The vast majority of authors who are starting out juggle their passion for writing with a day job. If you want to write a novel, you might wonder how to get that done when you’ve already got a bunch of other commitments. The authors we spoke to all combined day jobs with novel writing, and managed to get it done: try out their tips to help you manage too.
1. Take time where you can
Map out your time, and look at how you currently spend it. It’s unlikely you’ll have a nice juicy three-hour window every afternoon already available for you to spend writing, so you have to be creative. Whether that means cutting back on other hobbies, getting up earlier or typing away as you commute, be opportunistic with your time: grab an hour here and there, and it will add up.
For thriller author Nigel Bartlett, he went one step further and blocked off Sundays for writing when he was working on his novel King of the Road. That way, he says, he was able to get an amazing amount done.
Even after his book was published, Nigel stayed disciplined. “I now have a day free during the week as well,” he says. “What I’ve had to say to myself is I’m not going to use that day for any medical appointments or any chores I need to do. If I was working five days a week I would fit it around those, so I’m just going to do everything on my other four days and keep that day for writing, because otherwise just too many other things get in the way of it.”
2. You can work even when you’re not writing
You might not have time to sit in front of a screen and concentrate on writing, but that doesn’t mean you can’t work on your story while you’re doing something else. A task which doesn’t require too much focus – like housework or going for a walk – can be perfect thinking time, with your mind able to wander creatively.
Bestselling author Joanna Nell was still working full-time as a GP when she wrote her first novel, The Single Ladies of Jacaranda Retirement Village. To do that, Joanna says she tried to be adaptable and use her time productively.
“I would be in the car and thinking up dialogue at traffic lights,” she says. “There was a lot of thinking and planning, particularly walking the dog. That was my best ever thinking time. And often by the time I’d come back from a dog walk, I would have a whole scene in my head that if I’d perhaps sat in front of the keyboard might have taken me days to come up with.”
3. Find a room of one’s own
Whether it’s a writers’ retreat, the garden shed, or – as Joanna recommends – the cheapest Airbnb you can find in the middle of nowhere, just getting away to somewhere you can’t be disturbed for a period of time could help you make a breakthrough.
“I’ve been on farms and in little beach shacks and wherever,” she says. “But basically away from home and work where I could write for hours without being interrupted. And by really living in the story, it flowed much easier. I could chop off huge chunks of the manuscript in that way. And it would often just give me that momentum. Then at other times I could put in an hour here or an hour there or half an hour.”
4. Keep it focused
When you have found that magical window to write in, make sure you use it to your full advantage! Put your phone away, turn off the wifi, get rid of any other distractions and shut the door.
For The Midsummer Garden author Kirsty Manning – who is a partner in Melbourne wine bar Bellota, as well as co-owning the Prince Wine Store in Melbourne and Sydney – she doesn't always have time to write, but when she gets the chance she has to knuckle down and do it.
“We have three children as well, and we live just out of Melbourne. And I still do a bit of freelance work every now and again. So I find that I’m up to my eyeballs in logistics in any given week,” she says. “I have to punch it out. There’s no coming back to it the next day. Because the next day can easily loop into the next day.”
5. Remember you’ll get there if you keep going
If you’re chipping away at a novel or a memoir sentence by sentence, and you can only find a small amount of time to sit down and write, it can be dispiriting, and you may feel as if you’d be better off just giving up. It’s important to remember that very few writers are able, especially in the beginning, to write full-time; it can take years to break through, and that’s not necessarily indicative of the quality of your writing.
Award-winning novelist Heather Rose wrote seven novels around her day job and family, and it was only with her eighth novel Bruny that she received enough in prize money and grant funding to be able to write full-time.
She says writing part-time like that taught her important skills for a novelist like fortitude, endurance and commitment, and is mindful that the majority of writers have a similar experience to her.
“You know, it never comes easy. Many, many people have my story of how many years it took before they had a breakthrough. And also how many hours they worked late at night and first thing in the morning.”