141 – Writing with a Full-Time Job

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Writing with a Full Time Job Write from the Deep podcast with Karen Ball and Erin Taylor YoungWriting is never easy, but it can be especially challenging when you have a full-time job. It can seem so hard to find writing time on top of everything else! But we’ve got some great tips and strategies, shared by those facing the same challenges, to help you in this seemingly impossible task.

But first, thank you to all our patrons on Patreon! You help make this podcast possible!

We recently heard from one of our new listeners that the hardest thing for her about this task of writing was balancing between her day job and time to write. We’ve never done an episode specifically about that, and clearly it’s needed. Thanks for the idea!

Like many struggles on the writing journey, it helps us to hear, and learn from each other’s experiences. Remember Hebrews 10:24-25:

“And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”

With that in mind, we sent an email out to other authors for their feedback, which we’ll be sharing. And because we’ve have both had times when we’ve been writing while working day jobs, we’ll mix in some of our thoughts as well. 

Christina Sinisi, who works as a professor, has this to say:

“Schedule your down time, set boundaries, and be flexible. I know these may seem contradictory, but they’re real. I schedule my work time, including grading at home, so I have a built-in nap, outdoors time, etc. I even schedule expected times for meals. That way, I don’t run out of time and discard important things. And then I protect those times. Students would seek help at all hours in this digital age, but I have cut-offs and stick to them.”  

I (Erin) like the idea of setting boundaries and protecting them. My hubby’s a professor, too, and I can testify that students do seek help at all hours. There will be an email at 10:30 at night about an assignment due at 11:00pm, as if my hubby has nothing to do 24/7 but watch for their emails.

But the same thing can happen with coworkers or your boss. If you answer that email on Saturday afternoon, or at 10pm, instead of waiting until you get back to work, you’re training people to expect that, and it’s hard to retrain them, or not feel guilty when you want to set boundaries. Obviously emergencies happen or there are jobs that require you to be on call, but you get the idea.

Christina goes on to say:

“Finally, I allow myself leeway. It’s the end of the semester, and I didn’t write for my fiction yesterday. That’s okay. I’ll make it up when the semester is over. Priorities have to shift depending on needs, while maintaining health and faith.”

That’s so good to keep in mind. And to stay flexible even when those shifting priorities have unexpected results. Sometimes shifting priorities can feel like a juggling act but having that flexibility can help us not be frustrated, and that saves our emotional energy for writing when we do have time.

Linda Harris shared this with us:

“When I was employed by the US Dept. of Education, the work and environment was structured and rigid. I write historical fiction. My lunch hour was one-hour, no exceptions. If I stayed in my office, I was open to interruptions and work-related issues. I found a place out of my assigned area where I could work in relative quiet…My first five published novels were before personal computers, and work equipment was off limits. I transcribed my noon-time writing to the home typewriter. We lived in the country so I could dictate to my hand-held recorder on the way home. A commercial dictaphone machine made the transcribing go faster. Knowing Shorthand was a plus. Even knowing a few basic strokes and abbreviations for characters would help today when pencil and paper are the only tools available.”

I love the dedication this shows. Linda made a work around for so many of her challenges. She goes on to say:

“I learned to write in scenes instead of chapters. Scenes were easier to rearrange and develop than full chapters. Staying in POV (point of view) is easier in scenes. Dividing into chapters later was a snap. A detailed outline, while time consuming to create, kept me on track. I added historical notations to the outline to keep the flow and not miss an important point… Since time was premium, I allowed 15 minutes to gather my gear and get to my writing spot, and another 15 to gather my gear, get to my office, and be ready to work. Obviously, all minutes saved during these 30 minutes were added to writing time. Fast forward to laptops and computers and marvelous programs like Scrivener, AutoCrit, etc., and production is streamlined.”

What a great job Linda does with optimizing her writing time to make the most of it. Think about your own job and the flow of your day. Are there ways you can optimize your time? Routines you can establish to help make the most of your time?

Linda ends with this:

“God is the ultimate redeemer of my time spent writing for Him.”

What a wonderful reminder that the burden of accomplishing this task doesn’t rest on us, but on HIM! He’s given you this task, and He will enable you, and bring His purposes to fruition. 

