How to Stay Sane While Building Your Writing Career Part Time

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Do you have all day, every day, to write?

Nope?

Me neither.

In fact, pretty much every professional writer — whether they’re a novelist, freelancer, nonfiction author or blogger — has to start building their career around an already-busy life.

Maybe you’re working full time in a 9 to 5 role. Maybe you’ve got young kids. Maybe your life is packed with volunteering, caring or other commitments.

Or maybe you’re unwell or have a disability, and that means you can only write for an hour or two each day.

It can be really frustrating trying build your career when you can only work part time.

But it can be done … and you don’t need to drive yourself (and your loved ones) insane while doing it. Here’s how.

Don’t compare yourself with full-timers

It’s all too easy to look at what other writers are doing and feel bad that you can’t match up.

But if you’re comparing yourself with someone who’s working full time (or close to) and who’s established in his career, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.

Sure, Joe Blogger can turn out five great posts a week when he’s making a full-time living from his blog and doesn’t have to work another job.

Sure, Ann Author can put out a whole trilogy of novels every year — but she has all day, every day to work on them because she has a backlist of nine novels providing her with an income.

You don’t know what life was like when they started out. Perhaps Joe Blogger struggled for two years before he had enough of a blog audience to make even $100 a month. Perhaps Ann Author took 10 years to write her first novel, because she was working around her kids.

If you must make comparisons, compare yourself today with yourself a month ago (or three months ago, or a year ago). How have you improved since then? What have you learned? What have you accomplished?

Focus on one core area

In the early days of your career, it’s tempting to cast a wide net: to try out lots of different types of writing and lots of different marketing methods, hoping that something will pay off.

Spreading your attention too thin, though, means you’ll struggle to make headway in any area — especially as your time is limited.

Instead, choose one core area to focus on. Don’t try to get your blog underway and write a novel at the same time. Don’t offer every writing service possible to your clients. Pick one speciality, and stick with it.

You’ll learn faster, you’ll build up your experience and expertise quickly, and you’ll make encouraging progress that helps keep you motivated.

Find your best (available) time of day to write

Are you a morning lark or a night owl? Different people work best at different times of day — here’s a fascinating visual look at the routines of some famous creative people.

I’ve always been a morning person, though these days I find I can write well in the afternoons too. Evenings are my biggest “slump” time — I find it hard to focus and be creative then.

Chances are, you already have a reasonable idea of when you’re at your best, but it’s worth experimenting to see if a different time of day could suit you better (especially if your day job or other commitment takes up your best writing hours).

Think about:

  • Getting up 30 minutes earlier to write before the rest of the family is awake. Leave everything set up to write the night before (e.g. your laptop ready on the kitchen table).
  • Writing during your lunch hour — can you get out of the office to a coffee shop or library, so colleagues don’t disturb you?
  • Using your best hours on the weekends — maybe you’d love to write between 9am and 11am, and you can’t do that during the week.

Move toward cutting or quitting other work

This might seem a long way off right now, but if you plan for it, you might be able to cut down your hours at your day job sooner than you think.

If you currently have a full-time job, could you work four days a week instead of five, giving you one full day to write? That might mean saving up an emergency fund, cutting your spending or ensuring you have some regular writing income.

If you do need to work your full-time hours, could you work them in a condensed way across four or four-and-a-half days?

If your life is full of voluntary commitments, can you cut back on some of these? You’re not being selfish if you make time for your writing career — it’s important and worthwhile.

If you have young children, can you pay for some childcare or arrange an informal childcare swap with a friend?

Rearranging the elements of your life takes time. Getting clear about what you want and working out what steps you need to take to get there helps you make real progress. Simply carrying on and hoping things change won’t get you far.

Create systems to make writing easier

Whatever sort of writing you do, there’s a good chance you carry out the same sorts of tasks over and over again.

That could be answering emails, writing blog posts, posting updates on social media, carrying out work for clients or almost anything else.

Every task, however complex, can be broken down into a process of steps. Creating a checklist or a template could save you a huge amount of time.

Creating a checklist or a template could save you a huge amount of time in your writing. Click To Tweet

For instance, if you find yourself spending hours responding to prospective client‘s enquiries, you could create an “FAQ” page on your site that addresses some of the most common ones.

Even something like “write next novel chapter” could be turned into a process — perhaps you’ll spend five minutes brainstorming ideas for the chapter, then five minutes deciding on the order of events, before jumping into the writing itself.

Systems will:

  • Save you time: it’s quicker to add a couple of personalising lines to a standard template email than to write the whole thing from scratch every time you reply to a client inquiry.
  • Save you brainpower: it’s much easier to run through a checklist than to have everything in your head (worrying constantly that you’ll forget a crucial step).
  • Make it easier for you to hand work over: at some stage, your business won’t be able to grow any further without you hiring help.

