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The Writing Craft #2: 10 tips to help you combine full-time work with part-time writing

The absolute challenge of working full-time and writing part-time is time management. Every minute devoted to writing must be productive. Here’s what works for me:

1. Set non-negotiable blocks of time for writing.

I have four blocks of time per week when I write. These times are typically late evening or early morning so I can’t be disturbed and I don’t excessively eat into family time. I obsessively adhere to these times irrespective of whether I want to write or not, feel tired or have pressing work deadlines.

2. Clearly set priorities around writing, family, work, socialising and health.

Despite best intentions, 1 or 2 of these important priorities will be compromised by electing to write. Make conscious choices – by choosing to write am I prepared to:

Being selfish is an essential ingredient to writing.

3. ‘Steal’ extra blocks of time for writing

I am forever on the lookout for extra blocks of time to write – during flights, in hotel rooms, on family holidays, public holidays, sick days, long car trips, supervising the kids playing in the park. I unashamedly work on my manuscript whenever possible.

4. Get into the writing zone quickly.

With limited writing time, it is important to get into the ‘zone’ quickly. Reading a few pages of good writing by an admired author and having a caffeine fix helps get me into a ‘flow state’ quickly.

5. Set up writing SPRINTs

I set SPRINT objectives for each writing block. This may be: reviewing a certain number of articles, editing a specified number of chapters, or rendering a scene or character. I cannot afford the luxury of ‘writer’s block’. I never set word targets, only writing objectives.

6. Rationalise the reasons why you write.

Self-doubt about choosing to write often plagues my mind, particularly when I sacrifice family time to do it. To combat this, I rationalise why writing is a worthwhile pursuit. For instance:

7. Keep detailed supporting notes and references

It will take a part-time writer longer to complete a manuscript than a full-time writer – my books have taken between 4 and 6 years to complete. Early on I was lax in sourcing and referencing material. Subsequently I spent a lot of time backtracking to reference material. Keeping copious and detailed notes will prevent this.

8. Being Obsessive Helps

To improve your writing you must be obsessive about it. You must feel excited about the prospect of getting up at 4.00am on a Sunday morning to write.

9. Brutal Editing

Edit, edit, edit and then edit some more. Every word or idea in your manuscript must ‘fight for its life’ to stay there.

10. Writing is a skill

In my view writing is a skill rather than an innate ability; therefore, with practice and feedback you will improve. Malcolm Gladwell contends that you must practice for 10,000 hours to become proficient at a chosen skill – unless you are writing regularly you’ll never be able to work your way along this skill continuum.

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