How To Write With A Day Job



You have a problem.  You know you do.  If you don’t know it, maybe you suspect it.  Or maybe you have no idea, and this is the first you’ve ever heard of it.  Read on for a paragraph or two and you’ll realize it and think, “Oh shit, I have a problem.  F*** you for telling me.”

If you’re reading this post you probably write in your free time.  If you don’t write you probably have another hobby that you work on late at night, something you wish you could turn into a career. 

And you probably also have a day job.

I do too.  I work at a consulting firm in DC.  I leave every morning at 7am and get home every evening at 6:30pm.  If I’m going to get 8 hours of sleep I need to go to bed at 11pm.  That gives me 4.5 hours of free time.  But I also have to eat dinner, go to the gym, see my friends, watch the Wizards and Capitals games, go to the Wizards and Capitals games, read good books, watch good TV, watch bad TV, watch horrible but addicting TV, get ready for my day tomorrow, go to happy hour with my coworkers, write on this blog, and generally anything else that makes life fun.  After all that, it doesn’t seem like I have a lot of time left in my day.

There are a million articles about time management, how to get more writing done when you don’t have enough time, how to make time, etc.  But you can’t put more hours in the day. 

What you can do is decide what matters to you.  And the fact is that most of us are lucky to have something that matters enough to us that we do it during our free time.  Take a second to think about that.

I get messages from my friends every day telling more how bored they are.  How there’s nothing to do.  How they have 2 hours to kill before going out and there’s nothing good on TV.  And I always say, ‘Damn that sucks, have you seen this show?  This movie?  Maybe you should go hang out with this person until heading for the bar.’  In my head I’m thinking, ‘You’re the luckiest person in the world.  Do you know what I could do with 2 hours of free time?’ (Probably write for 30 minutes and watch Netflix for an hour and a half, if we’re being honest).

My point is that we have something we love, something that means we’ll never be bored.  And it’s important to realize that.  Much more important than you think.  You thought I was going to tell you how to write with a day job, but I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know.  You do know it, you just might not have thought about it before.

The time management stuff is the easy part.  Now I’m not a crazy person, but I make a helpful list every once in a while. 

I have two screens on my laptop that I swipe between.  One has everything on it: Google Chrome, iMessenger, Spotify, Email, whatever.  The other one has two things on it.  Scrivener, which I use to write.  And the Notes app, which has my list on it.

It’s a list of what matters to me.  And I’m not talking about friends and family.  I’m talking about what I need to do every day.  It’s in order, and I’ll share part of it with you right now.  The first half of the list goes like this:

  • Go to work
  • Go to the gym
  • Read and write

The second half (abbreviated) goes like this:

  • Hang out with my friends
  • Watch TV (insert the shows I like here)
  • Write a blog post
  • Watch the sports game
  • Etc.

It’s simple, and it changes every once in a while.  If I have to go to the doctor, I’ll add that to the first part of the list, then take it off after I go.  Same with going to a sports game, or needing to pack for a trip.  These are the things I need to do that day.  The things that, if I do them, will mean I can move down to the second part of the list without feeling guilty.  The sooner I’m done with the first half, the more free time I’ll have.

I decided what matters to me day in and day out.  What makes me feel like I’ve had a successful day when I get in bed.  Because knowing you have things to do, but not what they are, can sometimes stress you out, and that stress can stop you from being productive.

A few paragraphs earlier I wrote out a list that was so long it seemed like I had no time to do anything.  Ever.  But after figuring out what I care about, it seems like I have plenty of time to write.  Sure, it would be nice to have more time to relax, with my only worry being how I’m getting a ride home from the club on a Wednesday.  But I can still do those things.  I just do them after I finish working.

I started this post off by saying that you have a problem.  At this point I think we might all be looking at it differently.  It might seem like a problem, but problems get a bad rap.  Getting out of bed is a problem.  The solution is swinging your legs over the edge and heaving yourself to your feet.  Eating is a problem.  The solution is preparing food and sitting down to eat it.  Finding time to write with a day job is a problem.  The solution?  Deciding what matters to you.

You don’t have a problem.  You have a life.  My feeling is that it’ll be a fun one if you want it to be. 

Maybe one day you can write a book about it.


P.S. Want to know a fun fact?  I originally wrote this post during my lunch break.  At my day job.

31 comments on “How To Write With A Day Job”

  1. So true. I’m the worst at managing free time. When I’m swamped, I crave free time to do what I really want to do, but when I’m finally free, I don’t feel like doing it.

  2. Thank you for a great post. I think that one will never be bored if one has a passion. I have two great ones, the English language (including writing about it) and mountains, and I’m NEVER bored! I wish you every success with your writing. 

