You’ve made it — you’re a paid writer! Maybe you write advertising copy, video sales letters, memos and presentations, or greetings cards. You’re in this line of work because you love language and you were that child who always hung around the library: there was always a novel in you.
After a long day slaving over a keyboard, writing until your fingers are sore, you can’t wait to come home and…
…Slave over a keyboard, writing until your fingers get sore. There’s an expression for this—wait for it—busman’s holiday.
Writers who want to be authors face a unique challenge: how do you balance your day job with what you really want to do?
As someone who’s found a fairly good balance so far, here’s what really works.
1. Just know you can do it.
I’m so smug. Really, it’s sickening — I get to write for a living. Isn’t it awesome? We’re so cool. It’s advertising copy and finalfinalFINALv32.docx and vague assignments about brand identity… but we write.
This is real writing — you know how tedious, frustrating and boring it can be. And you’re still here.
You fought your way here. Elderly relatives might be a little ‘told you so’ seeing the the self-styled creator of bestsellers type up emails — but you are a writer. Your day job is a dream you made reality. All you need to do is repeat the process, for fiction.
- ACTIONABLE STEP: Get to know authors. Read about their lives, and join writers’ groups. You’ll see yourself as one of them — and realise it’s possible to write for fun, seriously.
2. You don’t have one job. You have two.
It’s time to make your novel/screenplay/opera a priority. Start giving as equal weight as possible to your fiction — and commit on setting deadlines for yourself.
Be a strict boss. Give yourself a bit of understanding if you’re still a bit flaky with scheduling your time, you’re learning — but this is all about balance, and unless you want to start slacking at work, you need to start treating your book like a job.
A job you really enjoy.
- ACTIONABLE STEP: Block out your time as you would at the office. If you only have a couple of hours in the evening to write, that’s even more reason to schedule breaks, ban social media and write until your oven timer beeps. I didn’t say this would be easy. It’s just worth it.
The 80/20 rule states that 80% of your success can be attributed to 20% of what you do. Find out that 20%, the stuff that gets results, and eliminate, delegate or automate everything else.
For example, I had a website. It was beautifully designed, very slick, and took me ages to set up. I binned it when I realised 99% of my clients came from Facebook networking. Facebook was the 20%, and once I eliminated the website and concentrated on Facebook, I saw a massive increase in my leads and time I could work on my fiction.
Or, I could have delegated the website, outsourcing it to a developer who could maintain it for me.
Or, I could have automated it, spending a little extra time creating a funnel to capture leads from Facebook and send them straight to my inbox for a better workflow.
Use the 80/20 rule to make time spent in your day job and writing fiction a lot more productive.
- ACTIONABLE STEP: Identify tasks in your day job you can eliminate, delegate or automate. Same for your fiction — if you’re distracted by formatting, cloud storage and the tools of the trade, put systems in place so you can focus on writing.
You’re now working two very mentally taxing jobs. If you think you needed a glass of wine after writing PowerPoints all day, think of the booze you’ll need after fighting Samurai in post-apocalyptic Yorkshire — or whatever your chosen subject.
As important as it is to schedule work hours, you now need to pay double attention to rest periods. Arrange a good week or so after finishing a fiction project to clear your mind, especially if you can’t afford taking a week off work.
- ACTIONABLE STEP: Work hard, play hard. Read a lot, meditate, or get a colouring in book for post-fiction decompression.
5. Merge or separate
I probably don’t need to tell you that it’s maddening to try and switch from legalese to tween speak in the space of a commute.
If your day job is in human resources and you’re writing a sitcom about life in HR, you’re doing fantastic (don’t use any real names). It’ll be easier — a little cabin fever-ish, but easier — than trying to balance two wildly different areas of work.
If your author alter ego is either wildly unsuited or very much at home in your work environment, try and separate or merge the two even more. Explore avenues in your day job that take you further away, or closer to, your fiction. Both have their merits — and you should decide whether you want your life to be all about romantic misunderstandings if you write web copy for a dating agency and chick lit on the side, or if you’d rather move into payroll and save the steamy details for your books.
- ACTIONABLE STEP: Work-life separation is great, but so is making your whole life about your passion. Either way, consider the impact on both your pursuits.
6. Fat is a literary issue
If you spend all day sat at a desk, staring into space thinking of words in different orders, your body will be suffering around you.
I’m going to sound like your mum, but please eat healthily and get some exercise. Walking is fantastic for letting your brain explore complex mental work without getting fatigued — and you might bump into a new character along the way.
I use a standing desk, which is great for not slumping or falling asleep at the keyboard. But swimming, cycling, running or fighting (legally, of course) are still the best methods for getting out of your head and reminding yourself you’re not an incorporeal form floating around narrating life in the third person.
- ACTIONABLE STEP: Take time out of every day to get some sunshine, move your body and replenish nutrients.
And remember, whether your goal is to self-publish, pursue a traditional publisher or simply give your hobby the time and attention it deserves, there’s no reason why working as a writer should mean you stop writing for fun.
We’re living the dream — allow yourself a smug smile or two, right now. Go on. I’ll join you.