Jessica White offered these tips:

“It’s 100% about making the most of the small times. The in between moments. Plotting while you wait. Using an app like OTTER so it transcribes your thoughts and you have a template to start with. Also just knowing yourself and how you write so you can find prime time. For example, my brain is more relaxed [at night] so I can free-write first drafts then, but don’t ask me to edit. But if I try to draft in the morning, my inner editor makes it slow and painful. Working with myself instead of against myself is the key.” 

I love that because it’s another way to optimize your time. You’re being more efficient with the time you have. I realize not everyone can do this. You may need to be at your day job during your most creative time. In that case, maybe take some quick notes during your break times, if you get them, or like Linda Harris did, use your lunchtime if you can. Try to save that time during weekends and your days off, and try to find your second best creative time.

Jessica continues:

“Just being realistic about how much it’s going to take to write a book [helps]. For me it is about an hour a page from first draft to editor’s desk. So if I need a 90,000 word book, that’s going to be about 360 hours. If I could only give it an hour a day, then it would take me a year.” 

As an editor for major publishing houses, I (Karen) can tell you how important it is to turn your manuscript in on time. You need to know how long it takes you to write a book so you can make sure you’re not signing a contract with an unrealistic deadline that’s going to cause you stress, or cause you to produce less than your best effort because you ran out of time.

Kelly Scott shared this with us:

“My biggest tip is using the Google docs app on my phone. Every time a scene came to mind or I had an idea, I could quickly write it out while I was sitting at my work desk. I would also designate Saturday mornings and Sunday afternoons to writing.”

Kathleen Y’Barbo Turner offers this advice:

“First, for writers employed full time outside the home, if you spend all your free time wishing you had more time to write, you’ll never find time to write. I cringe when I think of the time I wasted on evenings and weekends, wishing I didn’t spend 8 hours of every weekday as a paralegal at a law office.” 

Paul gives us the foundation to deal with this discontent in Philippians 4: 11-13: “…for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

Kathleen clearly learned this principle. She goes on to say:

“Then I remind myself how stressed I was when I was depending on hit-or-miss royalty payments and book advances to pay bills that came every month no matter what. And I really do like being a paralegal. It uses the other side of my brain. And though I can’t write about our cases or clients, it does spark ideas just being out in the world that I didn’t have when I was home writing all day.”

I totally agree with what she says about sparking ideas. Part of what builds creativity is taking in stimuli from lots of sources all around you and finding new connections and new ways to solve problems, like for example, writing your character out of the corner you painted him into!

As far as how to manage the writing time, Kathleen says:

“First of all, ignore the urge to lament what you don’t have time for and make a plan for the time you do have. Your plan can be a writing schedule or just an acknowledgement that you’ve got a certain number of hours today and using those hours to do something productive and writing related… The best thing I did, other than learn how to write ANYWHERE, including but not limited to cars, airplanes, and waiting rooms, was to get my priorities straight. God first. My daily reading before work happens no matter what.”  

Amen to that! Kathleen also says:

“If I can sneak some writing time in before I leave for the office, I do it…When I get home from work, I’m usually tired. We don’t break for lunch at my office, so after dinner I’m ready to throw myself on the sofa and watch mindless television with hubby. So I do. Yep. I do. But only for a pre-determined amount of time. I don’t have children at home now, but I started writing when my eldest was four. I think writing with children around is great training for writing with a job. You just get on with it. Do the work. Manage as best you can but above all, protect your time, your faith, and your creativity. God will give you the ability. You just have to ask. And listen to His response.”

I love that because our ability really does come from God. You have to protect your time with God. Sometimes in the midst of all the busyness of life and writing, what we need most is to stop moving and be quiet before God for even just a few minutes and let him wash over us. Let him be our rest. Let him refill our well. Take time where we’re not trying to create, not trying to speak, not trying to do anything but soak in the awareness of his presence. And his majesty. You might be surprised how refreshing that can be. 

Psalm 62:5 says, “Rest in God alone, my soul, for my hope comes from Him.”