  3. Hmm. When I started writing back in 06 I just found I didn’t need as much sleep. Maybe being older helps. When I was in my 20s I begrudged every lost minute of sleep.
    Now I’m not wasting my time on it!

  4. That we have something we love; that we’ll never be bored – I’ve never thought about it in this way, but it makes sense.

    I can’t remember the last time I was bored… maybe about three years ago, before I realised I needed to take my interest in writing seriously.

    (I wrote my last post in my lunch break today too 🙂

    1. I guess the question is – did you do it between bites, or did you inhale the food then take the time to write? Haha, I’m personally so hungry all the time so I’m a fast eater.

  5. I have one question for you. It’s something I would like to try because it just might make being at the PC a little easier for me.

    My question: How do you use 2 screens on your laptop? (I’m assuming that you’re using them at the same time.)

    I most definitely have lots of time. My problem is how should I divide it so I’m the most productive. 😛

    1. It’s the new iOS system on my Mac – you can swipe between two screens. But if you don’t use a Mac you can also hook up an external monitor to your laptop and have two screens that way. Thanks for stopping by!

  6. Hey David! Thanks for stopping in on my blog, and introducing me to yours. So much to like here!
    A friend once told me “A problem is only a situation to resolve.” I try to remember that, though on full days, it’s hard!

  7. When you started listing all the stuff like going out, watching good tv, watching bad tv etc, I was thinking THANK YOU for acknowledging that we all do stuff like that (although there are those — not just writers — who pretend each waking minute is spent usefully employed). Also for acknowledging that it’s not easy and the solution may be different for everybody. I’m still searching for my solutions. Perhaps I’ll write a blog post about that myself. Incidentally, I’m never bored except for sometimes at work (and then I think, “Silly, think about your novel!”). Also I write most of my blog posts while on break at work, when I don’t compose them at the keyboard.

    Ooh, sorry for the long comment. Apparently I have time to write some things.

    1. Hahaha, thank you for stopping by! Glad you feel the same about some of those things. Having fun (or doing nothing) is something we all like to do…I hope. And I hope you figure out what works for you!

  8. Seriously… when we cut the cable (and before Netflix), life changed. For years, people couldn’t understand how I got so much done. But I also never saw an episode of Lost, 24, Dancing with the Stars or (insert popular show name here). You nailed it: priorities. When you choose to watch TV you are making that the priority over writing or whatever else. When you start looking at it this way, life certainly changes. Same for how we spend our money: you can have that latte every day, but realize that the latte is now taking money out of some other priority.

  9. Hi, thanks a ton for regularly visiting my blog, though I am not very regular when it comes to posting;) It’s nice to see familiar faces in likes. I enjoyed reading this post of yours, as I have never realised that what you say is so true. I love writing, sketching, and I am never bored. Yes, keeping a short list of what needs to get done is a GREAT idea. Perfect start to my day! Thank you for sharing. And keep those posts coming during your lunch time 😉

  10. Hi, thanks for visiting my blog and reading my posts.
    What a great post this is with loads of good advice.
    I personally forgo television when I’m in my writing mode. This is good and bad. Good because I meet the deadlines, but bad because I miss out on the great shows and films that are out there.
    As you so rightly point out, it’s a personal choice.

  11. I never know what to say to people when they say they are bored or they don’t know what to do with their time off. I mean, of course we all get bored and we get into moods where literally nothing interests us. But I am up your alley. I work full time and go to school full time, that trying to fit in sufficient writing all the time is difficult, none the less trying to actually have a life outside of people thinking you’re a hermit if you don’t see them. I’ve realized more and more lately how I can fit writing into my life and it is a good feeling. I used to push it aside until I realized that this was my career and I really needed to work towards it. But a lot of people don’t understand it, especially those who just go to work and don’t have another hobby.

  12. I have to agree with you about the whole being bored thing. It’s ironic though – anytime I get even close to feeling one ounce of boredom (very seldom), I immediately have to do something. I can’t stand doing nothing. I once read a book titled How To Write With A Day Job (or something along those lines) so the title of your post really pulled me in because it’s something I’ve struggled with a great deal between working a day job, with non-conventional hours, being a graduate student, and doing a full-time internship as a requirement of my degree. But what I’ve learned on my own time, and now with the support of this post, is that when you love something, when something rattles your bones as much as a passion for writing, you will do it. I scribble notes here there in between taking notes for class. I jot down ideas on my phone when one pops up. I keep a mental log daily of all the stories I want to share with the world. So, I may not be quite there yet with writing on my lunch break like you, but I’m getting there.

