I love that today’s theme comes from a newsletter subscriber who responded when I asked for ideas to address on the podcast or in articles. So this is a real writer with a real struggle—a reality for many writers.
This person wants to know:
How to write when you work full time?
That’s a tough one. It’s hard to have any kind of hobby or side hustle when you work full-time. When you put in the hours at work and come home exhausted, how can you possibly devote your depleted brain and energy to a creative project?
Don’t Ignore the Ache
I stayed home to raise our four children and we chose to home educate, so while I didn’t work full-time in a traditional sense, I had my hands full most hours of the day. Writing was extremely challenging during those years.
My dream was to have an entire day at my disposal, no interruptions, no diapers to change, no activities to organize. But that wasn’t the overall lifestyle we’d chosen. I thought if I couldn’t have the day to write—and if, in fact, my reality felt like I had NO time to write—why bother?
But I couldn’t ignore the ache. I ached to write.
Some days I felt hopeless. Some days I felt sorry for myself and didn’t bother even trying. Most days I wanted that all-or-nothing writing life.
So a lot of days I didn’t write. After all, I didn’t feel like I had the energy; or if I started, I’d only be interrupted. Why try?
But that ache wore on.
Address the Ache
I couldn’t go on like that. I had to address the ache. I suspect that’s where a lot of writers are—maybe the person who sent in this idea for a podcast.
You’re feeling the ache, that soul-ulcer chewing away at your creative impulse. You’re losing hope.
How do you write when you work full time?
Assuming you can’t quit, I hope you’re feeling something else rise up in you—something louder and stronger than the ache.
It’s a voice, a determination within. A resolve.
You have something inside of you that must be voiced.
A barbaric yawp you’re ready to sound over the roofs of the world.
I. Must. Write.
You must write.
Yes, there’s writing in you, ready for the page. You can’t wait any longer.
There’s a writer in you, ready to yawp, and you know it. You can’t wait for the perfect conditions. You can’t wait until you inherit some distant relative’s fortune so you can quit your job.
No more waiting.
You must sound your yawp over the roofs of the world.
You must write.
Look for slivers of time and the occasional chunk of time here or there. Settle for less than the dream of a cabin in the woods. Whatever you can, grab it and write a few lines.
Where Will You Write?
Let me tell you a story.
Joseph Michael developed a Scrivener training course while he was working full time at another job. Scrivener is writing software, also an app, that many authors use because with it, you can manage longer, larger, more complex projects more easily than you can using Word or Google docs.
But Scrivener is a little confusing to most newbies; at least it was for me. So I grabbed his training course years ago when it was on sale and started watching, hoping to avoid bumbling around, losing important pieces of projects. I felt frustrated because I didn’t understand the system, so I walked through his short training lectures and made sense of Scrivener.
Years later, because of the success of his Scrivener course, Joseph Michael came out with some additional training on how to build courses—a course about courses. I didn’t buy the course about courses, but I signed up for a free introductory webinar, where he told how he recorded that early version of the Scrivener course.
He said he’d drive to work. On his lunch break, he’d head to the parking garage and record some of the Scrivener lessons—right there in the front seat of his car, wedged behind the steering wheel. In short sessions, hidden away in the parking garage of his workplace, he grabbed the only free time he had to himself and, over time, created the course.
He did that for as long as it took, lesson after lesson.
Would it have been more efficient if he’d recorded them all at once in one week in a studio?
Did he have the time and money to invest in creating or renting a studio at that time?
He realized he had a few minutes at lunch time, and instead of feeling sorry for himself or waiting for perfect conditions, he fit in those tiny recording sessions and trusted they would stack up over time. And they did.
Just as paragraphs will add up for any writer who realizes he or she has a few minutes at lunch in the parking garage.
I hope that picture of a man driven to create something, using the open time slot he found in his schedule, inspires you to find your own slot of time to do your work, to write—to yawp! Even if it takes ten times longer than you’d like, eventually you’ll get it done.
Find Your Quiet Writing Space
In an interview on The Creative Nonfiction Podcast with Brendan O’Meara, Andre Dubus III said years ago, when his kids were little, he was working on a novel. They had a tiny apartment, he was teaching at four or five campuses as an adjunct writing professor, remodeling houses as a carpenter, and sleeping only four or five hours a night.
Determined to write that novel, he’d wake up at five in the morning, drive to a graveyard not far from his house, park there, and write. He wrote longhand in an notebook.
After about 17 minutes, he had to stop and drive to work as a teacher and carpenter. On the way back, he’d stop at the graveyard once more and write for another 17 minutes. Longhand. In a notebook.
That’s it. All he could find was a total of 34 minutes of writing time per day, split into two 17-minute sessions.
He decided not to wish for ideal circumstances and wait. Instead, he decided to write. And day after day, he drove to the graveyard and wrote.
“After three years,” he said, “I had 22 notebooks, filled.”
In those twice-a-day 17-minute writing sessions, he crafted the beginning, middle, and end of a novel that would become The House of Sand and Fog, the novel that put him on the map.
“So at the height of our young, struggling family life, I was able to write an entire novel,” he said. “Anyone can do it. You don’t need all day.”
Audit Your Schedule: Where, When, How Long, How Often
Audit your current schedule. Find a time, no matter how tiny, you can commit to becoming your writing session.
Figure out where you’re going to write, when you’re going to write, how long and how often.
Where? Find your parking lot or your graveyard. Maybe it’s a back porch or a cafe or a library.
When? Carve out your lunch hour to create or write before heading off to work all day.
How long? Will it be 30 minutes on that lunch break? Seventeen minutes before you head to work? Can you find an hour slot in the evening when you’re currently watching a TV show?
How often or how frequently will you pull it off? Will you write every day of the work week? Or are your weekends more free and every Saturday you can commit to a writing session?
Find where you’re going to write, when you’re going to write, how long and how often.
Then do it.
To write when you work full time, you embrace the limitations and stop looking at the time not available and find time that is available.
Do an audit of your weekly schedule, find some bits and snatches—if you’re lucky, you’ll find a chunk of time here and there.
Devote those time slots to writing.
Try it for two months. When you first begin, it’ll feel like the entire universe is conspiring to keep you from getting to the library with your notebook and pen.
Eventually, though, the universe will adjust. And most Saturdays when you get to your cubicle in the back, over by the biographies, where it’s quiet, you’ll be able to write. Whether it’s ten minutes, two hours, or an entire morning, you’ll write.
Do that as often as possible, and you will be a writer. You will chip away at your work in progress. You will sound your yawp over the roofs of the world.
You must write. No more waiting.
There’s a writer in you ready to yawp, and you know it. So don’t wait. You must write.
Would you like to throw your own question or struggle into the mix? If you’re a subscriber, reply to one of the newsletters with your idea. If you’re not yet a subscriber, sign up using the form at the bottom of this post or in the sidebar. You’ll get my welcome message and next time I send out a newsletter, it’ll land in your inbox. Reply to any of those notes from me with your own question or idea. I’d love to hear from you.
- Ep 114: Make the Most of Your Time with a Writing Pipeline
- Ep 125: No Time to Write? Do This Every Day
- Ep 41: 5 Steps to Find Time for Writing
- Walt Whitman Song of Myself I, II, VI, & LII (“barbaric yawp”)
- Joseph Michael, Scrivener Coach
- The Creative Nonfiction Podcast with Brendan O’Meara, Ep 54 (Interview with Andre Dubus III)
- Ann’s Patreon account
- All podcast episodes
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