Five tips for writing around a day job…

Writing while holding down a full-time job can be a bit of a ‘mare at the best of times. Some authors write late into the evening, some get up at the crack of dawn. I’m lucky enough to be able to weave into my working week, and I thought you might want to see what my typical writing week looks like, followed by five tips that you might find useful. Firstly, here’s what this past week looked like…

MONDAY
AM
I live out in the sticks now, so on a weekday the whole family is up at 6, out the door by 7, and on our various busses and trains by 7:30. My commute into London takes about an hour and forty minutes. Plenty of time for writing! I’m fed and caffiened by this point, and raring to go. I generally get my best stuff done on the morning commute.

This particular morning, I was working on my first Woodville book. I’m currently about halfway through and it’s like wading through treacle, but progress is progress.

LUNCH
Mondays are podcast launch days, so I spend my lunch break on the social media for the new episode.
My wife Claire is a gardening blogger and author, and I worked on uploading her new gardening eBook to KDP.

PM
I’m working on a couple of projects with Jon Wright at the moment and he had been tweaking a pilot script we’re working on, which I reviewed on the train home and made a few light edits.

TUESDAY
AM
More Woodvile work. Averaging about 500-800 words each morning.

LUNCH
More Bestseller Experiment social media and I also send a newsletter out on my mailing list with details of the show.

PM
Worked on formatting Claire’s new eBook on Parsnips… very different to my usual stuff, but it’s nearly sowing season and she needs to get these online pronto!

WEDNESDAY
AM
Woodville – good progress. About 1000 words.

LUNCH
I added hyperlinks to Claire’s eBook. She links to seed companies and her videos on Youtube, so there are loads of them! Far more than any novel. I also worked on tweaking the keywords and metadata for Back to Reality and that afternoon I got a telling off from Amazon for adding a subtitle that has text that isn’t on the cover art. We were threatened with having the book removed if we didn’t amend it. Grr.

PM
Script rewrites on the train home for the thing Jon and I are working on. Really good fun as these are light changes, as opposed to the first draft slog of the Woodville stuff. It’s tempting to stick with this tomorrow morning, but I must be disciplined!

Mr. D and I had planned to record the podcast tonight (we usually record on a Monday), but due to all sorts of extenuating circumstances (and Canadian weather!) we’ve have to postpone it. Will we get an episode out in time for next week…?

THURSDAY
AM
Woodville. Hitting my stride with this noise. Daily word count is improving.

LUNCH
I listen to the interview I recorded with next week’s guest, making notes in anticipation of recording the pre- and post interview stuff with Mr. D. Also make further tweaks to Back to Reality’s metadata. Claire and I also got our PLR statements. In the UK, every time a book is taken out of the library the author (and illustrator if applicable) gets 8 pence! My statement could pay for a takeaway pizza. Claire’s could pay for a nice weekend away!

FRIDAY

A day off from the day job at Orion. I spent the morning at home and Jon popped round to make the final changes to our pilot script before sending it off to our agent. We read it aloud, acting out the parts and pising ourselves laughing. Very good times.

In the afternoon, the Canadian weather eases and Mr. D’s power is back on, so we record Monday’s episode, plus the Deep Dive episode for Patreon listeners. Poor Dave our editor only has a few days to cobble our witterings together!

SATURDAY

Dave sends us the rough edit of the podcast and I listen back, making notes and suggestions for edits, as well as writing the description you read on the website/iTunes etc and the keywords we use for the blog.

No other writing done today (apart from the first rough draft of this blog!)

In the afternoon, I read an excerpt from a friend’s book and send him some notes.

SUNDAY

Today is our wedding anniversary, so me and the family went to see a movie and had a cheeky Nando’s for lunch, and now I’m writing this blog, but I’m already thinking about what I’ll be writing tomorrow…

 

Five tips for writing around a day job:

  1. Spot and schedule: Spot those spare moments in your week and schedule those as writing times. They don’t have to be long. We’ve had guests on the podcast who can work in fifteen minute bursts. Little and often works best. Set reminders in your calendar and stick to them. There’s a temptation to be flexible with these times as it’s not a “proper job”. I’m very protective of these slots and treat them with the same weight as meetings scheduled for my day job.
  2. Shut out distractions: You might be working on the train, or the office, or a busy home. There will always be noise and distractions and, if you’ve only got half an hour in which to write today, then those distraction will eat that up in no time. Find a quiet spot and shut the door. Make it clear to your colleagues and loved ones that you’re not to be disturbed. If you do work in an office, get away from your desk if possible. Otherwise, you’ll have colleagues interrupting you with work queries in your break. At work I’ve been known to stick a Post It note on my headphones with “Sorry, can’t talk: Writing” written on them… It works! Your colleagues might think you’re mental, but it works. I love a pair of comfy noise-cancelling headphones for my train journey, and I currently use an app called Scape which plays woodland noises etc, which I find really conducive to productivity (I still have music playlists, but are finding them a little too distracting at my age!).
  3. Finish mid-sentence: If you’ve only got a short time in which to write, there’s nothing more likely to eat into that time than you sitting there, staring into space, wondering what to write next. I try to finish any session mid-sentence, so when I return to writing I simply finish that sentence/thought/scene/paragraph and I’m already up and running.
  4. A.B.T: Always Be Thinking. You might not be able to write all the time, but you should engage your brain for some good, solid thinking as often as possible. Five minutes on your hands? Skip back to what you were last writing: what were the problems? How can they be solved? What happens next? And whatever you think of, for the love of criminy take notes! If you’re anything like me, you’ll have forgotten everything by the time you get back to writing.
  5. Write early, edit late: This is a personal one, and perhaps more to do with being middle-aged and sluggish, but I work on new stuff in the morning when I’m bright and breezy, and edit that same work in the evening when I’m lacking buzz and energy. I also have a method that I call Be Kind Rewind: whenever I get stuck, I’ll go back and edit/rewrite the previous 500 or so words. By the time I’m done working on them, I usually have enough momentum going that I crash through any block that I might’ve had when I started.

If you found those helpful, please share with your fellow writers. How do you work around the day job? Please leave your comments below…

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Back to the day job… and no more failing quietly.

I’ve had a pretty incredible 2013. I also have a row of bruises on my arms where I’ve been constantly pinching myself, for 2013 was the year of things-that-do-not-happen…

For example, not only did I get the joy of co-writing a feature script with the incredible Mr Jon Wright, but it actually went into production. Yes, my debut feature is an ambitious, science fiction family movie with some proper stars and incredible VFX, and is based on a spec script. That never happens!

The way it usually works is you get your first job on a low-budget horror, or maybe on one of the BBC TV shows like Doctors, and you struggle for years before getting a break. Or, if it is a ambitious movie, you – the inexperienced writer – are eventually fired by nervous producers and replaced by someone with a better CV.

None of these happened. Well, I’ve certainly done the struggling bit. I’ve been writing for years and failing quietly. But with each dead end, every trip to development hell, and with every new draft, my writing improved and I made new friends in the film community. I have that low-budget horror movie on my CV, it just never got made (yet).

Then, once the film went into production, my day job employers at Orion Publishing were gracious enough to allow me to take a six month leave of absence to concentrate on working on the film. Again, that never happens! Employers might understandably be wary of extracurricular activities, some might even back you into a corner and ask you choose between the security of a regular paycheque, or the risky world of a the freelance writer. Not these guys. They were incredibly supportive, and have kept the door open for my return. I could not have asked for more.

Pictured on set: smug git.
Pictured on set: one jammy bastard…

Those six months allowed me to be on set during production, to be readily available for rewrites, to work solidly on [redacted], and that script about [redacted], and to really get my teeth into [redacted]. All top-secret eggs, laid in 2013 and hopefully all hatching in 2014.

I also got to live the freelance writer life for six months. Writing in solid chunks 9-to-5, instead of sporadically on the train/lunch breaks/nights/weekends. I did not waste a second, and this has been the most productive year of my writing life.

So, tomorrow, I return to the day job. Some friends have asked if I’m dreading it. Not at all. It’s a pretty cool job, it’s not working in a salt mine or anything, and I work with some fantastic people that I’ve missed very much. I will go to work tomorrow with a skip in my step.

But I’ve had a taste of another life these past six months, and I liked it. It’s a world where the work and money is precarious, and there’s no more failing quietly once the general public get their teeth into what you’ve written, but it’s the thing I love to do most, and in 2014 I’ll be working harder than ever to make it a reality again.

Thanks to everyone for their good wishes and support and I hope you have a fantastic 2014.