I have every sympathy for writers building a career while juggling other commitments too. I started out writing around my full-time day job, and now have a toddler daughter (and another baby on the way).

The truth, though, is that pretty much every writer has to fit their writing around everything else when they first start out. You want to make this phase as easy as possible, and you also want to give yourself a good chance of exiting it quickly — so you can write full time (or as near to full time as you want).

Do you have a particular problem or struggle that’s holding you back as a part-time writer? Or have you successfully made the part-time-to-full-time transition?

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Ali Luke blogs about the art, craft and business of writing at Aliventures (when her 3-year-old isn’t demanding to “write on mummy’s laptop”). Her in-depth post Your Two-Year Plan for Writing, Editing and Publishing... .

Aliventures | @aliventures

Ali Luke
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Comments

  1. Hi Ali,
    Great post. I’m in that struggle (near the beginning, actually) right now, and love your suggestions. I didn’t really realize that I have been subconsciously comparing my progress to authors who are doing it full time – no wonder I’ve felt “behind”!

    • Thanks, Michael! It is particularly tough early on, I think — hang on in there. 🙂

      You never really know what another writer’s life is like unless you live with them! Even if you’re comparing yourself to other “part-time” writers, they might still have a very different set of commitments from you. It’s still a struggle for me *not* to make those comparisons though!

  2. Great tips, Ali!

    I’m at the beginning of my two year plan to become a full-time writer. My main challenge is that I spread myself too thin. I have a boat load of obligations up to the end of this year, but next year my goal is to scale back and focus on building my business and writing.

    • Thanks Elke! And best of luck with the next two years. A lot of writers struggle with spreading themselves too thin — it can take a lot of self-discipline (and sometimes a fair bit of courage) to say “no” both to ourselves and to other people.

      Michael Hyatt has some great advice on his blog on this issue — see http://michaelhyatt.com/how-to-say-no.html (and search his blog for “saying no” for other posts and a podcast on the same topic).

  3. Awesome, awesome, all kinds of awesome, Ali. I really needed this reminder. I’m in a weekly critique group with four amazing women. However…three of them are traditionally published, two of those have been paid of six-figures for their novels, one has hit the NYT Bestseller list multiple times.

    PRESSURE? I have pretty good systems in place (I know I write best in the mornings and answer emails in the afternoons, etc.). I want to reread your post to restructure a few processes in my writing life. Thanks!

    • Thanks Marcy! And wow, that sounds like a fantastic critique group to be part of — though I can understand feeling pressured. It’s great you’ve found what times of day work best for writing — and it might be that just a few little tweaks to your daily routine make a big difference. Good luck!

      • Thanks, Ali. I leave my critique group SO JAZZED every Wednesday night that it takes me FOREVER to fall asleep. I’m too excited from all that took place and everyone’s progress and watching such amazing books being created. I really did love your post, and, as always, appreciate your help.

  4. Ali, I enjoyed reading your post! It hits home to right now as I recently started to some freelance writing while being a stay at home mom of twin toddlers. It’s tough, but I set boundaries and get all the child care help I can get in order to dedicated time to freelancing. Thanks!

    • Disregard the two “to’s” in my second sentence. Had to handle a tantrum from my daughter.

      • Oh my goodness, I can only imagine what it must be like dealing with twins (one toddler seems quite enough!) Well done you for making the time for writing, and best of luck with wherever the freelancing takes you in future. 🙂

  5. David Russell says:

    Hello Ali,
    First, congratulations in advance on your soon-to-arrive newborn. We are currently providing 5 to 6 evenings a week of daycare for our young granddaughter. I lost my job last Spring, so have mornings and afternoons to write. On the comparing yourself, I feel much like a young person at the entry level though chronologically I am not.
    My spouse is supportive but also human enough to want to see me “bring in something” that’s green, has at least 3 figures, and made in the USA.
    Today, writing content articles for a concern is on hold while I wait for them to evaluate the 5 articles written.Currently, an article is pending publication with a EZine.
    -My first-published novel will be 3-years-old in November, and selling slowly but surely!
    I do have a disability which I prefer to call a handicapability, and looking for things beyond a paycheck to see that as tangible and beneficial to loved ones is the order of most days, i.e. making pot-roast for dinner.
    Summarily, the past 6 months the challenge has been to see myself from what can I do, versus this is what I do professionally 28 hours a week. Now, I am off to educate myself on reading a twice-monthly instructive email received for writers.
    Warmest Regards to you and your readers,
    David

    • Thanks for the lovely comment, David! It sounds like you’re making some great, steady progress, while being a wonderful support to your family. Best of luck with the articles you’ve been working on, and perhaps with the next novel too? 🙂

  6. I so needed to read this just now. Most days, I manage just fine. But lately, I’ve really been struggling with the whole wanting-to-quit-my-job-but-can’t-right-now thing. Reading this reminded me that my job isn’t an impediment to my writing. I just need to be creative with it.

