On Writing Routines (Both Day Job or Free-As-A-Bird Types Covered)

Creativity with a day job looks different to without. Or does it?

This is a post chatting about creating a routine for writers, but it could also be relevant to artists, actors, musicians, even creative entrepreneurs types too…

I’ve experienced both writing while in a structured work routine, and writing with no other work commitments. Both are great and you can be fruitful in both. Here’s some musings on each.

Writing Without A Day Job

When I wrote my first novel, I thought it was impossible to maintain a job while a book was pouring out of me – figuratively speaking. And the ‘passionate’ way I was writing at that time… well, it was probably true. I wrote mornings, late nights, in cafes and on my bed and was Consumed with the Story. The first draft was finished about 3 months later. (Then I was tired.)

At that time I was working in marketing (my first grad job after uni) and had an opportunity to renew my job contract. Well, guess who didn’t and just jumped straight into writing a book afterwards…

The pros – You write like the wind. You can focus 100% and get a lot. If you don’t have kids, a mortgage or many responsibilities (and a way to live for a few months) you can venture DEEP in the forest of your story. Smash out a few thousand words every day. And then, hello Messy First Draft!

The cons – After you come up for air, you will need to ease back into life, society and working. Stats say it takes 3-6 months to find a new job. That’s a lot of time behind payslips. Some employers may not understand what you were trying to do, and question the time. This approach works well for those writers who do contract work.

Also, you may feel pressure to write as that’s all you’re doing, trying to focus on, and therefore productivity may not be as high as you’re hoping.

Depending on what kind of personality type you are, this approach may feel quite isolating.

Lastly, if you go too hard during the writing process you may burn out, which is not good. And may require extra time on top of that to get your creative juices flowing again.

Writing With A Day Job

I’ve since made peace with the fact that it’s not only possible but probably advisable for writers to have a day job. Unless you’re in that great place of being able to support yourself with your writing, and with a strong routine and network of people around!

There are a lot of reasons for this, which I will go into. Personally, while my output has been slower with this approach, it has worked out well for me and I see this as a sustainable future. I am fortunate to have a part-time day job, which works even better.

The pros – While you have less time for writing, there is less pressure. As long as you are motivated, this can be a good thing.

Not only is it practical, it can give you income which you can then invest into your writing career. For example, conferences, editor/agent appointments at conferences, professional memberships and writing craft books can all add up.

Another benefit is, you have less time which ironically can make you more efficient.

The fourth good thing about it is you get to meet other people, go to work, leave the house (unless there’s a pandemic happening but even so, there’s phone calls and Microsoft Teams) and generally get that nice “I’ve-seen-another-human” feeling that day.

The cons – Of course, sometimes you will come home and be too tired to write. Some days getting up earlier to write, or beginning to edit after you get home from a work day, is just too tough a slog. (And do give yourself those days off at times.) But, if you can get through it, you’ll feel a sense of satisfaction. Accomplishment. Maybe even a confidence that says, “you know what – nothing can hold me back from achieving my dreams.” (Disclaimer – this is actually a pro.)

The other drawback is you have less time and more to do, so sometimes you’ll have to say no to events and people you like for the purpose of staying on track.

I would love to hear about your own writing routine, or creative routine, in the comments below? What has worked best for you?