Writing, with a full-time job

Let’s get one thing straight – you can’t write a book in your spare time. You might think you can, but you can’t.

What you can do, is schedule daily writing time in parts of your day that were once taken up by non-productive spare time. You need to transform your spare time into writing time.

Last year, I had a pretty great deal going on. I lived in Lutwyche, which is a suburb in the inner northern suburbs in Brisbane, and I had a 25 minute bus ride to and from work. My wife worked just down the road, and she could walk both to & from work. I could get up an hour earlier than I needed to with relative comfort.

Most days I would get up at about 6am, have a shower, then sit down at my computer for about half an hour before I needed to catch my bus. During that half hour I would either try to work out what I was going to write that day, or, I’d keep working on whatever I had written the night before if I had a continuing scene to jump back into.

Then I’d jump on the bus, catch up with social media for 10-15 minutes, and then use the last 10 minutes of my bus ride to figure out what I was going to write on my lunch break.

Once I got to work, I’d go into work mode. I’d do the tasks I needed to in the morning, then when lunch time came around, I’d flip the switch and go straight back into writing mode. I’d bring my laptop into work with me, and set myself up in the lunch room. I’d put my earbuds in, crank my writing playlist, and I’d drown out the outside world. I became antisocial Mr Hellscream.

The one thing I learned is that if I had to leave the office for whatever reason during my break (either to buy lunch or run errands into the city) I wouldn’t get any worthwhile writing done. So I stopped buying lunch on the days that I wrote – I brought my lunch into work with me, so I could get the maximum amount of writing time.

I need at least 45 minutes of writing time to achieve anything worthwhile. So I started blocking out 45 minutes to an hour every day during lunch to work on my writing.

This wasn’t such a big deal to me last year, because I was able to get home by about 5:30pm, even on the days when I worked the late shift.

This year, my daily writing time during my lunch break has become even more important. Early this year we moved up to the Redcliffe area, which added an extra half hour to forty-five minutes to my daily commute each way, depending on traffic. Combined with Amber’s fluctuating shifts, this sometimes means that I now spend 2 or 3 more hours away from home per day than I used to.

This means that my lunch time writing sessions are not just a nice bonus any more. They are absolutely and utterly vital for me to keep working on my books while I’m working a 40 hour week.

Some nights I don’t get home until 7:30pm, and need to be in bed, asleep, by 9pm if I want to get enough sleep before I have to get up again at 5am. That leaves me with a grand total of 2 to 2.5 hours a day to myself that isn’t spent sleeping, driving, commuting, working or eating meals. And in that 2 to 2.5 hours, I need to spend time with Amber, do housework, laundry, relax, play video games, go to the gym, prepare for the next day, manage the business side of being a self-published author and try to fit some writing in.

All while not burning myself out.

So, something has to give. I need to prioritise and re-allocate the very limited amount of time I have each day to make sure it’s being used effectively.

  • Amber and I are lucky enough to live in a house with a dishwasher now. HOW DID WE EVER LIVE BEFORE? WE WERE SAVAGES, I TELL YOU! So we take turns loading it up right before we go to bed, then we let it dry during the day.
  • On the weekends, I do enough laundry to last me the entire week, with an extra emergency set of clothes, just in case I get crapped on by a bird on the way to work. Don’t laugh. That happened to me twice last year.
  • We do our meal preparation on the weekend. We’ll do a huge pot of bolognese, apricot chicken, stew, or we’ll make 10 sandwiches and freeze them – then all we need to do throughout the week is heat them up. It does get a trifle boring though, so be warned.
  • I don’t tend to get much recreation time at home during the week. My reading is primarily done on public transport or in the car (via audiobook). Now when I actually get to sit down and read/game on the weekends, I cherish it.

The only saving grace in my current job is the flexible working hours. If I work more than my allocated 36.5 hours per week, I can bank the extra 3.5(ish) hours I work into a flexible leave balance, which I can take whenever I want, workload permitting. This is fucking awesome. This means that every 2.5(ish) weeks, I get a full day off work, which I can use to write for the whole day! I can pretend that I’m actually doing this writing thing for a living!

I know that not everyone who works a full-time job gets the luxury of flexible working hours. Striking the perfect balance is fucking tough.

But if you want to succeed and finish your awesome book you need to find a way to make it work.

If you’re writing-time-poor, try this exercise. Open up a Calendar or Spreadsheet (You can use Google Docs Sheets if you don’t have any local spreadsheet programs like Excel) and plot out your entire day. Do this for the entire 24 hour cycle, from 12am to 12am.

  • Firstly, block out all of the time you spend sleeping. Change the appointment/cell colour so you can differentiate sleep from the other categories we’re going to add.
  • Next, in a new colour, block out all of the time you spend working. This will be difficult if you’re working casually or doing shift work, but try your best. You may need to plot this out over a month, not just a week.
  • Next, in a new colour, block out the time you spend commuting to and from work.
  • Next, in another new colour, block out the time you need to allocate to non-writing activities. This can be anything, from cooking meals to practicing guitar to attending ballroom dancing lessons. Include anything that you absolutely must do during the week.

Now, look at all of the empty spaces in your spreadsheet. Tally up how many hours this equates to in a week, and you’ve got a relatively simplistic formula for finding out how many hours a week you could be writing.

For me personally, I know that Friday nights are great, which is why this is getting posted on a Friday night! I can sleep as late as I want on Saturday mornings, which means I can stay up as late as I want on Friday nights.

In the mornings when I catch the train, I know that I can get a seat, which means that I can set up my laptop and work on my writing during my commute. I can’t do this on the way home though – the train is too packed and I can never get a seat.

Identify places and times that you could be writing, or planning your writing. When you’re working a full-time job, it is so important to analyse your available time, identify the periods of time that you could use to work on your writing, and use them.

Have you got any great tips on how to best utilise your writing time while working a full-time job? If so, please share them down in the comments section!

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