Tips for Writing and Working Full-Time

9 to 5Tomorrow, I go back to full-time employment. I got a new job I’m very psyched about. I’m also teaching a writing workshop on Saturdays for eight weeks. So I’ll be busy, and I need to write. I’m a little concerned about getting back in the habit of using my time wisely (no more Real Housewives for me!), but because I wrote my first novel while working full-time I know something important: it’s not really how much time we have, it’s what we do with it. I wasted a lot of time these last few years. Happily. Good on me. It’s my time and I got to spend  it napping, reading, daydreaming, watching basketball and goofing around on the Internet. But I won’t have the luxury of goofing off anymore  (Jezebel and Gawker be gone!), which is okay.

I’ve been thinking about how to plan my time better and got some good advice from a few writer pals, which I decided to share here. There seem to be at least two schools of thought about how to motivate yourself (with regards to doing anything, including exercise). One relies on getting yourself in the mood and the other says, mood schmood–just do it.

Rise and Write

Lisa Brackmann, author of Rock Paper Tiger, says: “Having done this for a number of years — setting a schedule was the most helpful thing for me. A schedule and a rough goal per session.”

Eisa Ulen Richardson, author of Crystelle Mourning says: “My advice is to get up early and write before you do anything else. No email, no online bill pay, no CNN or NPR. Just rise and write – every morning.”

“I’m a bit anal when it comes to scheduling. My life is color coded.” – Michele Grant, contemporary women’s fiction author

Michele Grant, blogger and author of Pretty Boy Problems, recommends getting organized with your work and your writing:

“I’m fortunate in that I work from home so I can divide my time fairly easily and still stay on top of work, personal and author email. (Assuming of course I give up sleep and social life… I’m joking. Sort of.) The creative process of writing means that sometimes I get a brilliant idea to finish a chapter at two p.m., right when a conference call for work is scheduled. It’s difficult to switch my brain from free-flowing fictional worlds to how I’m going to hire twelve software developers in New Jersey. I keep two separate old school spiral notebooks at the ready. One for my work ideas and one for my writing breakthroughs. I’m a bit anal when it comes to scheduling. My life is color coded. Everything pertaining to writing is in purple and filed on one side of the room, everything pertaining to [my job] is in green and on the other side. And ne’er the twain shall meet…”

Drink the Kool-Aid

On the other side is the school of thought which says psych yourself up to keep motivated. Not necessarily that you need the muse to write, but it’s sure easier to get going when you feel enthusiastic about your work.

Kiini Ibura Salaam, author of Ancient, Ancient and winner of the 2012 James Tiptree Jr. Award for sci-fi and fantasy that explores or expands gender roles, wrote something on her Facebook page about “the Kool-Aid effect” that really struck me and I asked her for permission to quote it here.

“We think about it as discipline, dedication, and effort, but how do we activate that ephemeral thing that has us keep going–not with a slavish dedication, but with willingness and excitement.” – Kiini Ibura Salaam, author of Ancient, Ancient

“As I was telling a friend about what I’ve been doing when I missed my writing days (waking up in the middle of the night, staying home on a Saturday, squeezing it in before work), she said, wow, I need some of the Kool-Aid you’re drinking, and it made me think of the importance of the Kool-Aid effect, which I define as the ability to psyche yourself up enough to be geeked about your project. The talent is one thing, the vision is another, then there’s the craft, and all of that means nothing if you can’t motivate yourself to complete your projects and actualize your visions. We think about it as discipline, dedication, and effort, but how do we activate that ephemeral thing that has us keep going–not with a slavish dedication, but with willingness and excitement.”

More good tips on writing while working are  herehere and here 

I think a mixture of butt in chair and Kool-Aid drinking is the ticket for me. I’ve had many days in which if I didn’t make the time to allow the magic to happen it wouldn’t happen, and the magic is more liable to happen if I keep forefront why I’m writing what I’m writing and what I’m hoping to achieve with it.

What about you? If you have tips for writing while working a day job, leave them in the comments.


About Carleen Brice

Carleen Brice writes nonfiction and fiction. Her most recent books are the novels Orange Mint and Honey, which was made into a Lifetime television movie called “Sins of the Mother,” and Children of the Waters. She’s currently at work on a novel called Every Good Wish.


