me an extra 10 hours a week to use writing.
And so, I made a commitment to myself to get on with it. I did it quietly, launching a pen name and publishing 11 books in 2018 while working and raising a child with complex additional needs.
I kept it quiet because I was doing it for myself. I didn’t want any recognition or applause, I was just doing something that mattered to *me*.
Along the way, I found a tribe of amazing author friends who are such a blessing to me, and I started making some money. I developed a loyal readership.
I started to talk about what I was doing a little more and, often, I was asked how I managed to juggle writing with my work.
I’ve been planning a book on time management for writers for about a year now, and this talk and the feedback from it have really forced me to look at that again and commit to getting it done and released this year. (To keep up to date with those plans, join my eMail newsletter.)
In this post, I thought I’d share some of the things that have worked for me, and maybe they’ll work for you too.
So here’s 5 tips to juggling writing with a day job*:
- Understand your natural circadian rhythms. I touched on this in the 20Booksto50k talk. Your circadian rhythms are your body’s natural cycles. Yours may be different to mine. And, the kicker is, while you can work outside your natural rhythms to some extent, you’re always going to get the maximum impact if you work with your natural body clock. For me, my body shuts down at 10pm and I’m not doing to be productive after that time (note: if I’m working to a massively important deadline, I can trample across this hard line, but only short term), but I can wake up as early as I want and after a minute of wake-up time, I’ll pretty much be fully alert and super productive. Questions to ask yourself: What are your natural rhythms? When do you have the most energy? Is it easier for you to wake up early or stay up late? Are you most efficient in the morning? Do you have a post-lunch energy slump? Think back to your most productive occasions; what time of day have they been?
- Focus on one thing. Multitasking is a myth. We are becoming a society of people who are never really focused on only one thing, and it’s to our detriment. Writing while having one eye on Facebook, or your phone in case anyone needs you, isn’t productive. Or, it isn’t as productive as being single focused would be. When you’re writing, don’t be doing anything else as well. What does that look like? Your phone out of view, your Internet browsers closed, your WiFi switched off. If you’re not used to focused work, this will be a struggle. Focus is like any other muscle, you need to build it over time. (Bonus tip: if you’re terrified that your spouse / the school / etc may need to reach you in an emergency, you could do worse than buy an old school phone and only giving the number out to those people. Don’t install any apps on it. Tell those people to ring that number only in case of emergencies, and then turn your regular all-singing-all-Facebooking mobile off and turn the old clunky one on loud. Keep it out of view, and know you’ll hear the phone ring if there is an emergency. Bonus bonus tip: You may have to train some people into understanding what is and isn’t an emergency!)
- Ask for help. As the saying goes, no man is an island, and no woman either. Balancing a day job and writing is a lot to do, and to pull it off you may need to ask people for help. Personally, I had a lot of help from my husband with childcare. We got into a routine of me getting up around 5am and leaving the house straight away to go to a coffee shop and write until going to the office. I couldn’t do that every day because sometimes he needed to leave early, but whenever the schedule allowed, that’s what we did. He also took on a bigger share of the housework and all of those myriad duties that are involved in running a house. That didn’t happen by magic. We talked about it and I asked him to help. Who can you ask to help? Maybe for you it’s similar to me – some childfree time and some more help around the house. Maybe it’s sending your toddler to nursery an extra day a week. Maybe it’s asking your sister to take a share of all of the medical appointments you’re currently taking your elderly mother to. Whatever you need – ask.
- Start saying no. This may be controversial, but I don’t agree with the saying that we can have it all. Not all at the same time, anyway. If you’re working, and writing, and spending time with your loved ones, there’s every chance you won’t also be able to keep up with keeping your home pristine. You may not be able to train for an ultra marathon. You may not be able to honour that commitment to spend 4 hours a day on Facebook or 3 hours a day watching TV. Make peace with the fact that you probably have a triangle of priorities – your family, your writing, your day job. Let other things go – at least for now. What does this look like? The possibilities are endless, but for me it looks like hiring a cleaner (thanks Sue!), hiring a gardener (thanks Jerry!), never washing my own car, having simple easy meals, and not watching much TV.
- Consider plotting. The ‘plotter vs pantser’ debate is fierce, and I’m not suggesting that any way is superior. But, if you currently don’t plan, and you find you’re wasting some of your precious writing time trying to work out what the heck happens next, at least give plotting a try. For me, plotting just a simple one or two sentences for each chapter allows me to know where I’m headed. I don’t have time to sit and wonder what’s going to happen at the start of each writing session. You probably don’t have that time, either.
I’ll be writing more on this in the future, but if you do need any more help with this, feel free to reach out to me either on the Contact page here or by messaging me on Facebook. I’m friendly 🙂
*The point here really is that you’re juggling writing with another big commitment. Being a stay at home parent could definitely be your “day job”; so could raising a child with extra needs or caring for an elder.