Sci-fi and YA author Steven O'Connor provides practical tips for self-published authors to maximise their writing time without giving up the day job.
Very few writers earn enough from their endeavors to write full time. We all know that. Yet we write on anyway! Because we love creating new worlds and immersing ourselves in them. Because we love exploring the characters who might inhabit those worlds — exploring their minds, their emotions, their relationships and the challenges they face. Writers write, regardless of payment. Most of us have to earn our living elsewhere.
We also know that writing is best done in an ongoing way. Plus there's the unrelenting promotional demands that accompany it these days. So that leads us to the question: how can we go about integrating our writing work and our paid work? Below are some of the ways I go about it.
1. Go part time!
Not all of us can afford to do this, but if you’re committed to your writing, you really should think about it. I have been four days a week in my paid job for years now. Three days is what I would prefer (try love), but as a parent in a busy family, I simply can’t afford that. And there aren't that many jobs like that around either.
Also, I never regard my day away as my day off. It’s my writing day. The nexus of my writing week. And it’s a Wednesday, to avoid the notion of a long weekend — which I fear could happen if I made it a Friday or a Monday.
2. Write in a continuous way — and daily
Don’t fall into the black-and-white routine of only writing on days off or weekends. Seizing random moments is critical to my writing flow. Cultivating a practice of writing whenever, even if it’s just a short burst, significantly saves me time — it means there's no time and energy wasted when it comes to one of my longer writing sessions. If you’ve ever left a sizable gap between your writing sessions, you’ll know exactly what I mean. It can be a struggle to re-establish your precious rhythm. And think about getting up an hour or so earlier than the rest of the house to touch base with your writing and going to bed an hour or so later. (After all, who needs sleep?)
3. Keep in touch with fellow writers and potential readers during commuting time
I get so many email notifications from subscriptions it's ridiculous. That’s all part of the modern writer’s life, I guess. Picture this: wintry morning at a bus stop, my breath in the frosty air and my trusty iPhone in my hands as I check out the latest blog post from a fellow writer. Brrr, freezing hands! And the typo risk is high. But I really do need to do this kind of thing if I’m going to stay in touch with what’s happening and maintain at least some visibility. (Obviously do not do this if you drive to work. Hands-free Twitter and blogging has still to come.)
4. Keep tabs on your social media during work breaks
At lunch time, I’m often clocking into Facebook groups and various blogs to see what’s happening. This need only take 20 to 30 minutes and can be quite enjoyable. I might do one or two tweets or shares. This can also be a good time to read one of the more detailed posts from an industrious fellow indie author such as Joanna Penn. Or read a bit of the latest ebook on book promotion.
5. Email ideas to yourself
This is a throughout-the-day-everyday thing and a total must if you’re a writer. Forget those who might say it's cheesy. So many good ideas, plot quirks, interesting phrases (tossed off by others and caught by discerning you) and complete sentences come to me at the oddest moments — during boring meetings, over a coffee with a colleague. Get them into your mobile phone's notes app and emailed off to yourself (whoosh). And they’ll be there, waiting for you when you're ready to throw yourself back into your writing.
Hey, hey, something full-time writers don't have — a separate occupation that's not only a potential source for inspiration but something you can make a song and dance about come promoting time. My current project is a young adult fantasy novel called Under the Garden and it's about an HIV-positive boy. Writing this, I realize that when it comes to launching the book, I must make sure to talk about my time as an HIV/AIDS social worker.
7. Promote in your workplace
It's also worth flipping things around from the above and identifying promotional opportunities within the workplace. For example, most employees run the other way when approached to be included in an organization's newsletter. Imagine how delighted the editor will be if you offer to be the sacrificial lamb for the next staff profile (or you could get a colleague to nominate you). Your writing is an angle they will be keen to exploit to counter the rest of the dry material they have to spruce up.
Well, hopefully I’ve got you thinking about some things you could do. The possibilities are numerous when you think about it and I’d love to hear your suggestions.