How to Write a Novel:
While Keeping Your Day Job
This is a post for starving artists.
Namely, writers. Writers, who are not starving for food, because they are juggling full time jobs with their dreams of finishing the next great American novel. These artists are starving for time. Unfortunately, we are only granted 24 hours to each day. For some of us, that is hardly enough to reach all the goals we set for ourselves!
Luckily, I have a few secrets up my sleeve that I can share with you!
Since I know many of you don’t have time to read the full post, I’ll summarize here, then unpack it for the rest of you.
- Purge (pull a Bob Goff and quit something every Thursday)
- Routine (your best friend in this war on productivity)
For those of you who are still with me and want more details on how I manage to make all of this work, here we go.
This is the one that puts a rock in the pit of my stomach. I am terrible at saying no. I’m the kind of person who wants to help everybody. I know what its like to be in a pinch, so if I can help take that weight off someone else’s shoulders, I REALLY want to!
That mentality can quickly escalate to me biting off more than I can chew, getting stretched thin, and eventually burning out to the point of not being able to be productive at all.
I went to a Storyline conference in Chicago last fall and got to hear Bob Goff and Donald Miller speak some serious wisdom. Bob Goff talked about how he quits something every Thursday. Luckily I don’t have that many things to quit, but even just the little things can take a load off. If you have too much on your plate, don’t take on new things, until you get rid of old ones. Remember to get rid of more than you’re adding to your schedule!
Only sign on for things you’re passionate about. For example. I was on the teaching schedule for the wee church. I don’t like working with younger kids. My heart is for teenagers. I was also burnt out from not being able to hear the sermons on Sunday mornings. So I quit.
Also, just because you’re passionate about it doesn’t mean you have to add it to your plate on a full scale! Moderation is key, even with good things. What’s that saying? “Too much of a good thing…”
Now I volunteer with the teens, which is rewarding for me, and doesn’t leave me burned out since its only “as needed” and not an every week obligation.
Get rid of all the things in your schedule you only do because you feel like you “have to” not because you “want to“.
Obviously there will be exceptions to this, we all have to pay bills and have chores that really do need to be done. However, there are things we tell ourselves we have to do that, in reality, someone else would do if we stepped down. Maybe that someone would actually enjoy it, and would be rewarded by it in a way that we aren’t.
This one can be hard. For example, my priorities look like this:
But because my boss doesn’t care that I’d rather be at the gym than at my job, the hours of my week dedicated to each of these looks more like this:
- Fitness (if there’s any time even left)
Shaping our schedules to reflect our priorities can be really difficult. We have to guard our time, and be intentional. There will always be things fighting for your attention and care, and if you’re not intentional, your week will pass without any of your goals being met.
Guard your time ferociously! Do not let meaningless things steal away your dreams of success, ten wasted minutes at a time.
My work schedule isn’t flexible. So unfortunately, that is what I have to work around for now. If you have a flexible job, that’s 10x better!
Outside of work, if my church has something going on, I’m there. Sunday mornings, Sunday nights, Wednesday nights, monthly ladies meetings, etc. I also will take off a weekend every winter to take the teenagers to a state-wide conference, and will take off a week every summer to work as a camp counselor at the high school week of a Christian camp we take our youth group kids to.
On a daily basis I try to get in a few hours of writing when I get home from work before I go to bed. I’ll usually get home and make dinner, take an hour or so to unwind, and then sit back down at my desk and write.
When I get going, I will stay up late writing. On days I am not motivated, I will do something else. I am self publishing, so there is plenty of other work that needs to be done: marketing, artwork, social media, pre-order campaigns to organize, fundraising to push, and of course, blogging!
Unfortunately fitness is what falls by the wayside. I hate that! I love working out! I love going to the gym. But when life gets crazy, that is the first thing to go.
That’s why I like to fit it in first thing. If I go in the morning before I go to work, then in the evening when I get off, its okay that I’m too tired to go, or that the gym is already closed, because I fit it in before I wore myself out.
The things you really wish you could do, that are the first to go,– now this sounds crazy– put them first! These are the things that you don’t make yourself do when you’re tired. The really important things, you’ll make yourself do, no matter how tired you get. So they can go at the end, because you’re motivated to still get them done.
