I worked in advertising for 15 years. During those 15 years, I wrote fiction—novels, short stories—and some nonfiction. I had one novel, about 10 short stories, and another 10 nonfiction pieces published. Besides the one published novel, I wrote another 5 novels, 4 of which I’m still working on. They’re in various stages—my process of writing a novel normally has me writing a first draft somewhere between a few weeks and a year. After that, I move on to another first draft, complete it, and then return to the previous novel to begin my edits. So far, it works for me. But everyone’s process is different, whether writing fiction or writing for business purposes. No process is set in stone as the right one to follow. It’s whatever works for you, whatever gets the words down on paper or the screen. That said, I have some tips on how to make progress in your writing while holding down your day job.
1. FIND TIME TO WRITE.
Sounds easy, I know. But when you’re working 9-5 or 7-7 or whatever you’re working, the days seem too short. They’re filled with meetings whose content you’ll have to revisit. They’re filled with projects you’ll have to complete in a timely manner. There are tons of expectations of you by your team, your superiors, your clients. Often, this means something has to suffer. And this doesn’t even include if you have family commitments—a spouse, children, a fur baby. If you want to write, however, you’ll have to prioritize your writing in the same way you prioritize everything else you do. For many of us, that means something will have to be sacrificed. But what?
For me, I had to sacrifice sleep. My career in advertising (I was a project manager for digital agencies) had me not only working long days, it required traveling to clients in North America. It required meeting deadlines that were often nearly impossible to meet. But I/we did what we had to do in order to keep our clients happy—repeat business is the best business, right? Anyway, I knew and understood that if I wanted to have a book at the end of the year, I had to at least write one page a day, if I was to have a novel that was 365 pages. That meant getting up at 3 or 4 am and working until 7 so I got at least a few hours in each morning before work. I also worked on the weekends. For me, 7 days a week was normal—and I was married and had/have two young daughters as well, who I love being around. So there’s that I had to consider as well. If you have to write during lunch, that’s another option.
2. SET & STICK to YOUR GOALS.
If you’re writing short stories, maybe you can write a first draft in a week, thirty minutes or an hour each day. Some of us can write a short story in an hour or less. Others of us take longer. Either way is fine. But set a daily/weekly/monthly goal for what you want to accomplish, and make sure you accomplish it. I rarely write short stories anymore. The honest truth is that the only reason I wrote them was to have something on my writing resume and so that I created the possibility for an agent to bump across my story and offer representation. Now that I have an agent, I stick to novels. They’re just what I enjoy writing, so that’s what I do.
My goal when it comes to writing novels is to write one a year. For me, that normally means a full first draft, and then maybe an edit or two (remember, I have other novels I’m working on, so I bounce around between them). But I stick to that goal. Some days I write 3-4 hours. Some days just an hour. When I’m on a roll, I may write for 8-10 hours, but that’s not as often as it used to be. But the gist is this: I STICK to my routine because I want to make sure I reach the goals I set for myself. I don’t make excuses; I just do the work.
3. DON’T MAKE EXCUSES FOR NOT WRITING.
Now, I’m not telling you you can’t take a day or two off. Everyone needs time off. Everyone needs a break, a vacation, some downtime. That’s just the facts. You can’t work all day, write, take care of your other obligations all day every day without something giving. It’s just the nature of the beast. But don’t make excuses for not writing. Don’t talk yourself out of getting down what you need to get down. The longer you’re away from your writing, the longer it’ll take you to get back into it. If you’re writing on a daily basis, everything remains fresh in your head. You want that consistency because it provides consistency in your narrative. Here’s a truth: I’m writing this blog post because I’m avoiding working on the next draft of my work in progress (WIP). It’s not that I don’t want to work on it, only that I’ve been working on it every day for a long time, including weekends. But here’s another truth: I did some outlining work on it this morning, so I’ve actually put time in already, even if it wasn’t “writing.”
4. GET SUPPORT IF YOU NEED IT.
If you’ve been writing for any length of time, you’re probably okay not having someone over your shoulder telling you to write. I’m not saying that’s an absolute, only that if you’ve been doing it for a while, you probably know what needs to be done and you do it. You don’t need daily encouragement to get the words down. But that’s not the case for everyone, and if you fall into this category, it’s all right. Don’t beat yourself up about it. The good news is that there are other people out there looking for writers like you, i.e., writers who want to work in groups. Some writers need other writers to motivate them to write. Or to provide feedback on some sort of regular basis, whether daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, or whatever. That’s totally fine. In fact, I encourage it. Especially if you’re having trouble sticking to your set goals or find yourself meandering.
If that’s you, there are plenty of resources out there that’ll help you find that support. Some of the resources available to writers include:
Social media groups (if you’re on Facebook, there are plenty—just search for a group)
Writing blogs like Novelmasterclass.blog (if you prefer posts over in-person)
Writing Meetup groups (both online and in-person)
Camp NaNoWriMo (which is associated with NaNoWriMo in November)
And more—just google specifically the type of group you’re seeking
“When asked, ‘How do you write?’ I invariably answer, ‘one word at a time’.”
– STEPHEN KING
5. PLAN YOUR VACATIONS AROUND WRITING EVENTS
Every year, I go to a writing “master class” in Taos, New Mexico, to meet up with five other writers who’ve been writing for many years. We meet up with our facilitator, an ex-professor of mine from my undergraduate university. He’s a well-known writer and teacher of writing at a large, well-respected institution. He’s also a friend—I’ve known him for going on 30 years now. Each year there are six of us, with a few others jumping in and out depending on if one of us can’t make it for some reason.
You can do the same thing. There are writers’ conferences all over the world, literally, and they’re a great place to network with other writers, literary agents, publishers, and more, usually in very cool environments. They’re also great because they provide you with a deadline for your work, time over a set number of days where you’re strictly focused on the art of craft with others who love what you love, and the opportunity to form lasting friendships and relationships with writers whom you can continue working with as beta readers once the conference is over.
Now, yes, you’ll have to give up your vacation—or at least it’ll be a “working” vacation. But most of the conferences, as I mentioned, are in beautiful locations, so if you need to bring your spouse and children along, there’s a good chance they’re going to have a good time as well. The conferences usually revolve around a few hours of working on your writing, going to craft presentations and readings, and other literary events, but you normally have plenty of time during the day to explore your locale, hang out with whomever you want to hang out with, be it family or friends, or even take a nap—I’ve done that plenty—because I’m on vacation! Some conferences to consider are:
The Writers in Paradise Conference in St. Petersburg, Florida
The Southern California Writer’s Conference in San Diego, California
The Las Vegas Writer’s Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada
The Disquiet International Literary Program in Lisbon, Portugal
The Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference (different locations)
So, I’ve listed only 5 ways that you can get your writing in, but there are plenty more—you just have to be creative about it. You have to ask yourself, What do I want to accomplish when it comes to my writing? Do I really want to write? Or do I just want to have written? Trust me, there’s nothing quite as cool as having your name on a book, whether if it’s a novel, a collection of short stories, or a nonfiction book you write to increase your reputation in the industry in which you work. Remember, 1 page a day equals 365 pages a year. And that, my friend, is something you and anyone else who wants to write can accomplish. I know you can, so have faith in yourself and get to it. Time’s a-wastin’.
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