Psalm 23:1-3 (NIRV) says, “The Lord is my shepherd. He gives me everything I need. He lets me lie down in fields of green grass. He leads me beside quiet waters. He gives me new strength…”

When I (Karen) worked a full-time job as well as being a writer, I had a special difficulty because my full-time job was in publishing. As many of you know, I headed up fiction for Tyndale as well as three other major publishers in Christian publishing. I worked with books all day long. I was editing, brainwashing, and doing all those things with writers. My whole world was about writing and story and all the things that needed to be done as a writer, but I was working as an editor.

It took me awhile to realize that they were two different hats for me. They’re two different functions of the brain. One is a more collaborative, synergistic action, and that’s the editing. In that, I’d use one part of my brain. But then when it came to just letting the right side of my brain out to play, that’s when I went into writing. I had to shift. On the drive home from work, I would decompress from the day and then prepare myself for, when I got home, the writing session.

I had set times for dinner when I got home, and Don and I would spend time together. But I also had a bedroom set aside as an office. When I went into that bedroom to do the writing work, Don knew not to come in and try to talk to me unless it was some kind of emergency, like a severed artery or protruding bone. I had a set amount of time that I spent in there.

I had to be careful not to go in there when I couldn’t sleep. Not to go in there when I was frustrated. Not to use that room for anything other than for just sitting and entering into the phase and the work of writing. I had to protect the space, as well as protect what I did in there.

Linda Goodnight wrote this:

“When I first began pursuing publication, I taught school and had three active children at home. In addition, I was working part-time as a home health care nurse. So, yes, time was tight. I specifically remember brainstorming scenes as I was driving between patient homes each evening and on weekends. I kept a notepad on the seat next to me and when I stopped, I’d jot down snatches of conversation or whatever brainstorm I’d had. I was never good at speaking into a recorder. Frankly, during those days I was so compelled to write that I literally always had a pen and paper. To me, the whole time management thing is about priorities. We find time for the things we really want to do. I hear people say they’re going to write a book when they get time, which means they probably never will.” 

We all say that we have no time, and yet we have time, I know I have time, to sit and watch a movie on TV. If I have something else that’s a higher priority, then I need to put that in place of what is a mindless activity. Although, I want to give you all permission to involve yourself in mindless activity, because there are times when our brains and our creativity need that.

Linda goes on to give these specific tips that helped her: 

  • Set a specific goal. Mine was publication by a major publisher which meant producing full manuscripts,  and I was obsessed with making it happen. A very successful NY Times author told me early on that successful writers aren’t necessarily the most talented. They’re the most persistent. I found that to be true.
  • Always have a pen and paper with you, or a recording device. Write down that clever bit of dialogue. If you don’t, you’ll forget it and be mad at yourself. 
  • Write when waiting: at a doctor’s appointment, while a child is at sports practice, while dinner is cooking, etc. Don’t write at traffic lights. People honk.
  • Prioritize. There are things you can let slide and some you can’t or shouldn’t. The sock drawer doesn’t have to be organized, but kids need you and they grow up fast. I admit to letting my windows get dirty and not vacuuming my car as often needed, but I never missed church or any of my kids’ many school activities.
  • Look at your lifestyle. Where do you waste time? Playing games on your phone? TV? Social media? Mine was TV, so I made 7 to 9PM each night my designated writing time instead of watching TV. By blocking out those two hours, I consistently produced 3-5 books per year.

Becca Wierwille wrote this:

“I work as a kindergarten teacher, and by the time I get home, my creative energy is often drained. While I do occasionally have time to write in the evenings, I’ve learned I can’t count on it. My strategy this year has been to write in the morning before I leave for school. My daily goal is to write for at least ten minutes—ten minutes is enough to get me started, and once I’m into the story, I almost always write for longer than that. Sometimes the excitement from my morning writing time carries into the evening, and then I’m able to continue it later as well.”

What’s so great about this is that Becca is setting herself up to succeed in her daily writing goal because she’s wisely made it easy. Anytime you’re trying to develop a habit, you want to make it so easy that you almost can’t NOT do it. And for getting our writing time going, sometimes the hardest bit is just overcoming inertia. Getting started each day is the biggest battle. If you tell yourself you only have to write one paragraph, or one sentence even, or five or ten minutes, that can get you started, and then more often than not, you’ll be off to the races. 

