Writer with a Day Job — 100 Words a Day

by Amber Lea Starfire on May 23, 2016


MOST WRITERS have day jobs. That’s a fact. There are those who begin writing in earnest after retirement or who are fortunate enough to be supported by other means or who manage to carve out a writing career when they are young, but these are the minority.

A quick web search reveals a long list of classic and contemporary authors with day jobs. Some of these (not in any particular order):

  • William Burroughs (exterminator)
  • Virginia Woolf (publisher)
  • Agatha Christie (apothecaries’ assistant)
  • Frank McCourt (teacher)
  • Toni Morrison (editor & teacher)
  • Charles Dickens (factory worker)
  • Robert Frost (teacher)
  • James Joyce (cinema operator)
  • Franz Kafka (legal clerk & insurance executive)
  • John Steinbeck (tour guide)
  • Kurt Vonnegut (car dealer)
  • Yours truly (corporate trainer & curriculum developer, editor)
  • [Insert your name and career here …]

The list could go on and on.

If you have a day job and a young family, opportunities to write are even more precious. Yet while having to work full-time and deal with family responsibilities slows down your writing progress, it doesn’t need to stop you from achieving your writing goals, whether those goals include journaling regularly, writing essay, fiction, poetry, or memoir.

Of course, every working writer needs to deal with this challenge in his or her own way, depending upon circumstances and temperament. For example, even though I’m naturally a night owl, my day job requires a great deal of creative energy and I have a long commute, so by the time I arrive home in the evening I’m pretty much toast, creatively speaking. In addition, I write blog posts, teach online classes, and coach a limited number of writing clients. With such a full life, it has been extremely difficult to make time for my own creative writing.

My solution has been to make my writing goals modest and doable — and to learn how to be a morning person. If I net 100 solid words each day (and some days I achieve more than that), I have 36,500 words at the end of the year.  That’s half a book, eighteen 2000-word essays, or about 73 poems.

Here’s how I do it: I set two alarms — because that’s what it takes to wake me up — and rise extra early each weekday morning. I allow 15 minutes to splash some water on my face, get a cup of coffee (ready-made via a programmable coffee maker), and settle into my writing chair. Then I set a timer to write for 45 minutes — fifteen minutes for journaling and thirty minutes for creative writing. I do not check my email, surf the Internet (unless needed for research), or open Facebook or Twitter. These are strictly not allowed until my writing timer goes off.

And though I restrict my scheduled writing time to weekdays because weekends are filled with family and other responsibilities, I do sneak in some weekend writing when I can. But I don’t beat myself up if that doesn’t happen. I’m not perfect, and this is not a perfect system, but I’m sticking with it and making progress.

Do you struggle with making time to write?

Here are some questions for your consideration:

  • Where in your schedule could you carve out fifteen to thirty minutes of uninterrupted writing time each day? Early morning? Lunchtime? Immediately after work? Late at night? During your commute on the train or bus?
  • When do you typically have the most energy: morning, midday, or at night?
  • What affect does your job have over your energy level and ability to focus?
  • What other responsibilities do you have that affect your energy level and ability to focus?
  • What are your writing goals?
  • How can you break down your goals into small, achievable bites?

Now a one-week challenge:

  1. Commit to the challenge by leaving a comment below. All you have to say is that you’re going to do it. (Hey, how bad can a one-week commitment be?)
  2. Write down one doable, chewable writing goal that you could accomplish this week and share it with a friend — or be daring and share it with us along with your commitment comment. Writing down your goal and sharing it makes you more accountable.
  3. Schedule your writing time each day for the next week. It doesn’t have to be the same time every day, as long as you schedule it. I don’t suggest anything less than fifteen minutes, though five minutes here and there for journaling and/or brainstorming can augment your regularly scheduled writing time.
  4. Set an alarm or an appointment reminder keep you on track.
  5. When you sit down to write, set a timer and when your fifteen or thirty or sixty minutes is up, stop writing. Stopping can be difficult, because you’ll feel like you just got going. But stop anyway.
  6. Stick to your schedule for one week.
  7. Come back here at the end of the week and post an update by replying to your original comment.

You can do it. I know you can!

And if you’re a writer with a day job (and being a full-time caregiver counts) who has already solved your writing time conundrum, please feel free to share. Every success story contributes to others.



Word for Writers, Part 12 – Copyediting with Find & Replace

May 16, 2016
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I WANT to let you in on a secret: Word’s Find and Replace feature is an indispensable editing tool. Here are just a few ways you can use Find/Replace to improve your writing: Revise passive to active verb construction Find useless adverbs Discover unnecessary prepositional phrases Correct simple formatting problems, such as extra spaces or paragraph […]

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Why You Need to Know the Difference Between Revision and Copyediting

May 9, 2016
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WRITERS tend to use the terms “revision” and “copyediting” interchangeably, but there are some important differences between the two; they are separate activities accomplished at different stages of the writing process, and both are important to crafting a good piece of writing. What are they, how are they different, and why is it important to understand […]

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Journaling Prompts for Mothers

May 2, 2016
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SOMETIMES IT SEEMS that I have been a mother for a very, very long time. My eldest son was nineteen when my youngest was born, and though they are all adults now, they will always be my children — always a source of care, concern, and love. Being a mother is an impossible job to […]

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Dream Journaling – An Interview with Nathan Ohren

April 25, 2016
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I’M DELIGHTED to welcome Nathan Ohren, a fellow journal writing teacher and promoter of mindful living, to the Writing Through Life blog. I “met” Nathan online a couple of years ago through his JournalTalk podcast. We’ve stayed in touch and continue to share ideas with each other around ways to help others learn and grow in their […]

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