  1. says

    Thanks for this! My life has been in turmoil for this very reason…finding time to do it all.

    As a caregiver, my writing time is constantly being interrupted. No bother, I love what I’m doing, but it really does bother the muse, if you know what I mean. I have to jot down things in spurts and do what I can to connect the pieces later. Sitting down for any length of time to get it done is…well, difficult, to say the least.

    I started waking up at 4:00 (and sometimes earlier) to try to get more done. Since I’m not a morning person, it is TOUGH to get the juices flowing to write. Muse always sleeps in. So that’s when I do the petty, no-brainer stuff…emails, FB, tweeting, reading and the like.

    All the other stuff (the creative process) pushes its way into the schedule when it comes. I keep little notebooks on all the tables to write down the thoughts, then compile them all later.

    Somehow it comes together—at times a little later than I’d like.

    Thanks for a good topic.
    ML Swift´s last blog post ..Save the Writer!

    • says

      “Somehow it comes together….” I think it’s key to trust that if we do the work as best we can, it will come together. Thanks for that reminder!

    • Rhoda Harris- Raglin says

      Thanks for comments. I am a caregiver aldo.and. yes it is hard to write and tend to the needs. I will remember to keep small notebook close.

  2. says

    Thanks for this, Carleen! And good luck on the new job!

    I’ve struggled with this very thing, working full time and writing. Getting into the novel when my brain is first awake – early in the morning – is essential. By mid-afternoon, everything starts to shut down and if I don’t allow myself to stop – read a book, watch something, do something physical (walk! walking’s good!) – bad things happen. Rest is so important, especially when you’re multitasking and are actually in two places at once.

    I’ve also realized television is actually good for you! (Gasp!) There is little else that captures my attention and gives me momentary amnesia (and perhaps anesthesia) like a good romp through another universe with totally different characters.
    Jillian Boston´s last blog post ..Insentient

    • says

      Thanks Jillian for the well wishes! Good tips about relaxing & recharging yourself! I know I’ll still watch some TV and definitely still keep getting exercise–gardening season is just around the corner and I’ll be walking to bus stops most work days.

  3. says

    This is a tough one for me right now. Just add an 18 month old to the mix and what little time you think you have dissipates. LOL! Like you, Carleen, I spent several years writing full time…and boy, do I miss the freedom! But I wouldn’t trade my husband, home, great job and baby girl (all the things I accumulated since then) for it. So alas, I must buckle down and find something that works for me. This blog gives me some great ideas. Let’s see how it turns out! :)

  4. says

    I am trying so hard to drink that kool-aid! Boy, motivation is an elusive beast. Today is the day, though. I have absolutely nothing on the calendar after 3:45.
    I think that one of my problems is that I rise and work. I agree that my best work is done in the morning, but my mornings start at 5:30 so my “best work” involves latte art! Thankfully I can bring my computer to work and use it to get all of my “business” out of the way- e-mail, blogging, etc. The only problem is that when I get home, I have no energy left to really write!
    Tonight is the night, though. Tonight is the night!
    Laura Lee´s last blog post ..Reason #234836 why I love my husband

  5. Lisa Threadgill says

    Great post, Carleen. :)

    I get up at 5 am so I can be writing (coffee beside me) by 5:30. I’m not what even the most generous of people would call a morning person, but I realized that it was either zero dark hundred or the writing wouldn’t get done.

    “The talent is one thing, the vision is another, then there’s the craft, and all of that means nothing if you can’t motivate yourself to complete your projects and actualize your visions.”

    Truer words have rarely been spoken.

  6. says

    Having a general idea of what I can do is important. Exercising patience is essential too. I try to prepare myself to write from anywhere and at any time. I keep life simple or as simple as possible. I’ve muzzled some my desires to be entertained and if I am, it’s associated with writing mostly.

    Flexible weekly scheduling is best for me, because my teenagers are little greedy savages, who consume time and space itself. Thank the gods for portable writing tools, man bags, Lindsey Stirling, and The Piano Guys. I don’t have an office so instrumental music has become my force field to block out my Klingon Children and other distraction.
    Brian B. King´s last blog post ..Happiness Sucks!

  7. says

    Great tips. I’ve only written working full-time. I give myself permission to write slower because I have a demanding job, a family and a daughter who swims, and a busy blog. Social networking takes a lot of my writing time and I need to balance more.

