Writer tips

Writing with a day job can be tough. You come home from work exhausted. You wake up with barely enough time to get ready and get to work. There just doesn’t seem like there’s enough time in the day to write. Still, you’ve got that killer idea. You dream of writing that screenplay, TV pilot, novel, or play. You want to be a writer, dammit! How can you get out of this rut?

First, you need to accept writing your project may take longer than you like. You’ll need to write it in smaller increments. You won’t be able to have hours at a time to write. Yes, it would be ideal to have days upon days to write. It would be fantastic to write without interruption or distraction. It would be bliss to have someone bring you your meals and take the debris away after you’ve finished allowing you to continue writing endlessly day and night. However, that’s not in the cards right now – at least not on a regular basis.

On the regular, you need to write in smaller time blocks. And you need to be okay with it. For example, during the week, you could set aside 25 minutes a day to write on your project. Then on the weekend, you could schedule an hour to write on your project.

I know that doesn’t sound like a lot of time, but the day job writing schedule doesn’t allot for a ton of writing time. And you’ll be surprised at how much you can accomplish in a short amount of time. Even just breaking a little story each day is, well, a little bit each day.

Why didn’t I suggest eight hours on the weekend or sixteen hours? Well, you have to do laundry, clean your house, wash your car, grocery shop, take your dog to the vet, get your hair cut, etc. You may need to do regular chores that you can’t do during the week. If you plan too much writing on the weekend, if you set a goal that’s simply unrealistic, you set yourself up for failure. Plus, you also have to schedule some relaxing time with your family and friends. All work and no play is a formula for burnout.

If you can write two hours or more on one weekend, great! If you can only get the hour in, fantastic! You’re hitting your goal. You’re still pushing your project forward. And you’re doing more than you were when you weren’t writing.

The ideal-writing-environment-or-no-writing will kill your writing dreams.

Aspiring writers have to learn to write even when conditions aren’t ideal. Many writers feel like they can only if everything is ideal. This may mean they have complete silence, or they have four hours to themselves to write, or they can go to a coffee shop to write, etc. If these writers don’t have an ideal writing environment, they can’t write. Period. Marrying writing time to an ideal writing environment will kill your writing dreams. Accepting you may not have an ideal writing environment – whether that’s time, place, sound, etc. – will increase your chances of success.

In your non-ideal writing environment, you may find yourself struggling the first several 25-minute sessions. That’s okay. Eventually, you’ll start cranking out words and pages. You’ll adjust. You may be able to work your way up to a two-page minimum per day for a screenplay and a couple of hundred words per day for prose. But just try the 25-minute time frame at the beginning because it’s your time that seems limited at first.

Once you’ve got some writing under your belt, try editing during your downtime at work or during lunch. (Obviously, if your job doesn’t have downtime, don’t edit at work!) Editing can be interrupted pretty easily. Plus, you can get back into the editing groove quickly. So five minutes here and there works well for editing.

Writing with a day job can be a challenge, but many writers have completed scripts, novels, and plays while working, raising families, and being part of the human race. Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Toni Morrison was an editor at Random House and taught university literature while writing novels. (“Daily Rituals”, Slate.com, May 2, 2013). Joseph Heller wrote copy for magazine advertising by day and Catch-22 at night – for eight years! (“Daily Rituals”, Slate.com, May 2, 2013 and “Joseph Heller”, Wikipedia). William Faulkner worked as a night supervisor at a university power plant while he wrote As I Lay Dying (“Daily Rituals”, Slate.com, May 2, 2013). And probably the most diligent day working writer was Anthony Trollope. A civil servant for the post office, Trollope would write for three hours each morning before his shift. He did this for 33 years and published more than two dozen novels! (“Daily Rituals”, Slate.com, May 2, 2013).

Working a day (or night) job and writing can be crazy-busy. However, it can be doable, if you accept you may not have your preferred ideal writing conditions and it may take longer to write your project. In the end, it will be worth it. You’ll have finished your project. You’ll have proven you can write under a difficult situation. You may just find that the process of writing fed your creative soul and made that difficult situation more fun.