    I am also consistently guilty of over committing on other projects so I need to cut that out as well. This is a key point and I’m so glad you brought it up. A major component of being more productive is first determining whether you should be doing a certain thing in the first place.

  7. Ali,

    I really enjoyed your post, as it “hit home” for me like it did for many of your other readers. You make practical points that can be applied over the long haul and not just in the beginning phase of a writing career.

    I suspect that I’m just one of many who love their day jobs and have no real intention of making writing their full-time job anytime soon, yet would not give up the joys of putting pen to paper (or fingers to keys) for anything.

    To keep at it, though, we have to make writing a core part of our daily regimens, and your tips add to my tool set for doing just that.

    Best,
    Adam

  8. Hi Ali,

    Thank you for such a powerful and beneficial post. I really liked the points about creating a writing system and finding the best time to write. Both these points really planted deep for me.

    I have been doing this full time for the past 2 and half years and still find it difficult to find that right time to write. Not necessarily because I’m not creative at certain times of the day, in fact, every time I sit down to write I make myself creative for that very writing project, however, I still have to battle with those within my social circles that do not understand what it means to be a writer.

    It is very difficult to deal with friends who don’t get it. 😉

  9. Can you speak more about choosing a speciality focus? Do you mean within the freelance realm or between freelancing and fiction? At this point, I am planning on working with a few nonprofits to see if I really want to write freelance, at all. I know I want to write fiction.

    Thanks,
    Justin

  10. It feels like this post was specially written form me! For the last couple of month I’ve been struggling with this issue.

    I took a part time job so I can earn some money before my writing career kicks off. But every morning when I go to work I feel that I’m betraying my true will, spending my energy in a call center instead of invest it in my writing.

    I know that this job is exactly what’s helping me develop my writing. And all I have to do is quit this obsessive need for perfection and organise my daily schedule better.

    Thank you for reminding me of my purpose. Loved your words!

    • Thank you for your comment, Silvia! I’m glad the post resonated with you, and that you’re finding a way to earn money while launching your writing career. Best of luck finding the balance that works for you!

      Heather
      TWL Assistant Editor

  11. Greetings!

    Great posting! Thanks! I’m going to make a checklist!

  12. Oh my goodness, thank you so much for writing this! I’m a part-time writer trying to manage with day job and it has been very challenging. You made some great points for me to keep in my mind such as comparing myself to full-time writers and bloggers. They get a lot more done and it frustrates me at times when it shouldn’t. Thanks again – I’ll definitely be sharing this!

  13. Thanks for this Ali.

    I’ve made the decision last year to work towards writing full-time but it’s darn hard. I’m a full-time high school English teacher and have to be to pay the bills. Another layer to the struggle is I can’t just “cut down” office hours. They’re locked in. Besides the classroom 9-5 there are another 10 hours/week that are chewed up by planning and marking. Ultimately, it’s meant cutting back on sleep when deadlines are really tight and sneaking in writing whenever I can. I committed to writing two blog posts a week and have been successful for two months now. I do very minimal freelance writing on the side, but am quite choosy with what I agree to.

    It’s about building a portfolio and saving cash. One day, I hope to be able to take the time I need to write that novel that’s rolling around in my head. 🙂

  14. Kenneth S. says:

    Wow, these tips are great. I’m currently in school, writing and will potentially have part-time job. I am in the business of writing reviews and creative aspects of that work. I am 18, on my way to college and juggling two careers. Even though I have some time in the morning, I still seem to struggle to make deadlines for the client. I wish to earn enough money to make it through college to gain a degree in computer science. My plan is that this career will enable me to have enough time to finish writing my novel that has been on hold for quite some time. The novel is titled, “Still Years” and is under the genre of a Dark Romance. The biggest problem I face when writing anything is the decades old condition, writers block. Would you happen to have any advice for writers block?

    Thanks!

    Kenneth.

  15. Every person has their own choice of career building and therefore they used to choose their career path as according to their interest and choice. But in case of full time and part time issues we are really facing different types of troubles for a smooth running. For novelist it is quite tough to decide whether to choose writing profession for full time or part time; sometime most of the writers are facing these kinds of problems and I am sure that this article is a good example for them to understand what to do or what not to do.

  16. sharmishtha basu says:

    great tips Ali. thanks.

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