Writing when you have a full-time job isn’t easy. I recently spotted a tweet expressing worry about how anyone can have time to write when they have to work full-time hours. I thought it’d be a good topic for a blog post, because it’s something a lot of writers struggle with.
We can feel so stretched, trying to find time for writing whilst balancing a full-time job. On top of that, we might have other things taking up our time: children or families, or caring responsibilities. Then add on all the other things we have to do – life admin, taking care of our health and wellbeing, housework, making time to socialise.
Most writers need another job that pays their bills, unless they’re lucky enough to have a partner or family to support them. Maybe they’re fortunate enough to earn enough from their writing to live off. That isn’t the case for the vast majority of writers.
My editing work is my full-time job, and I work full-time hours. I can understand not having as much time to write as you want. I’m fortunate that I can choose my hours and be flexible, starting work later in the day for instance. I want to acknowledge that, because not everyone can do so. But I still spend my days working on books for my clients, with limited writing time. When I have deadlines, writing takes even more of a backseat. Sometimes, I’m too drained to write after working on other people’s manuscripts all day.
Having said all that, it’s possible to accommodate writing in your busy life.
Tips on writing when you have a full-time job
Adjust your expectations – you don’t have to write every day
The “write every day” advice comes from a good place. The idea is that if you can make writing a habit, you’re more likely to stick to it, and not go weeks without writing. But it doesn’t work for everyone, least of all people with full-time jobs, families, caring responsibilities or health issues.
Some days you’re going to be too busy to write. Things come up. You’re tired. You’ve had a bad day at work. You have a headache. That’s okay. The worst thing you can do is feel guilty you didn’t write. Putting extra pressure on yourself to force writing when life is already busy can lead to burnout.
Forget the “write every day” advice commonly thrown around if that doesn’t help you. If you find it motivating though, more power to you.
Figure out what works for you
Writing with a full-time job is all about figuring out what’s best for you and your schedule and responsibilities. Maybe you can only write two or three mornings a week, before work. That might mean getting up an hour early if you can manage it.
You could devote a few evenings a week to writing before bed. If you have a hectic nine-to-five and are too drained to write at all, it’s fine to just write on weekends. Just be sure you have time to relax as well.
Some people have jobs that allow them to write at work when it’s quiet. If you’re able to do that, make the most of that opportunity where you can. You could write on the bus or train on your way to work if you commute, in a notepad or on your phone.
Make use of your lunch break if you’d like to. I don’t recommend doing this all the time though, because it’s important to take breaks and avoid burnout and stress.
Tell people you’re writing – and switch off from work
If you need a few hours a week undisturbed, let your family know when your writing hours are, and guard them! Make those hours a part of your schedule.
Turn off your work emails or your work phone if that’s possible. Focus only on the writing. You can use a productivity app like Forest so you won’t be tempted to use your phone apps, which can help you to stop checking those pesky work emails during your writing time.
Swap out another activity for writing
I’m not saying all leisure time is off the table – it’s important to have other activities to unwind with so everything isn’t all about work. But look carefully at where your free time is spent. One hour of a Netflix show or video game at night can become your writing time. You could switch out watching the news in the morning with a coffee for your manuscript.
Manage your social media time
This is one I struggle with myself! Social media is one of the biggest time sinks. It’s easy to spend a spare five minutes scrolling through Twitter, Instagram or Facebook aimlessly when we have a bit of time to ourselves. That could be replaced with five minutes of writing. Five minutes doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s a good place to start when you need to carve out time. And those words can add up.
You can install apps on your phone like Screen Time to figure out how much time social media is taking away from your day. The results might be surprising.
Try uninstalling your social apps from your phone – or setting a time limit on them – and when you have that itch to check them, try using a note-taking app for your writing instead. If you’re using your laptop to write and you’re tempted to check in a browser, you can use an app like ColdTurkey (Windows) or SelfControl (Mac) to block distracting sites while you write.
Again, I want to add the disclaimer that not all your time off work needs to be filled with writing, because you do need proper breaks to relax! But if you have holiday time at work, or you’re able to take time off, you can use some of that time to have a mini writing retreat.
There is a risk you’ll feel like you’re working when you’re meant to be taking time off, but if you treat it as a writing holiday and try not to add pressure to get a certain amount of words done, it can be beneficial. Focus on enjoying the experience and enjoying your writing, rather than placing expectations on how much you’ll get done.
Try different mediums to avoid screen fatigue
If you look at a screen all day for work – or work a desk job – odds are you don’t want to look at one again when you’re not working. The last thing you might want to do is sit at another desk. You don’t necessarily have to use a screen to get writing done, though. Try different mediums: write in a notebook by hand. You can even dictate with voice-recording software.
Another good tip is to switch out your writing location. If you work at a desk all day, and don’t want to sit at a desk to do your writing, is there a comfy armchair you could use as your writing spot? A favourite cafe? Bed?
If you love to write, you’ll find a way
“You’ll find a way” might sound like something from a greetings card, but it’s true. If you love writing and really want to write, you’ll find a way to fit that into your life, even if it isn’t as regular as you’d like. No matter how hectic our jobs are, we all have at least some downtime, even if that’s just twenty minutes. If our lives are so hectic we have no time to ourselves at all, then that’s a different matter that needs addressing, and it may mean looking at how you can pare back your responsibilities.
A final point on full-time jobs and writing…
Remember that writing will always be there. If work is stressing you out, and you need a break from writing and trying to juggle it all, it’s okay to rest. Writing when you have a full-time job is going to look different compared to someone who only works part-time, or someone who has another person to support them while they pursue writing.
Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t write every day, or you can only manage a few hours a week. The only definition of writer is someone who writes – no matter when or for how long.
Do you have any other tips for writing around a full-time job? I’d love to hear them!