How To Become A Prolific Writer While Holding Down A Day Job
One of the most frequent questions I receive is: How can I write and hold down a day job at the same time?
There’s a common belief (and a few myths that support it) that you can only do one or the other. But that’s not true.
I have a day job, and I enjoy it. I also enjoy writing and publishing. Maybe you’re kind of stuck in a place where I once was and you’re only writing when you feel inspired and can fit it in here and there.
I figured out that if I wanted to be a writer who actually writes and publishes, I needed to take my writing seriously and give it the time and consideration it deserves.
It hasn’t always been easy and there have been times it just hasn’t worked out, but for the most part I’ve succeeded in holding down a 40+ hour week job, authoring a dozen books and maintaining several blogs, not to mention writing magazine and newspaper articles.
I don’t share this with you to boast. No. It’s been too exhausting at times for that, but it is to say…
It can be done.
Yes, it’s been exhausting at times, but it’s also been incredibly rewarding. Day jobs last until you quit or retire, but a writing career can last your entire life and the writing itself can last for infinity.
A writing career can last your entire life and the writing itself can last for infinity. (Click to Tweet)
Myths about Writing and Working
To make debunking the following myths fun, I’ll use examples from the writing lives of well-known authors:
Myth: If you have a day job you can’t be an author.
Debunk: The author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll (real name, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson), continued to work day jobs throughout his life. With growing wealth and fame, Carroll continued to teach at Christ Church until 1881, and remained in residence there until his death. He was also a working mathematician of note and a photographer. (Source)
Other authors who held down day jobs throughout their writing careers include Bram Stoker, Philip Larkin, T.S. Eliot, and Virginia Woolf, among many others.
Myth: You can’t write a bestselling book and work a day job at the same time.
Debunk: I present you with none other than, Anne Rice. Rice has held a variety of jobs, including waitress, cook, and theater usherette, among others. In fact, she wrote the bestselling book Interview With The Vampire while working her day job as an insurance claims examiner. (Source)
Myth: A day job kills your inspiration and motivation to write.
Debunk: A day job can be a great source of inspiration and motivation for writing. In fact, who knows, it could provide you with inspiration and motivation to create change and hope in the world.
John Green intended to become an Episcopal priest, but his experiences of working in a hospital with children suffering from life-threatening illnesses inspired him to become an author, and later to write, The Fault in Our Stars. (Source)
Maintain Daily Writing Rituals
In my book, “Writer’s Doubt” (have you read it yet?), I discuss the importance of daily writing rituals in order to write every day consistently.
The gist of it is:
Repeat the same actions daily to create a habit for writing at a specific time and place every day. (Click to Tweet)
If you examine your daily routines you’ll discover things you do on a regular basis and in a specific order. And that’s a good thing. What you want to do is fit your writing into your daily routine and allow it to become one of your habits.
For example, every morning you wake up and do things in a certain way. Perhaps you first make coffee, then breakfast, then brush your teeth, etc…
Having a day job makes it imperative that I allocate time for writing. I insure I write at least 2 hours before I go to work come rain or shine. And I do this by following my rituals every morning without fail.
Regardless of what time I work (shift work), I wake up at least 3 hours prior and like clockwork, 1) I brush my teeth, 2) make breakfast, 3) sit down at my desk, 4) check emails, 5) check in on my social connections and finally 5) after stretching my legs for a moment, I write on cue for at least two hours.
(Parents I know who write and work day jobs, tend to pick times to write before their children wakeup or after they go to bed.)
Whether my writing is good, bad, or ugly is irrelevant.
I write a minimum of 500 words each day thanks to my daily writing rituals. Mind you, I’m not writing every day because I’m especially motivated or inspired, I’m writing because I made it a habit for me to start writing at a certain time and place every morning.
How to make writing part of your daily routine:
- Take note of the things you do consistently every day before and after work. Consider writing them down so you can become more conscious of them.
- Create a space of time within your current daily rituals for writing every day. Make sure it’s at a time of day that works best for you. I write best in the morning and other people write better at night. When do you write best?
- Commit. It’s important to commit to writing at the same time every day so that it becomes a natural, automatic part of your day, regardless of whether you feel inspired or motivated. It’s believed that it takes 21 days (source) to create a habit, so hang in there and keep going. In my personal experience it takes up to 60 to 90 days, but I’m stubborn like that.
Yes, like it or not, when we commit to writing every day, sacrifices (choices) will have to be made. Many of us have hobbies that we do every day, such as playing tennis, or golf, or running, or going to the gym. What will you give up or cut back on? Unfortunately, we don’t have unlimited hours in a day - only 24.
Maybe it’s your writing that you’re already sacrificing for something else?
I used to play in a pool league and I needed to practice at least 2 hours a day to stay competitive at the level I was at. When I decided to take my writing seriously I needed to eliminate an hour of pool practice a day, and eventually, as I wrote more and more, I stopped playing pool in the league. That was my choice, my sacrifice, as it were.
I sacrificed pool for writing, but I had been sacrificing my writing for pool. Maybe you don’t have to sacrifice anything for the craft, but do keep in mind that the more you do the less time you have for each and that means you’ll be giving less of yourself to something.
You decide what deserves your time and focus. So decide.
I’ve found it extremely helpful to have a writing sanctuary in my home, a place where I feel comfortable and everything I need is within reach.
This place for me happens to be my writing desk in my office. It is free of clutter, with only a notepad and a few pens and pencils, my keyboard and my computer monitor.
Oh, and a coaster for my cup of coffee. I can’t write without my coffee (I know, bad, but it is what it is).
I highly recommend creating a writing sanctuary for yourself, somewhere you only go to write, and therefore, your mind will associate being there with writing.
Once I’m in my sanctuary I’m ready in mind, body and soul for the business of writing, and I write.
It’s About Writing
Ultimately, becoming a prolific writer is about writing. Incorporating the craft into my daily rituals and making it a habit (like, say, breathing) has worked wonders for me. I hope it works wonders for you, too.
No go, be awesome and write!
How do you currently fit writing into your life? Share in the comments.