Do you have all day, every day, to write?
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).
- 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.
- 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?