Balancing Writing With a Day Job

By Elle Spellman

For many writers, finding the time to finish that novel can be a daunting prospect. You have the perfect idea, and want more than anything to get it onto the page – but life just gets in the way. Understandably, the prospect of writing and editing an entire novel can be overwhelming when there’s limited time in your day to sit down and actually write.

While we’d love to spend each day fully devoted to our craft, the reality for many of us involves day jobs, families, and/or caring responsibilities.

As an author who also works full time, here are my top five tips to help you to balance your free time effectively and hit those writing goals!

1. Adapt your schedule

It may seem as though you don’t have the time, but there’s probably a chunk of time in your day you could devote to writing – it’s just a matter of finding it. Author Beth O’Leary wrote her bestselling novel The Flatshare on her daily commute. Do you have time within your schedule that you could use for writing – or could you adapt it?

Take a look at your daily schedule, and see if there is anything you can change. Are you more productive in the mornings, or evenings? Could you wake up earlier and get in 20-30 minutes of writing time? Or, if you’re a night owl, could you devote some time before bed? Could you write during your lunch-break, or find a 15-minute gap during the day?

For me, I sometimes write during the lunch hour, along with a few hours in the evenings. Sometimes, I’ll stop by a café on the way home and spend an hour writing away from home, where I’ll be free from distraction.

2. Plan

Not everyone plans out their novel before they begin – some simply jump right in and the story flows! I also know authors who plan meticulously, chapter by chapter. I’m kind of in the middle. But planning helps when time is a factor in your progress; it can help you from getting stuck and losing more time.

It doesn’t have to be a hugely detailed, 30-page plan – unless that’s how you work, of course! – but even a brief chapter outline or some ideas for upcoming scenes can help the story flow when you sit down to write.

3. Set realistic goals

When it comes to getting motivated, setting a daily target for yourself can help. Smashing a goal can add a fantastic feeling of accomplishment to your writing day, and help you keep track of your progress.

But it’s also important to keep that target realistic and achievable. Being over-ambitious can be disappointing, not to mention off-putting, on days when you know you might not hit that goal. So set a target that works best for you, and you only.

Personally, I set a daily goal of 300 words. It’s an easy target to hit when I’m deeply involved in a new story and am busy letting it consume me, but it’s also a doable amount on days when I’m tired, or busy with other things. Your target doesn’t have to be based on word count either – it could be a page, an hour, a scene idea written in a notebook – whatever works best for you.

4. Always have a notebook to hand

If you don’t already carry a notebook at all times, then believe me, it’s a great idea. (That said, I’m old-fashioned and don’t always use the notebook on my phone, but yes, that too!) I often find myself jotting down ideas, ready for the evening’s writing session. Some of my favourite scenes were hastily scribbled on paper during lunch-breaks and the commute to work.

Plus, it’s a good excuse to buy a pretty notebook. Or ten.

5. Join an online writing group for extra motivation

Those with busy schedules may find it difficult, or even impossible to find a regular writing group – but there are plenty of opportunities to join fellow writers online. Since lockdown, there has been a rise in new writing groups and motivational forums aimed at helping writers hit their goals and boost motivation. Writing alongside others and sharing ideas and feedback can make the process feel a little less lonely – and keep you on track to finishing your novel.

About the Blogger

Elle Spellman is a writer, reader and runner, though finds it more fun to run with friends. She’s fond of the seaside and strolling through old cemeteries. When she isn’t working on a novel, Elle occasionally writes flash fiction. She lives in Bristol, UK. Running into Trouble is available now from Trapeze Books. Find Elle on Twitter: @seventhelle