    Persistence is the key for me and opening my manuscript up. Once I get going, I do produce. And I’m starting a new critique group to keep me on track. Good luck with the job and writing.

  8. says

    The best thing I’ve learned is to not wait for any given length of time to open up. I can do quite a bit within 15 minutes, and as long as I’m left alone during lunchtime at work, magic can happen. The key is keeping people out of my office! Congrats on the new job!
    Lara Schiffbauer´s last blog post ..Fraction of Stone and Kelley Lynn!

  9. says

    I’ve had day jobs during my work years, and raised two boys while writing, so time management has been in my mind a lot over the years.

    One of the things I find helpful is to pinpoint the time of day that I’m actually most productive and never let anything get in the way of that time.

    A big transition for me during work times was to keep my boundaries firmly in place and remember to say no; also to remember to keep my priorities firmly in order.

    Enjoy the new world!
    Barbara O’Neal´s last blog post ..VOICE CLASS

  10. Denise Willson says

    A huge key: give myself a break. I write almost daily, run a full-time business, and have two little girls. Guilt pulls heavy on all sides. When it’s all too much I cut myself some slack. Life is too short not to enjoy all it has to offer, including my passion for writing.

    I wish you well in your new job, Carleen. And when the guilt has you drowning…sun on the beach for an afternoon. Your writing only stands to benefit from some sanity. :)

    Denise Willson
    Author of A Keeper’s Truth and GOT

  11. says

    It is encouraging to see from your post and responses that I am not the only writer who also works full time-Thank you for this.

    Like many of you, I write first thing every day.

    I also keep two to-do lists: one for work (which stays at work!) and one for my writer mind–ideas for new stories, overheard conversations, the quirks of my co-workers, books I need to read, awesome ideas from Writer Unboxed. And, most importantly, this scrap of paper catches, throughout the day, continued thoughts on the novel I am revising.

    The next morning, I take out that secret scrap of paper and actually write. When I have to get up from my desk and go to work, I know my mind will keep writing, even though my hands have stopped.
    Kate Klein´s last blog post ..After the poets’ apocalypse

  12. James says

    Really good article! Convicting and conformational at the same time. For 12years most of my writing was done on a train riding from DE to PA every morning & riding back home in the evening. That equated to roughly 2 hours of uninterrupted time. Since then I’ve had to drive to work and I’ve been having a lot of trouble finding a new slot to proclaim as “my writing time”

  13. says

    I think one of the biggest things is that you have to make writing a priority. I used to work with a cowriter. While we were in submission to agents, I commented that we needed to learn how to write faster. He dismissed it, saying everything was negotiable. I suddenly had both a nightmare and a flashback — and I realized that writing wasn’t even on his priority, and nor was it on mine! I started writing regularly with that realization instead of waiting for inspiration. There will always be something else to do. Discipline comes when you say, “No, it’s time to write.”
    Linda Adams – Soldier, Storyteller´s last blog post ..Accessibility for Writing Websites and Why It Helps You as a Writer

  14. says

    I love the “rise and write” advice. So simple and so true! My problem: Do I rise and write or rise and run/exercise? I’m better at both in the before-work hours; I’m not so great at getting up early enough to accomplish both. Anyone else struggle with “to write or to exercise” in those precious wee morning hours? Thanks for the great post!

    • says

      Amanda, I have struggled with this for over a year now. When I was focused on losing weight, I put rise and exercise over rise and write. When I lost 50 lbs, I decided it was time to put writing back higher on the list. Now with this job, I’m hoping that I can get in walks to the bus stop to fulfill my exercise, but I’m definitely a little nervous about getting both done. Do you ever write while you exercise? I found that I can often write a scene in my head on a walk if I prep myself first. Or I can often solve a writing problem on a walk. Good luck with both your efforts!

  15. says

    Use that exercise time to work on story problems. In first draft stage — like now — when I go for a walk or to the gym, I tell myself I need to come up with three ideas for the story. Doesn’t matter how big or small — might be a scene, an image, a line. It’s moving me forward and keeping me connected.

