Writers and would-be writers may dream of making a full-time career of writing, but that is becoming an increasingly rare option. Traditionally-published authors are not getting the kinds of advances they used to receive and independently published authors often spend more money than they make, so we must have day jobs to support ourselves and our families.
Although I’ve been writing for over twenty years, I am fairly new to professional writing, and I am an indie writer at the moment. I’m successful in that I’ve written and published five books. Am I earning a living at it? No. Do I make enough money to take my wife out to dinner from time to time? (Laughing) Yes! Is my writing good enough to read? Hell yes! Quick aside. I don’t like the term “self-published.” Many equate it to “vanity publishing” which, as we all know, is a monstrous abomination (see sarcasm.) Heaven forbid someone invest money to produce and share their art. Remember when labels and radio stations got to decide what would like to listen to? What music is good or bad? At that time, we had no idea what we were missing. Now we have an infinite world of music to try out. We, the consumers of art, should get to decide what is good whether it be music, painting, dance, or writing. If you’re reading this and are an indie writer, know that you are a writer. PERIOD. Ok, aside over.
And so, I must balance my writing and my day job. Here’s what I’ve learned, given my circumstances. My current job has a rather strict shift schedule, which is unusual for my career as a software engineer, but it’s what I have, and it’s too good a job to care either way.
I start at 8 am. I get a fifteen-minute break at 9:45, a forty-five-minute lunch break at 11:30, a fifteen-minute break at 2:45, and I get off at 4:45 and then write for an hour in the evenings. I can write as much as I want on the weekend–usually around two hours. That’s an average of 92 minutes a day. How did I write the first draft of my last book, Bay City Runaway (84,000 words), in five weeks with that schedule? That’s around 2,400 words a day, or 29 words a minute.
1. I’m a better-than-average typist, thanks to Keyboarding I and II in high school.
2. I have Bipolar Affective Disorder, which many writers have. Even medicated, I can ride a solid six weeks of hypo-mania (mild elevated, productive mood), and that’s when I do a lot of my writing.
3. I don’t stop to edit, reread, or do a lot of planning. I construct a very scant outline at the beginning of the project (or not at all) and shoot for the main points as I write, permitting myself to break my plan. I know that I can fill in gaps, descriptions, themes, etc. in subsequent drafts.
4. This is the most important key to productivity with writing: It takes a lot of courage, but I think it’s the reason most would-be writers don’t write anything or why writer’s block occurs. BE WILLING TO WRITE UTTER CRAP; otherwise, you will likely never complete a project.
This method of short writing spurts probably only works with a daily writing discipline. If I wait for days, weeks, or months to write, I lose the flow. I forget all the little seeds of suspense I had planted. It just doesn’t work! There are days when I only write 200 words. There are days when I write 4000 words. It averages out over time.
Editing, drafting, developing, getting feedback from beta readers, designing covers, publishing, marketing–these things may take longer and a lot more patience, but at the end of that month or two of steady writing, you have a damn book! Maybe not a good one, but that’s the thing people who want to be writers never get–a book. They plan and plan and tweet and read, but they do not write. They write the first thousand words and then spend the next months posting about it on social media, worrying that it is no good. Did you know that writers used to write entire books without Twitter and Facebook or telling anyone about it at all? The truth is, the WORST book is the book that never was never written.
There are thousands of articles, books, classes, seminars, and podcasts on how to write a book, but eventually, a writer must write–even if it’s terrible! Hopefully, with patience, diligence, practice, courage, and help from other writers, teachers, editors, beta-readers, or maybe even a publishing house, it won’t stay terrible.
There is nothing wrong with having a day job. I prefer the stability and benefits. Many of the great writers had day jobs. Perhaps it even gives you more to write about. You do not have to write eight hours a day or even ninety minutes, but you do have to write! So quit reading this article and write a sentence, a paragraph, a scene, or a whole chapter! Oh and don’t write on your work computer!