How to Balance Writing with the Day Job

I completed the second draft of The Mover of Mountains whilst working two jobs.


Weekdays, I’d work 9-to-5 as a numerical modeller; evenings and weekends, I’d work on my PhD. This continued for three months, and it was exhausting. So when my family realised I was getting up an hour earlier every day to edit my book, they were shocked. “I don’t know how you do it,” they’d always say.


Many of us work full time while writing; after all, we need to pay for those editing bills. We are masters of time management, cramming in 1000 words whenever we can. It’s not unusual for me to have the laptop on the kitchen worktop, squeezing in the odd dialogue tag between the risotto stirs.


But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Time can feel constantly stretched; burnout can easily threaten. That horrible sense of guilt can be just around the corner: “No, why are you watching a movie tonight, you need to write write write.”


On average, one-third of the day is spent working, and another third sleeping. That leaves only 8 hours to cook, clean, socialise, look after yourselves, look after others, have fun… That’s not a lot of time left for writing. But it’s certainly possible to be a writer/author and still maintain a full-time job, and we’re nothing if not persistent…


Find a Routine That Works


Never underestimate the power of a good routine—and a routine that works for you.


Routines are unique, and what works for one person might not work for another. I knew someone who did all her creative writing between the hours of 12am and 4am, another who got up at 5am. Listen to your individual needs. Before lockdown, I’d write best in the evenings and then edit what I’d written early the next morning. I even maximised my morning potential by training myself to be an Early Bird, rather than my natural Night Owl (huge shoutout to caffeine for helping me through that transition). So monitor what works best for you, and don’t be afraid to try out new routines until you find one that clicks.


Consistency


Once you’ve found that routine, stick to it. They say it takes approximately 66 days to turn a repetitive task into an automatic habit. I’ve been editing in the mornings for so long now that it feels strange and unnatural for me to do anything else. But the best thing about consistency is the results it inevitably achieves: if you only manage to write 50 words a day, that’s still over 1500 words by the end of the month. Small progress is still progress.


Be Careful with Goal Setting


Your goals should be three things: manageable, attainable, and flexible. Telling ourselves to write 2000 words every day, whilst balancing a full-time job and family-life, is just setting ourselves up for failure.


Unmanageable, unattainable goals do nothing but impede progress, first by stripping our confidence, then our motivation, and then ultimately our enjoyment. As soon as my writing starts to feel like a chore, I know I need to reconsider my goals.


My best advice is to start small. If you want to write every day, then set a timer for 5 minutes and write non-stop, gradually working up the time each day until you find that sweet spot. Then you can set those daily writing goals because you know how much you can realistically, consistently write.


But this is where goal flexibility comes in: if you don’t me