    I wrote my first four mss. — all unpublished — on Fridays, my day off from a demanding job as a lawyer. Some jobs involve work that’s too similar to writing, making it hard to do both on the same day, so figure out if you can or if you need to focus your writing on non-work days. The balance is different for everyone, and always changing.

    Good luck, Carleen!

  16. says

    I try to write every day, read every day, and love my career every day. I don’t always succeed with this, as you might imagine, but I do manage to do two of those three with surprising frequency.

    My secret? If you like what you’re reading, you’ll read it. And if you like what you’re writing, you’ll write it. (Hopefully you also like your career, but you do that every day to the best of your ability simply because you’ve got to–liking it is just an added benefit.)

    That’s it. I don’t worry about word count, page count, or numbers of hours–per day, or per week. If I like what I’m doing, I do it. When I can. The best I can. I don’t worry about how long it takes.

  17. says

    This was a most helpful post as were the comments. It’s good to know others struggle with this question and find ways to deal with it. I too have a demanding day job, complicated by the fact that it does not have regular hours. This makes it hard to schedule regular writing time. I find I do well with deadlines–probably why my blog posts get done in time and why I’m still revising my novel. Commitment is key, I find. That novel will get done. It will.

  18. says

    Since my brother Zachary (the Z in the DZ Posca blog name) began working full-time, it has been difficult to write together. We’ve had to take a short break from writing for adjustment purposes, but things have begun to settle down enough to allow us to collaborate together like we used to.

    I suppose the juggle of writing/working full-time is a different experience for us, since we are co-authors, so the waiting-until-things-settle-down method might not work for a single writer.

    • says

      I can only imagine the extra hurdles that collaborating with someone else add, and if that someone is working full time, that’s a lot to deal with. I write by myself, but I’m definitely hoping to settle in a routine soon.

  19. says

    The best writing advice I read about tackling a huge project like a novel was this: When asked for advice on hot to write a novel, Lawrence Block said, ‘One word at a time.’
    And that’s what it comes down to, right? You’ve just gotta sit down and write out those words.
    And eventually you’ll get there.
    Not an easy answer, but surely the only true one.
    I’m not saying all writing advice is rubbish, I certainly read lots of it, and there are some good tips on this page.
    But at the end of the day, sitting down and writing is what’s going to get you there.

  20. says

    Thanks for the tips Carleen. I’ve been a self-employed writer for 20 years and tomorrow return to the traditional workforce. I’ll still be writing but now have to leave the house everyday and be gone for a set number of hours. This means my personal writing and living routine will be in transition. I’m grateful to have come across your post, as well the additional comments from other readers.

    • says

      Good luck on your new adventure! Just getting the bus and my lunch and clothes together (every day!) is so different from working at home. My first 2 weeks have been a whirl wind. I’m hoping to get a routine more in place soon.

  21. says

    Someone already mentioned taking advantage of commuting time, not to mention any other downtime you find, like waiting rooms, kids’ sports practices, etc. I’ve lugged along my laptop and I’ve used Evernote on my smartphone.

    But the one thing that seems to help me most is going back to basics, i.e. carrying a purse-sized notebook and pen everywhere I go. It’s easier to whip out than an electronic device and quicker to “boot up”. The only problem is it requires transcription down the road, but there is software to help you with that part.

    Good luck with your new opportunity!
    PatriciaW´s last blog post ..Double Teaser Tuesday: Daughter Of Jerusalem

    • says

      I live for notebooks of all sizes–you are so right. Even with my iPhone, there’s still something about being able to just quickly jot down a few notes that make old-school paper still a good idea. Thanks!

  22. says

    It depends on the job.

    I don’t mind a librarian/teacher/salesperson/journalist/programmer/homeschooling mum get distracted for five minutes during shifts or commuting.
    I’d sue my surgeon/bus school driver/firefighter if I knew they didn’t get proper sleep or were sneaking away to write down 25-word bits, though. Rise earlier and write? I’d fire them on the spot!

    Also, not all 8-hour/5-day jobs are really so. Most people I know work at least 12-15/day.

    Not all jobs are the same, too. Some tasks are so demanding or time consumming you can’t concentrate on anything else. There is no time to eat or finish your glass of water, let alone hide post-it notes under your real notes or type away while you should be solving problems or answering calls.

    I don’t see how commuting is a proper time for writing. Unless, of course, you are doing >45min trips and you always find a seat.