Although writing feeds my soul, like many writers, I’ve had to work full-time jobs in order to feed the rest of me. My last full-time job was as an academic advisor at a large university, where I worked at least forty hours a week and sometimes more. Most days, the job was emotionally draining because I was tasked with helping hundreds of young adults figure out course schedules, decide on majors, and navigate a host of academic and personal issues. The last thing I wanted to do when I came home was tackle my latest work-in-progress.
So some days, I didn’t. And that’s okay.
In August, I marked the fourth anniversary of my first book’s publication (In Your Dreams), and in four years, I’ve published five books (with the sixth, Quinn Dramatic, due out this fall). Through sheer trial, error, and exhaustion, I’ve learned a few tricks on how to balance writing and working full-time.
Lesson #1: Find Your Ideal Writing Time…and Stick to It
I’ve spoken with and read about many authors who set their alarms every day for Incredibly Early ‘o Clock and write for an hour or two before going to work.
I am not one of those people. I’m the person who’s lucky to get to work on time with my sanity intact.
Weekends are the perfect writing time for me. I can sleep in and wake up refreshed, relaxed, and ready to write. Even on the rare weekends when I have commitments, I can still get in longer blocks of time to write than if I woke up early during the week and wrote before work. Most weekends, I average between five and ten hours of writing time, and I do my best not to let anything distract me (like that giant pile of dishes in the sink or that load of laundry or…). Occasionally, I’m able to get some writing done on weeknights, but if I’ve had a long day and just need an evening to chill out, I always know the weekend is coming soon.
Lesson #2: Leverage Technology and Use Time Wisely
Every full-time job has breaks and downtime (I hope!), and most people have a personal smartphone or some other Internet-compatible device. While you may not be able to get too much writing done during your lunch hour—eating is important!—you may be able to do a little research on some aspect of your story or get in some editing while shoveling down that sandwich or slurping some soup.
On my breaks, I would use the Pages app on my iPhone to bang out a paragraph or two. Or, if I was at the revision stage, I would upload my manuscript to my Kindle app and use the highlighting feature to mark errors or sentences/passages I wanted to revise. These little blocks of writing/researching/editing time add up and allow for time on the weekends for more concentrated blocks of writing.
Lesson #3: Give Yourself a Break
As an indie/self-published author, it’s easy to feel “behind” if you aren’t publishing a book every few months or staying up to all hours of the night every night banging away on your work-in-progress.
You’ll sleep when you’re dead, right?
But working a full-time non-writing job and being a writer is truly like having two full-time jobs. And no one—you, your loved ones, your readers—will benefit if you burn yourself out.
If you’re going through a particularly stressful time at your job, give yourself permission to walk away from your work-in-progress for a while. You may find that the time off helps you look at your manuscript with fresh eyes. If you’ve had a bad day at work and can’t bear to face the blinking cursor on your word processor when you get home, don’t. There’s no sense in bringing that negative energy to your writing.
Be careful, though, not to use work stress as an excuse to avoid writing because doing so can mean that novel is never going to get done. If you walk away, set a deadline for your return (“I’m too stressed to write tonight, but I’ll write for three hours on Saturday before the football game.”) in order to stay on track.
I’d love to hear others’ strategies for balancing work and writing in the comments. And, who knows—if you find a good work/writing balance, one day you might be able to make writing your full-time job.
Amy Martin wrote and illustrated her first book at the age of ten and gave it to her fourth grade teacher, who hopefully lost it in her house somewhere and didn’t share it with anyone else.
The first book she published as a grown-up, In Your Dreams, was a semi-finalist in the Young Adult category of the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Competition. The In Your Dreams series contains four books: In Your Dreams, As You Wake, Before You Sleep, and Beyond Your Dreams.
In 2015, Amy released the first book (Quinn Invisible) of the Young Adult mystery/suspense series The Quinn Callahan Chronicles. The second book of The Quinn Callahan Chronicles, Quinn Dramatic, is due out in 2016.
Amy also offers a variety of writing and editing services to help your project be the best that it can be. Whether you need feedback on the first draft of your novel or want to craft the perfect resumé for your dream job, she can help. Learn more about her writing and editing services here.
A native of Missouri, Amy currently lives on Long Island, NY, with her husband and a ferocious attack tabby named Cleo. When not writing or reading, she’s usually watching sports, drinking coffee, or indulging her crippling Twitter habit (and, sometimes, doing all three at once). You can follow her on Twitter at @ThatAmyMartin, visit her Facebook fan page, or reach her by email.