Writing a Book When You Have a Full-Time Life
Writing a book is no easy feat, especially when you have a million other things competing for your time. Work, domestic chores, and social obligations always seem to pop up and take priority, and before you know it, two months have gone by and you haven’t written a word. If you’re anything like me, you’ll beat yourself up about it, which makes it even harder to put pen to paper (or fingertips to keys).
Recognizing your writing preferences and learning to work with them, rather than fighting an uphill battle against them, is the first step to a fulfilling writing life.
Here are a few of my own preferences that made a huge difference for my writing productivity:
Time of Day
Turns out I’m a morning writer, which was unexpected because I am as far from a morning person as you can get. I’d written off mornings as useless writing time, but at the end of the day, after work, and the gym, and cooking dinner, I had zero energy to write. The temptation to plop down on the couch with my partner Marius and watch Stranger Things was too strong!
I kept trying to make evenings work before finally deciding to try another tactic. One morning, I got up a little earlier, made myself a cup of coffee, and sat down on the couch to write. As it turns out, my mind is at its clearest first thing in the morning.
And the world tends to be a little quieter, which brings me to my next point…
Our apartment is a busy one—Marius and I both work from home, and our business partner & friend Hannah comes in most days of the week to work. We also have a bunny, Otis, who likes to skitter around and play with his loudest toys. And he sheds a lot, so we have an air purifier. And an air conditioner. Several air conditioners, in fact.
It took me ages to realize that whenever the AC would turn on, I would stop writing. I’d just stare at the screen, looking at the words like it was the first time I was seeing them. It was bizarre that noise would be the thing stopping me from writing, but there you have it. Acting like noise wasn’t making a difference only meant I got less done with more time. Now, I turn the AC unit off while I write, and I wear earplugs if there’s a lot going on that I can’t control.
Plotting vs. Prose
This note has actually made the biggest difference in my writing. For a while, I was focusing on 500 words per day, but it quickly became a one or two-hour struggle. I took a step back—when I knew where a chapter was going and wht I needed to accomplish, the 500 words poured out easily. But when I was unsure about the direction, the last thing I wanted to do was write dialogue, knowing I was working in plot darkness.
So I pivoted. Instead of writing 500 words per day, I tried at least thirty minutes per day, whether it was plotting or prose. With that adjustment came a world of possibilities. Sometimes I spend entire weeks working in point form and reworking the outline. This gives me a solid groundwork to write from the next week, and makes it easy to bust out two or more chapters in a week. And that feels great.
Variety is the spice of life
As much as I want to focus on one project at a time and speed through to the finish line, that approach doesn’t work well for my writing. Taking a break from my novel and writing an article like this one feels like a breath of fresh air, so that I can come back to my main project refreshed. Like with everything in life, moderation is also key in writing, and changing it up every once in a while can be really helpful. Reading more is a common way for writers to change things up, as is writing in a coffee shop, writing in a group, or signing up for a writing retreat. I’ve found that something as simple as writing at the kitchen table, instead of my usual position on the couch, can help me bust through writing blocks.
Celebrate your achievements!
This one took me a LONG time to learn, but it’s one of the best parts of the process! Many of us aren’t programmed to celebrate our own achievements, because we rarely *feel* productive. But taking time to reflect, recognize, and celebrate our efforts is crucial. Finish the chapter that gave you grief for two weeks? Buy yourself a new book and take a day off from writing. Figure out that character arc? Have a glass of wine. And finally, finish the manuscript? Go out! Tell your friends! Not many people can write a book, but you did. That’s worth celebrating. And it makes coming back to writing afterwards even more fun.
Are you more of a once-a-day writer, or a 5-minutes-here-and-there writer? Does anything skid your writing to a sudden halt? Do you work better with timelines or do you like to go with the flow?
It’s easy to lose steam with writing when you feel like you aren’t getting anywhere. So give yourself a hand and recognize what works for you specifically — what makes you excited to come back to it day after day. Happy writing!