Someday I would love to be a full-time writer, but for right now, I have a 50-60 hour a week day job that requires my attention so that annoyances like bills, mortgage payments, and insurance can be provided for. I’ve written and published ten books in the past five years while satisfying the demands of my day job. People always ask me how I do this, so here are some tips to help others that might be in this same predicament. I will expand on each of these within this post:
- Think about your writing during every minute that you have available
- Maximize your idle time
- Travel and free time
- Use your daily experiences to help you
- Claim your non-work time
- Sleep less
- Work on multiple writing projects simultaneously
- Outsource your marketing/advertising
- Automate your social media campaign
- Don’t give up
I hope this list is helpful. There may be other tips that I haven’t listed and I believe that each of them could be expanded into their own top ten list. I will expand upon each one of them and hopefully you will find some nuggets of useful knowledge.
Think About Your Writing During Every Spare Moment
You may not be able to write as much as you like, but you can certainly work out plot elements and character profiles in your mind during your work day. Your plots and characters come from things that you are familiar with. Be observant as you go through your work day. You’ll be surprised at how much this will help when you do have time to write.
We all (hopefully) take showers every day. Some of my greatest ideas have come to me in the shower. The key is to remember your thoughts and write them down or record them as soon as possible. I carry a little notebook with me for this purpose. I split the notebook up into observations about people, places, and things. In the back, starting on the last page, I record ideas for stories and books.
Maximize Your Idle Time
It may not be safe to open your laptop or tablet in the car while you are commuting. You can, however, use your smart phone to record your work and then type it up later. If you travel in a car pool, this might be awkward unless you use earbuds with a microphone. If you travel solo, you might have people at traffic lights staring at you as you talk to an invisible passenger in your car. If you are truly a writer, however, you probably are a bit on the eccentric side anyway. This just goes with the image.
If you’re lucky like I am and you travel via public transportation, your idle time may be substantial. I have worked on my books and short stories on planes and trains, in airports and hotel lobbies, all while waiting to get somewhere. When you add up your commute time over a period of weeks or months, there is a lot of unused time that can be spent researching, creating, and refining your work.
You just have to be good at balancing the ability to block out distractions with getting so enthralled in your work that you miss your flight or train. I can type while I’m on the plane, at the gate in the airport, waiting for a doctor’s appointment, or any other place where I have idle time. The trick is to become adept at blocking out outside distraction and focusing on your work.
My dream is to someday live in a house by the ocean with a writing room on the top floor where I can peacefully gaze out at the ocean while I write masterpieces. Until I have a best seller that makes this a reality, however, I write whenever and wherever I can. I have Chrome Book that I use for writing.
Now that airlines allow the use of these small devices before and during takeoff, I use this time to get a jump on my writing. I used to write in a notebook during this time and then type it up later.
One of the benefits of using this time in transit is that time will fly by. I used to commute to from Florida to points all over the country every week. It’s amazing how a flight will pass by quickly and when I landed, I discovered that I had written a chapter or two of a book. I always felt more refreshed than if I had slept or watched a video.
Use Your Daily Experiences
We all spend our day in the working world with interesting characters. Use those traits, good and bad, that make these real-life figures interesting in your writing Of course, you need to be careful that you don’t make someone obviously identifiable in your books unless you have their permission. This will avoid awkwardness, especially if you put them in embarrassing situations that either happened or that you’ve invented for your story.
We all experience things that are unusual from time to time. I travel to various US cities very frequently and like to observe the people and culture while I’m there. In the past five years I have spent time in Kentucky, California, Colorado, Michigan, Georgia, Massachusetts Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and New York. In these places, and in my home state of Florida, I’ve seen a lot of colorful characters. Blends of these characters, along with people I’ve known in the past, appear in my books.
I also like to look at local and national news stories. Very often a secondary news story can be the spark for a story. My very first published short story, Heal Thyself, came from a news story that I embellished to give it a more supernatural feel. The result turned out being very different from the original news item, but the underlying idea was still there. Use your experiences. Write what you know.
We all like to get our eight hours of sleep. I’ve found that, during the work week, I can get by on six to seven hours of sleep and use the extra time in the morning or evening to write. I’m not advocating being unhealthy with regard to reducing your sleep time. You need to do what works for your body and your schedule. This strategy works for me, however, and it’s amazing how many pages you can get done in a dedicated hour or two.
It also helps to exercise in the morning before you write. I’ve found that 30 minutes on the treadmill is an excellent way to clear the sleep cobwebs out of your head. It’s also a great time to think through some of the writing challenges that I might be facing.
Work on multiple writing projects simultaneously
I know this sounds crazy. I’m sure you’ve heard of writer’s block. I’ve found that if I have a short story and a book going at the same time, I can switch between them if I get stuck in one or the other. If I have a plot element that is difficult to work out, switching to my other project usually results in resolving the issue with the first once my mind is focused on something else.
I will focus on other benefits of completing multiple works later in this book. For independently published authors that are not constrained by traditional publishing schedules, there are some definitive benefits.
Outsource your marketing/advertising
I’ve found a great resource that can help me with gaining exposure for my work without me having to do the leg work. I occasionally have to respond to interview questionnaires or connect with podcasts, but for the most part, I don’t have to find the outlets for these things. It saves time and will boost your sales. The key, as a new author, is to increase your spend in this area gradually and in proportion with your sales. Anyone wanting to know more about this can contact me directly.
In addition, you have to spend this money wisely. There are many things that you can easily do on your own. Beware of any independent publishing services that seek a portion of your royalties in return. Find providers that have cafeteria-style offerings so that you can pick and choose what you need. Don’t be upsold into services that you already can handle on your own.
Remember, whatever services you purchase, make sure that the results are measurable so that you can assess their effectiveness. If your selected publicity outlet is not giving you the results that you desire, adjust what you are doing. Don’t spend unnecessarily for services that aren’t helping you.
Automate your social media campaign
There are many social media outlets. They include Facebook and Twitter as the leaders. Pintrest is gaining ground. The key is to find the social media outlets that you are most comfortable with and maximize the benefit you can get from them.
When I published my first book, I found myself spending hours every day trying to post in groups on Facebook and tweets on Twitter. There are good software applications out there, at a relatively low cost, that can do this work for you.
There are subscription services that will post to groups on Facebook for you. The drawback of this service is that Facebook closely monitors group posting patterns and you can end up being restricted in your postings.
Don’t give up
There were times when I had project deadlines at work and I would go for days without writing. On the whole, I have been able to balance this out. For every extra hour of work, I try to find an extra hour of writing time during the lulls that naturally occur. You have to work at this and make it happen.
Strive to write every day, even if it’s just a sentence or two. Like every other learned behavior, this will become a habit and you will soon find yourself needing to write just as you need to eat and sleep.