3 Things You Have to do to Write with a Day Job

Guest Post by Colleen M. Story

Most writers don’t make a full-time salary off their work.

According to a 2014 Digital Book World and Writer’s Digest Author Survey, over half of traditionally published authors have yearly earnings of less than $1,000 a year. Only 1.3 percent of them earn more than $100,000 a year.

That means most of us have to keep a day job and do our writing at the same time. Not an easy task, by any means.

In fact, if you asked most writers, balancing the two is probably one of the most difficult things they do. It’s sort of like managing two jobs, but tougher because writing requires so much focus, energy, and creativity—all things that tend to suffer when we’re fatigued.

So how does one find writing time when working full time? It’s tricky, but obviously it can be done, or there wouldn’t be so many successful writers out there doing it.

Each person must determine what works best for him or her, but I’ve found three things that can really help, no matter how crazy your schedule may seem.

1. Make writing as high a priority as work.

Most of us make work our first priority (after family, of course). It makes sense. That regular paycheck keeps a roof over our heads and food in our bellies. If we lose it, we’re in deep trouble, and that’s a scary thought.

The danger is that we get so involved in work that we develop a sort of tunnel vision that blocks out other things that are important to us, like writing (or other creative endeavors).

I worked a corporate job for three years before I launched my full-time freelance business, so I know how this goes. It’s easy to become entrenched in the job, chasing a good word from the boss and working your tail off in the hopes of getting a raise or a bonus. After two years of that, I took a step back.

The job was good. The rewards were there, and I had received them. But the work I really wanted to do—my writing—was being ignored. I was putting all my energy into working for someone else’s dream, not my own.

I realized if I wanted to make progress on what mattered to me, I had to rearrange my priorities. So I made two changes: I started spending the first thirty minutes of my day at work writing my own stuff, and I started leaving work on time.

The first change was easy, because I arrived at the office earlier than anyone else and had the office to myself. I also noticed that my early writing put me into a creative mindset that actually benefitted my work for the rest of the day.

The second one was a little tougher. We all feel that pressure to stay longer and impress management with our commitment. But I had done that for two years. I had established my value to the company, so it was time to give them the hours they paid for, and take back the rest.

Nobody complained, and after a few weeks, I got into the habit of leaving when the workday was done. I was surprised to find that I was still able to keep up with all my projects, while giving myself back the leisure time I deserved.

I’ve since discovered that spending more hours at work actually reduces productivity—something more managers should realize! But as employees, we can’t wait for them to do so. We have to take charge of our own schedules.

2. Write no matter how you feel.

The other problem we all face is being tired after work. A full day’s work creates fatigue, no matter who you are, so you have to deal with it somehow.

Many writers write first thing in the morning to be sure they get it in when their minds are fresh. This can really work, but if you’re a night owl, you’re going to have a tough go of it. You may set the alarm and drag out of bed, but you’re likely to feel half asleep even as you turn the computer on.

Maybe you just can’t do mornings, so you try to write after work, or after dinner, or before bed. Whatever time you choose, you’re likely to face fatigue. What can you do about it?

Write anyway.

Write no matter how you feel. We often think that we can’t produce good work if we’re tired, but that’s not true. A lot of that fatigue is simply resistance and fear. It’s difficult to get started on a project like writing. It requires a lot of focus, and we fear we won’t be up to it.

That’s why we have to make ourselves start typing. Whatever you have to do to get over that initial hump, do it. Tell yourself you’ll write for only five minutes. Tell yourself it’s okay if you write badly. Tell yourself you’re just practicing. Tell yourself it doesn’t matter. Just write. Write no matter how you feel. Get something down. You’re likely to surprise yourself.

3. Remind yourself of the long view every day.

The last thing you need to do is to jerk yourself out of that day job tunnel vision, and find ways to remind yourself every day of the long view of your life.

Writing is important to you, or you wouldn’t be wondering how to do it while working a day job. So you need to remind yourself of that importance, in some visual and prominent way. It can be as simple as posting a note on your refrigerator that says, “Have you written today?”

It can be as complex as a detailed collage in which you attach pictures that represent your writing dreams. It can be an email you send yourself reminding you of your dream, or a pact you make with a friend to remind each other of what’s important to you.

Work takes up at least eight hours of our daily lives, so we have to fight. We have to regain control of our own thoughts and motivations. We have to remind ourselves that this way of life is just temporary, and that our long-term goals are critical to our future happiness.

There’s nothing wrong with work. In many ways, it’s a blessing. We just have to keep it in its place. Remind yourself what you’re working for, and take some action toward your dream every day, no matter what.

The more you do that, the more your motivation and excitement will build, and the more true balance you’ll achieve.

Work is great, but work isn’t your life. See yourself five years down the road. Where do you want to be? Make your choices accordingly.


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Colleen M. Story has worked in the creative writing industry for over twenty years. Her latest release, Overwhelmed Writer Rescue, helps writers and other creative artists escape the tyranny of the to-do list and nurture the genius within. Her novels include Loreena’s Gift, a Foreword Reviews’ INDIES Book of the Year Awards winner. She has authored thousands of articles for publications like Healthline and Women’s Health and ghostwritten books on back pain, nutrition, and cancer. She is the founder of Writing and Wellness, and works as a motivational speaker and workshop leader. Find more information on her author website, or follow her on Twitter.

2 thoughts on “3 Things You Have to do to Write with a Day Job

  1. jmh says:

    This is an excellent post. As someone who used to juggle both, I agree with all of Colleen’s tips. Sadly, I just couldn’t do the juggling act anymore. My lifelong dream was always the thing that suffered, and I kept seeing my writing colleagues publish book after book while I struggled to finish one rewrite.

    I still don’t know if my full-time novelist gamble will work out, or pay off, and it’s a near-constant source of fear and worry. But I needed to try. If it doesn’t pan out, at least I know I gave it a shot.

    Thanks, Dave and Colleen!


    • Dave Burnham says:

      As you say. if it doesn’t work out you will have given it a shot. Without that decision you would always have been wondering “What if?” I wish you nothing but the best in your full-time writing venture, Holli.


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