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.
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 meet your daily goals, then please don’t stress. You’re perfectly entitled to go on that impromptu dinner date with your hubby, or rearrange your entire day to get the car fixed before the school-run. Life inevitably happens, and those missed goals are nothing to feel stressed or guilty about.
If you do miss your weekly goals, don’t be tempted to up the word count for the following week. In my experience, this is just a recipe for disaster. Each day you try to catch up is putting more pressure on yourself: missed goals add up, become unmanageable, and then unachievable. Stress levels rise, so you try to add more to your weekly goals, and so continues the vicious circle. Again, allow yourself to be flexible. If you don’t meet your goals, that’s fine! Just continue as normal the following week. Don’t try to catch up if you fall behind.
A Note on Deadlines…
Related to the point above, be wary with setting writing deadlines. For some, deadlines are a great way to maintain consistency, and work extremely well. For me, they do the exact opposite of what they’re meant to do, and just end up stressing me out. I still set loose goals, like I want to finish this or that by the end of the year, but I never set myself the goal of finishing 5 chapters by the end of the week (or the like). Frankly, I have too many deadlines with work to start adding them to my writing as well. Again, this is my personal preference, so give it a go and see what works for you.
Write Around Family Time
Every minute spent with family is precious and you should never sacrifice your family time for the sake of a few extra words. But that doesn’t mean you can’t work around your family. Again, think about your routine: can you write before the kids wake up, or after they go to bed? Can you write while your partner reads, or before they get up in the morning?
My partner works irregular hours, so most of my writing is done when he’s working the night shift, or when he’s on a long day at the weekends. I’ve also discovered that I write incredibly well to the tune of Liverpool FC matches, which my partner is glued to— and those 90 minutes of non-stop writing time certainly add up over the entire Premier League season. Find time to write around your family, not instead of them.
If you know you’ve got a busy working week ahead, plan accordingly. Reduce those goals, or even scrap them completely and just resume when things settle down. Your writing will wait for you. Burnout won’t.
One of my biggest tips is to consider writing as a hobby, rather than a job. I’m not saying to put any less effort into your writing, or any less time, but simply think of it as an activity you want to do, rather than one you must do.
During those hectic three months where I worked two jobs, my book became my self-care. I craved those morning hours editing, because it was the only time I didn’t think about my work, or all the things I still had to do. As crazy as it sounds, editing my book every morning was the only time I could truly relax, and I looked forward to it so much that it never became a chore. Because I thought about it as my hobby, I never felt under any time pressure to get the words out or felt like I had to get up early to work on it. I just...enjoyed it. I got up early to do something fun before work started, and my writing productivity soared as a result.
But if you’re concerned that considering your writing as a hobby, as opposed to a job, could make you appear less professional or dedicated, remember this is just a label change It doesn’t change how dedicated you are, or how passionate you are about your craft. It’s just a label, but it really does make all the difference when trying to balance writing and a full-time job.
Be Kind to Yourself
This is, by far, the hardest thing on this list. It doesn’t sound like it, but learning how to cut ourselves some slack every now and then is a real challenge.
I love writing, but sometimes the last thing I want to do after a full day of presentations, project meetings, and data analysis is to come home and write. So, I’ll read instead, or scribble down new plot ideas or character designs – all of which help fill that creativity well. But honestly, some days I’ll just disappear in the TV, or in the PS4, or do something entirely unrelated to writing – and it’s glorious. It’ll usually take a week to fully recharge my after-work batteries, and then I’ll be back to my normal productivity levels.
Remember, there’s no shame in taking a break from writing. Rest is productive, especially when you’re working a full-time job.
Adapt to the Situation
Lockdown forced me to re-consider how to balance work and writing. Working-from-home meant that my dedicated writing space became my working space, and without that separation, my tried-and-tested routine quickly fell apart. I could no longer write in the evenings, so I had nothing to edit the following mornings. My writing output completely stalled for the majority of 2020.
In scenarios like this, it’s easy to try and force the old routine to keep going. After all, it worked splendidly before—so surely it must work now, right? But as situations change, so too must our writing routines. Don’t force a routine that stops working, because just you’ll end up with burnout instead of a book. Instead, adapt your writing routine around this new schedule or situation.
Go back to basics: what writing routine works with my new working schedule? How am I going to change my writing goals to reflect this unprecedented rise in work stress?
For me, I admitted that writing just wasn’t happening and hit the brakes entirely. Instead, I focussed on other avenues of my author career, such as constructing my website, or preparing my books for publication – all relatively easy, important tasks I could do whilst I poured the bulk of my energy into my day job. Eventually, when I felt ready to write again, I incorporated everything I’ve talked out here and did eventually discover a new writing routine. Will it last? Who knows, but I’m ready to adapt it again if necessary.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way. It just takes some trial and error to find what works best. And as I said at the beginning, we writers are a persistent bunch. Never let a full-time job get in the way of telling a good tale.
But if you are balancing writing with a full-time job, I hope these points helped. Just remember to find a routine that works for you, take regular breaks, and don’t let writer’s guilt stop you from living your best life.
Meet Esme Carmichael
Esme Carmichael is an independent author based in Liverpool (UK) and a Brand Ambassador for The Writer Community. She has been writing stories for as long as she can remember and published her debut novel in January 2021: a dark, dystopian fantasy called 'The End of Everything'. This is the first book in 'The Connection Series', which Esme began writing almost 10 years ago. The second book in the series The Mover of Mountains is also out now on Amazon.
Esme enjoys putting a dark twist on familiar tropes, creates stories with vivid worlds and writes characters full of snark, body and life. She's currently working her way through editing and publishing her long list of stories, ranging from high fantasy tales to paranormal romances. When not writing, Esme works full time as an ocean scientist and is gradually working her way through her ever growing TBR pile.