    Thank you for this.
    xx Jackie

  13. Thanks so much for sharing! It’s really encouraging for new bloggers/’writers with a problem’ to read about other writers in the same boat. I too have a day job totally unrelated to writing, but writing is my true passion. I spend many a lunch break writing posts or trying to develop my writing more, and I’m totally not at work right now or anything writing this comment. 😉 One thing I do struggle with is writing when I get home. I like your solution to make a list of what’s really important to help sort out priorities. I will most certainly be trying that myself! And honestly…what’s better than sitting back, listening to some of your favorite music and just writing? Thanks again for sharing! Keep on doing your thing!

  14. Ohh this is so true. I generally end up writing on lunch breaks or on the ride to and from work. Also when I smoke, that one spawned an entire category, bizarrely enough. It’s like words just wait for a quiet moment to pop out. And the ever handy iPhone’s there to swallow em up! 🙂

    Cheers! 🙂

  15. I’m a full time writer – with a brain-disabling disability. Rats.

    Your idea of keeping the LIST up on the second screen: pure genius.

    I usually use it for extra windows I need while writing – my ‘process’ file: the HD thingy so I can remember to mount it for backups because I disable the internet with Freedom and shut down the HD because the faint whine drives me nuts; Dramatica; any critical file currently residing in a TextEdit file – the usual.

    But I can set it up so the minute I’m not writing the LIST is there – instead of depending on a paper one.

    Thanks for the idea.

    Alicia (you liked my post on losing reads on sharp plot twists, and I followed you ‘Home.’) Hi!

  16. I could really relate to this post. I’m a teacher and I’ve a 6 am start. Which means I’m up at 5 am each day and though I’m back home around 4 pm, I still have to prep for class, go to the gym, spend time with my folks and friends, and run errands and do a dozen other things, for which 24 hours often seems too less. Lately, though, I try and focus on doing just one thing that gladdens my heart, by which I mean doing one thing that makes me, and just me happy. It could be playing guitar, or singing, or reading or writing. But I do it and I sleep better at night.

    Thanks for sharing!

  17. LOVE this post! I work two jobs but am always still able to find time to write blog posts. It’s just so much fun! I’m glad I’m not the only one who has a million and one things to do on a daily basis. 😉

  18. I, too work as a consultant, and I am writing in my “spare time” which includes a relationship, a large number of volunteer hours. I am finding that “In between times” have been great times to work on my story. I keep my writing book (I handwrite my stories first) in my briefcase. So I have 20 or 30 minutes on the train home? I can continue a current chapter or I can do some character tracking. So I have an hour and half after work and before that volunteer committee meeting? Great – I start a chapter or type work into the computer. I started finding so much of that time that got lost to “time wasters” could be used in this.

    However, my “Long Suffer Editor” (AKA my wife) also gave me permission to not write at times. I have had a long day of work and meetings. I am drained. Writing is supposed to be fun and when it isn’t I probably shouldn’t be doing it. Thanks for the great thoughts on prioritizing.

  19. Love this! Add a few more in the household to the mix (spouse, kids, pets), and it gets even more interesting, but also more fulfilling. Writing is like anything else: if we want it badly enough, we will make time for it. Besides, sleep is overrated (at least sometimes). 😉

  20. I’ve been feeling frustrated and overwhelmed lately (who doesn’t during the holidays?) The more I have to do, the less I seem to be doing. Stumbled across this blog post right when I needed it most. Thanks for the inspiration and reminder how truly lucky we are to have the outlet of writing.

  21. The war of Art by Steven pressfield is an amazing book. We all struggle with resistance as writers and he throws our own insecurities back at us. 🙂 A perfect book to dip into and find that much needed inspiration

  22. This is great! I love how you acknowledge the real-life patterns and pursuits that can keep us from writing and even accept that that can be ok. The real key is to pick what’s important and keep turning your focus back to it. You’ve given a really simple, practical way to do that. Great stuff. Thanks!

  23. This reminds me of a self-help booklet I sent off for when I was in my early twenties. I knew I wanted to write, but back then (because I’m quite a bit older than you) there was no such thing as indie publishing (well, there was, but it was called ‘vanity press’, and it was frowned on by serious writers, plus it cost way more than I could afford) or the internet (Can you imagine it? It’s true, I assure you). Also, I didn’t have a lot of confidence in my own writing, and what with one thing and another, I ended up doing something else. After a few more years, I put away what I decided were childish things… The title of that booklet, which I’ve never forgotten (and I can still see it now – it was small, and had a purple cover), was ‘I CAN and I WILL’.

    Thirty years later, I have finally realized that yes, ‘I CAN and I WILL.’ We find a way, don’t we, even it sometimes takes thirty years…

    Keep up the great work, David, you’re an inspiration!

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