Becca goes on to say:

“Revisions are a bit more difficult because I find I need larger blocks of time in order to get into a good rhythm for editing. So when I’m revising, I try to set aside time on the weekend, or very intentional time in the evenings on weekdays. I used to do a word count goal for both writing and revising, and I know that works well for some people. But for me, a time goal has been more encouraging and less stressful overall, especially during the school year.”

I (Erin) love time goals, too. I’m a slow writer, and somehow knowing I had to make a certain number of words each session made me self-conscious. But simply working for a set time felt more freeing. The key is to learn what works best for you.

Robin Lee Hatcher gives this advice:

“I wrote and published my first 9 books over 10 years while working an 8 to 5 job (never worked anywhere that started at 9!). Most of that time, I was a single mom of two. I set myself a schedule and stuck to it, but I also, as a mom, had to be available to my daughters. So I had an open door policy. They could interrupt me any time they needed me. I came home from work and fixed and ate dinner. Then I wrote from 7 to 9PM on Monday through Thursday nights. Friday nights, Saturdays and Sundays were reserved for family. Since most of those years my girls were tweens and teens, they usually slept in on Saturdays so I often got to write on Saturday mornings. The key is to think of it as a job, whether or not under contract. I believe that having a set schedule and a set writing place helps with discipline, so that your brain knows, when [you] sit down here with [your] computer, it is time to write. When necessary, a writer can train her brain to switch from creating to dealing with family matters and then switch back again. It may not be ideal, but a writer really can learn to do it when necessary.”

Cara Putman offers this:

  • Think clearly about what you will give up to make space and time for writing. For me that was giving up TV, so that I could turn that time into writing time.
  • Use tools like TheQuill.io (a web version of a writing program similar to Scrivener) so that you can write from any computer to maximize pockets of time. 
  • Be consistent in writing each day — or establish a routine that works for you.
  • Get buy-in from family that this is important and part of what you do.

When I (Erin) was homeschooling my kids, I would try to get all the grading and prep done during the day with them, then after the school day, that was time I’d be writing and they’d do their own thing. It was easy to get buy-in. After having Mom as teacher all day, they were tired of me! Think about the best ways to get buy-in from your family.

Cara has a short video with tips and strategies for maximizing your writing time as well.

This has been a lot of information. However, there’s one important thing to keep in mind about all these strategies and experiences we’ve shared with you: They’re meant to inspire you. To encourage you. To help you get a springboard for ideas about what might work for you.

They are not for you to compare yourself to others, to go on that path where you feel like a failure because you’re not doing what someone else is. You are not allowed to compare yourself to anyone but yourself. Instead, focus on what works for you, using these ideas to help you figure that out.

Colossians 3:15-17 says, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Let this encourage you. Let this be an inspiration for you. And let it remind you that if God has given you this task, he’ll help you figure out how to do it.

Do you struggle to find time to write because of your job? Have we got some great tips for you! #amwriting #christianwriter @karenball1 Click To Tweet

What tips do you have for writing with a full-time job?


For the next few months, we have a sponsorship from the Novel Marketing podcast. We’re bringing you Novel Marketing’s 10 Commandments of Book Marketing. We highly recommend this podcast with host Thomas Umstattd Jr., who is a genius on marketing and all things publishing. You can find the podcast at novelmarketing.com.

Today we’re covering commandment #5: Thou shalt not dig thy well whilst thou art thirsty.

It takes time and money to develop your craft and build your platform. A successful writing journey isn’t an overnight trip, so don’t fall prey to anyone who promises that it is. You have to plan ahead and work at a pace you can sustain over the long haul. 

Be leary of anyone who offers you an instant audience for a price, or instant sales. They’re often better at taking your money than anything, and they’re taking advantage of your desire to make a quick profit from your writing.

Instead, create a budget for both your time and money, no matter how small the amount, and stick to it. Don’t go into debt, and don’t bet the farm. Invest. That’s the best way to ensure steady growth over the long term.

For more book promotion and platform help listen to Novel Marketing in your favorite podcast app or at NovelMarketing.com.


Thanks to all our patrons on Patreon! You help make this podcast possible!

Thanks so much to our May sponsor of the month, Stacy McLain! We’re praying for you on your writing journey, Stacy!

Many thanks also to the folks at Podcast P.S. for their fabulous sound editing!


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