In Part 1 of “Writing with a day job”, I explained why I do it. This post is about the how.
I have a fairly simple rule, which I started when I broke the hold of writer’s block and figured out how to write regularly. I decided I would write a little bit every day — a single sentence would do if I didn’t have time for more — but I would take one day off from writing every week. This was usually Friday, because I’d get to the end of my working week and feel very tired and want to mess around on the Internet or read stuff instead of writing.
I’ve more or less stuck to that basic rule since then. When I have a project that I’d like to get finished by a specific deadline, I’ll work out how many words I need per day in order to finish it and then do that, so there are times I might have a specific daily word count target (usually around 1,000 words/day). Other times I might decide I’m relaxing and just do a bit each day instead of having a specific word count I’m aiming for. Sometimes I’ll decide that editing or proofreading or preparing a story for submission will count as my writing work for the day, but I don’t let myself do that too much as actual writing is the hardest thing for me, so I’m a little worried I’ll just keep coming up for excuses for not doing it.
Nowadays I don’t actually tend to take a day off per week, but I don’t write every single day of my life either. I don’t tend to write when I’m on holiday or travelling, and if I get home late at night because of work or socialising, I might decide to leave any writing for the next day.
I usually write in the evenings after dinner. Recently I went part-time at my day job, which means I have a couple of working days per week for writing. I’ve found the Pomodoro technique really helpful in structuring my working days on my “days off”. (Basically, write for 25 minutes, take a 5-minute break, go for another 25-minutes, take another break, etc. There are apps that do the countdowns for you!)
So that’s what I do. Here’s what I don’t do:
- I don’t cook during weekdays. Either Cephas cooks, or we eat leftovers of meals we cooked in the weekend, or we get takeaway or microwave dinners.
- I don’t clean. Washing the dishes is the most I ever do in this regard.
- I don’t have pets or children.
- I don’t exercise. I know I should, but I’m basically quite lazy and it takes up too much time.
- I don’t sleep as much as I should.
- I don’t watch TV. (Right now I’m watching an hour per week of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell on Sunday or Monday evenings, after I’ve done my writing for the day. When the time comes I’ll be watching The Great British Bake-Off religiously. Other than that, I’m not really interested in TV.)
All I do in my free time outside my day job is:
- Keep up a fairly active social media presence.
- Socialise. Fortunately most of my closest friends in London are doctors, so I am far from being the busiest person I know!
I read books on my commute, which means I have 1.5-2 hours per day for reading. But I’m still perpetually behind on my reading, since new books just seem to keep appearing in our house …
I wanted to outline the above because I think it makes it clear how vital it is to have somebody else either helping with or just plain doing all or most of the household/life admin work. I would write much less than I do (and of course I already feel that I don’t write enough anyway), if Cephas wasn’t way-beyond-the-call-of-duty helpful with making sure we are clean and fed and our household bills are paid. (I help make the money, but I don’t do the paying.) His work makes a necessary space for my writing.
I do have a lot of fun, of course, and I’m very generous with myself in the article of free time and treats, but ultimately the answer to “how do you balance your day job and a writing career?” is “I work a lot”. But I am hugely lucky to be able to dedicate such a large part of my time and energy to my creative work — I could not do this in the same way if I were poor, or had to look after other people, or heck, had to look after myself. It is a great privilege.
Previous Publishing Journey posts
Mission statement: Ten things I believe about writing
Breaking through writer’s block, or, how I started writing and publishing short stories
How I published a short story collection
Writing with a day job, part 1: Why I don’t write full-time