Schedule the things you don’t have as much motivation to do, when you have the most energy and the least amount of distraction. For me that is first thing in the morning. So that is when I do my daily devotion time, and my workouts. This also gives me a great outlook and energy for the rest of my day!
It’s also easier if I get friends to partner with me. If we go to the gym together or not, we can still be a support system for each other. We can compete in fitness challenges, send each other before/after update pictures, and send each other encouraging messages. If you’re talking about it constantly, its hard to forget to go and actually do it. It also makes it more fun and motivates you more to go and do it!
If we aren’t rested, we burn out. It’s that simple.
If we aren’t having fun, we start to resent all those things we “have to” do. Our attitude is what makes or breaks our productivity.
You have to make time for yourself.
I am giving you permission. Take a breather! Relax! Recharge your batteries.
In fact I am not only giving you permission. I am ordering you (not that I can enforce it 😉 ), to add rest into your daily routine.
You need rest every day, even if it’s only a few stolen minutes. I would recommend a day of rest once a week. Which I know is asking a lot, and I am terrible at keeping a Sabbath, myself. But here are some small suggestions.
- read a chapter of a book you want to read, before bed
- take a bath before bed
- combine those first two
- wake up a few mins early (counter intuitive I know) to take your time waking up and enjoy your first cup of coffee- This is one of my favorites, as I feel less rushed and am more calm about my day 🙂
- find time for a nap (even if its just a 15 or 20 min power nap)
- watch an episode of your favorite show on Netflix!
- tackle a craft project
- go for a bike ride or a long walk
- go to the movies
- plan a coffee date to chat with a friend you don’t see as often as you’d like
- plan a dinner night with friends, or your spouse
- Take a day trip (beach, theme park, nearby attraction- your choice!)
- Take a day every month or two to plan on binge watching Netflix, or have a movie marathon. When you budget time to do this, you don’t have to feel guilty about recharging your batteries, or spending that time with family or friends. Forget work, forget the writing project. Unwind, and let your mind cool off, it’s okay!
- Do a service project! Helping others is a great way to stop focusing on everything going on in your life. If you need some ideas, here’s a few:
- Visit a local elderly home. Many of them never get cards or visitors. Maybe write cards with your kids or with your friends to drop off at the front desk (they know who needs them most). Take a guitar, play them some music and sing to them… they’ll appreciate it more than you know.
- Volunteer for a meal at the homeless shelter.
- Animal lover? Go walk dogs at the local SPCA.
- The options are limitless
Once you’re done figuring out what you are going to keep in your life, find the best time for all of it.
For example. The things that are the most important to me are:
- Volunteering with my Church’s Youth Group
- Staying Healthy
- Paying my bills on time
So with those areas of my life all having specific goals, my day typically looks something like this:
- 7 am Wake up and have a devotional time
- 8 am Work out (at the gym or at home)
- 9:30 am Work
- 6 pm Write
- 11 pm Wind Down and go to bed
Of course that is a loose schedule. Meals go in whenever I get hungry. I am not on a strict timeline. If I get home from work late, and don’t start writing until 7pm, I’m not going to freak out over that lost hour.
Now there are of course days that look a little different. Wednesdays I work a full day and have church in the evenings, so that naturally became my rest day for writing.
I am off work on Fridays and Sundays, so on those days I can get in a longer workout AND more writing. I keep a routine, but I don’t make it so rigid that I feel guilty when something else comes up!
If a friend calls and needs to go out for dinner to talk, that’s okay. I wrote every other night that week, so spending a few hours with a friend isn’t going to put me behind on my writing.
Find something that WORKS for you. If you try something and it doesn’t work. Don’t keep trying to stick to it. Wiggle around. Find what comes naturally, what helps you breathe and sleep at night. Then, stick to that routine.
It may take some time to iron out all the kinks, and see what needs to stay and what can go. That’s okay! All of life is a work in progress. Just keep moving forward. Don’t waste time mourning time wasted, all that does is create more wasted time.
- Weed out the crap in your life that doesn’t matter to make more room for the things that do.
- Be intentional with accomplishing the things that are important to you.
- Rest– take care of yourself. Keep your mindset positive and fresh to keep your productivity levels high.