When people find out I’m a writer, the conversation usually takes a specific turn. The first question is usually, “Do you have a real job?” Nevermind the way this question makes my left eye twitch, yes, I do have a day job.
The second question is always, “How do you manage to do both?”
Oddly enough, people have been working multiple jobs for a long time. My dad worked 2 jobs for 25 years, and no one ever asked him how he managed to balance the two, even though one of them was a business he owned himself. But as soon as one of those jobs involves working from home (whether it’s a creative pursuit, like writing or design) or something more domestic (like childcare), suddenly it’s a conundrum.
All that aside, I am reasonably prolific and have a decent back list, even if most of it hasn’t made it to book stores (yet). The following is based on my own experience. I will preface it by saying that I don’t have kids, and I’m an introvert–staying home to write instead of going out is what comes naturally to me.
Writer, know thyself.
I know a lot of writers who swear by the #5amwritersclub on Twitter. They routinely wake up an hour or two earlier than necessary, make a cup of coffee and in the wee hours of the morning crank out a chapter before their kids have to get up for school.
I am not one of these people.
Nor am I one of those nocturnal authors who days up all night, with 4-5 uninterrupted hours of writing time in the middle of the night, only going to bed once the sun rises.
No. My natural sleep cycle is between midnight and 8 or 9 am. Unfortunately, my day job demands a 6am wake up call, so I force myself into bed around 10:30.
I’m lucky in that I have a day job that involves sitting in front of the computer with frequent bursts of downtime throughout the day.I know my most productive hours are usually between 10am-noon, so I try to time some of that downtime for that window, giving me about 30 minutes to write. If I can’t do it then, I usually write on my lunch break. Most days, I can get another 30 minute sprint in just before I leave work. This is usually around 2:30, right in the middle of my 2nd most productive time block, between 2-4.
My daily goal is to write at least 1,000 words. A 30 minute sprint at work can net 250-500 words, depending on how excited I am by a particular scene, or how many times the phone rings.
Once I get home, I know nothing much is going to happen. I’ll sit down around dinner time and try to get in any missing words, but usually my 6-8 time block is geared more towards business aspects–updating my budget, checking any twitter hashtags or writing conversations I’m following online, promotions, checking my blog stats and amazon sales, composing blog posts, sending query letters, etc.
Obviously, I’m very lucky on this front. But even when I worked retail and had the schedule from hell (frequently closing the store at 10 or 11, driving 45 minutes home, then coming back to open the cash office at 7am the next day), I still tried to make the most of my time. I kept a notebook in my purse and would write long hand on my breaks and lunch, and could still get in 250-500 words, sometimes up to 800 words.
There are always little clusters of time through the day I can write.
If I were to break it down, probably 90% of my waking hours are spent working in some way. If I tried to pay myself per hour for my writing, I wouldn’t even come close to a living wage, which is why I still have a day job. My day job pay the rent. It pays for my food, my student loans, and my car. It provides me with health insurance.
It also forces me to get out of the house when I would normally choose to stay in. This is a much under-rated value of The Day Job, because a writer who doesn’t get out doesn’t have much to write about.