Writing while Working a Day Job

Writers love talking about their creative routines because it’s comforting to give shape and reason to what is often a mysterious and shifting process. 

We need a slew of tools and strategies to support us because our lives and schedules are constantly changing, and for most of us, writing is a passion that fills the fringes of our time. 

I once read a productivity article that said when things get busy, the first activity most people drop is exercise. 

For myself, that activity is writing. (Followed by exercise.)

To clarify, I stop working on personal fiction projects that no one is waiting for or wants. (Yet.) 

There are two things I know to be true: 

  1. Resisting writing is harder than writing 
  2. It is easy not to write. 

These two points may seem contradictory, but it’s not that simple. 

Resisting writing refers to the troubled relationship we can sometimes have with our craft. This can look like procrastination, perfectionism, impostor-syndrome, and the inner-critic. Resistence happens when the idea of writing makes you feel anxitious, restless, not good enough, or clueless (where is this story even going?)

It is easy not to write when the demands of life increase. It is easy not to write when there is a mountain of important and urgent tasks that need to be completed. Why? Because it plays into the idea that writing is a waste of time; writing is optional. 

Of course, there are times when it is correct for writing to go on the backburner and for other aspects of our lives to become a priority. Maybe you’re moving house, changing jobs, having a baby, grieving a loss, or dealing with a health issue. 

And then there are times when, unintentionally, writing slips away. You’re not necessarily dealing with any of these big life changes; you just got caught up on the hamster wheel of life. Maybe work is busy and your social life is full. 

So how do you make writing happen when your life is busy?

For myself, personally, I’m a habit tracker. The best thing about this ludicrously simple strategy is that I can see, at a glance, where I am spending my time. 

A week without writing is one thing. A month … that’s when I know I need to make changes. 

This is when we need to lean on the tools and strategies that we’ve gathered through all of the writing advice we’ve read. And I know you’ve read a lot of it. 

If your work day is spent in front of a computer, you probably don’t want to sit on a computer when you get home. Yes, you could work with paper and pen instead, but another option would be getting your writing done before you go to work, or during your lunch break. If that doesn’t work, consider dictation. Maybe you leave writing for the weekends and during the week you engage with your story by doing content research (reading non-fiction books or articles that would inform your story), sketching out scenes on paper, building character profiles, editing a print out of a chapter…you get the idea.

If you get home from work feeling burnt out and like you have nothing else to give, maybe reach for a ‘micro’ win. Write two crappy sentences. Spend five minutes researching your topic online. Watch some ‘infotainment’ videos on YouTube that are relevant to your book. Do an outline for a scene that you can write tomorrow. Sit on the couch and think about your book for five minutes, or my personal favourite, turn your daily walk into thinking sessions. Instead of listening to a podcast, music, or audio book, spend that time daydreaming about your book. 

It is so easy not to write, but it is so important that we find a way to engage with our work on a regular basis, even if only in a small way. If you’re a writer, then you have to write. That doesn’t mean you need to pump out 2000 words every day, but it does mean that in order to feel happy, to feel as though you are making progress, to feel connected to that aspect of your personality, you need to look for opportunities to engage with your creativity and imagination. 

For most of us, finding the time to write will be a never-ending struggle. Creating and then protecting your writing time takes effort and a willingness to expend energy that we don’t always have. But even a little time spent writing can give us a small boost, a hit of dopamine, and the thrill of a big tick in our habit tracker. 

You don’t have to write every day to finish a book, but you do have to write some days and you’ll be a happier creator if you do.  

Follow-through_ How to complete a long-term writing project (1)

Need help finishing that short story, novel, memoir? No problem. The Follow-Through Formula is a free video training which unpacks the five strategies you can use to go from idea to completed project.

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