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Writing around a day job

I knew from a very early age that I would need a day job if I wanted to be a writer. I mean really early — I was five or six when I came to the practical realization that fiction might not be lucrative and I’d need to do something else to pay the bills.

These days, I’m a little older and a little wiser, plus a lot busier. My day job is incredible, but it’s also exhausting, and I often find my energy sapped entirely by the time my workday comes to a close. Thankfully, I have the most supportive husband, plus no kids to vie for my attention… but even so it can be a struggle to make time to write.

Not only that, but most of the writing experts agree that the best way to create and retain a productivity habit is to do it at the same time every day.

Ha! Slim chance of that if you have a day job with any inconsistencies, whether that’s parenting, software development, or steaming milk!

Though I’ve never been able to create a “one consistent time” habit in my life — it’s something I still hope I can do someday — over the years I’ve developed some strategies that work well for me when it comes to getting in the words. In case you find even one of them helpful as well, here’s my list…

  • This one’s new for me, but dictation is something you can do anywhere you’ve got your phone. (I’m using this app called Just Press Record on my iPhone, but the native voice recording app will work as well.) I prefer to jot down “on the go” notes by hand, because I remember them better if I do, but I’ll record a voice memo in a pinch. It doesn’t feel like progress that’s as tangible as if I’ve actually written, but it’s still progress! Bonus if your app (like JPR) also transcribes what you say.
  • Make sure to put your latest work into OneNote or a similar cloud-based program that you can access on your phone, so you can pick up where you left off at all times. Instead of opening your browser or your favorite mobile game, open your latest work instead and add at least a few words!
  • Set aside time every day. Even if it’s only five minutes. Even if that five minutes is somewhere totally different depending on the day. If you can, try to get in your writing time before your job starts — my creative motivation often starts high and declines over the course of the day, despite my being a night owl.
  • Track your progress so you can watch how much better and faster you get by putting in the time. It’s a great motivator!
  • Timebox your writing. As a promise to yourself and your loved ones that you won’t spend forever writing (or simply staring at the page), put your writing time in a box. Pledge to write for an hour — no more, no less. Stand up and stop typing when the timer goes off.
  • Do writing sprints, meaning set a timer and type furiously until it goes off. Track how many words you get and how many minutes it took you to write them, and you’ll see massive progress almost immediately.
  • Use a habit app like Habitica, if you’re motivated by gamifying your life. My daily habit is set as “Write something!” because I didn’t want to put too much pressure on myself — even writing ten words counts, as long as the spirit of the habit is met.
  • Set tangible goals and deadlines for yourself. I use NaNoWriMo as a very convenient goal (50,000 words) and deadline (November 30), but you don’t have to start with such lofty goals and tight timelines. Here’s a reasonable sample goal: 10,000 words by the end of the year — that’s less than 30 words per day.
  • If you’re really struggling to move forward, try Write or Die. It’s a desperation measure, but it’s very effective!

If you’re someone who writes collaboratively and regularly, and you’re interested in being part of an author collective, please contact me! I’d love to talk.

Published inWriting about writingWriting process