5 Secrets to Writing Despite a Day Job

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Odds are you’re not a full-time writer. Few are.

That means you’re writing during pockets of your precious free time, either very early in the morning or at the end of the day.

And what else competes for those blocks of time?

  • The kids
  • Your significant other
  • Errands
  • Chores
  • Your need to rest

You wonder, Where does anyone with my schedule possibly find the time to write?

I Hate to Break This to You…

…But you won’t find the time. You’ll have to make it.

You must chisel it out of your already packed schedule.

You may think, I’ve already tried. It’s no use. I’m way busier than you can even imagine.

I get it. Really, I do.

I’ve suffered the exhaustion that comes from holding down a full-time job and writing nights and weekends.

But let this inspire you: Of my 192 published books so far, I wrote the first 90 before quitting my full-time job.

Following these 5 critical rules made all the difference:

How to Balance Writing With Your Day Job

1. Establish rigid writing hours.

Tell the people in your life that your writing time is set in stone. And yes, it is important.

Prove this is not flexible time when you could help someone move, make a carpool run, or just hang with a friend.

Sorry, but how bad do you want this? Some things will have to go.

The people in your orbit won’t take your avocation seriously until you do. Set expectations for them and for you.

It’ll also serve as accountability. When you announce you’re committed to something, you’d better do it.

Block this time off in advance, and show up on time every time. Consistency creates habit. And habit propels you to produce.

2. Be prepared to stand firm.

Despite your best intentions and even clear announcements, some will try to lay a guilt trip on you. “C’mon, help a friend out!”

Have an answer ready, especially for the one who begins, “Hey—you’re not working…”

“Yes, I am, so, no, I can’t. Sorry.”

Does your job follow you home? Tell your colleagues when you’re available and when you’re not.

3. Work before you play, but play.

We all need downtime, play time. I enjoy TV and movies and spending time with my wife. You may enjoy surfing the net or doing yard work.

Play time is important. You need to recharge your batteries and do something fun that doesn’t take a lot of concentration.

Be sure to play every day, but make that a reward for getting your work done first. Have you noticed, as I have, that the reverse order doesn’t work?

“I’ll do my work after two online games,” or, “I’ll write after I listen to one more song,” or, “I just want to see these this list of the 21 Ugliest Sea Monsters You Won’t Believe Actually Exist.”

The problem is, playing disengages your brain, lets you wind down and relax. Reengaging becomes a chore easy to put off.

And before you know it, you have frittered away your writing time.

If the Internet is your nemesis, “Freedom app” allows you to restrict your own access to social media for as long as you choose.

Check it out here.

4. Write at the best time for you.

It could be that neither pre-dawn or the wee hours appeal to you, but believe me, one will work better than the other.

By now you should have an idea whether you’re a morning person or a night person.

Write when you think the clearest, can concentrate, feel freshest. You’ll find yourself way more productive at one time of day than the other.

5. Keep your family first.

When I was a newlywed, five different middleaged men told me—independently of each other—that their one regret was spending too little time with their kids when they were growing up.

I got the message and set a policy. Once kids came along, I would do no writing from the time I got home from work until the time they went to bed.

That forced me to write between 9:00 p.m. and midnight. But because I maintained my family priorities, I wrote without guilt and was as productive as I’ve ever been.

Your family will hear what you say, but they’ll believe what you do.

When to Quit Your Day Job

Be real, and wait.

Don’t get stars in your eyes and assume that if you write full time, the money will automatically follow.

Prove it first.

I waited until I was making 3.5 times my salary before I finally pulled the plug on my publishing executive job.

Why didn’t I make the move when my royalties and advances equalled what I was making on the job? Because there’s way more to consider than just salary.

When you go full time freelance, you and only you pay for everything. All your expenses. Travel. Insurance. Retirement. Office supplies. E-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g.

Make sure you know the money will be there (because you’ve seen it come in from your writing alone) before cutting your ties to a steady job.

How do you balance writing with your day job? Tell me in the Comments.

  • Great post. And thank you so much for the Masters Class with Doc Hensley. Whew. Exactly what I needed. Anybody contemplating joining the Guild needs to jump on next go-around! Worth its weight in acceptance emails! :)

    • Glenda

      :)

    • What does that mean, “worth it’s weight in acceptance emails…?”

      • Sorry, Anne; I meant that through the Guild I’ve grown enough to actually receive acceptance emails of pitched articles. :) Obviously I haven’t arrived! :)

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Thanks, Rebekah.

  • Greg

    Yup, this all applies to me. I’ve learned to function on less sleep than before, but I spend lots of time with my eyes closed, fingers on the keyboard, and drool running down my chin. By now, fatigue and I are old friends.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      And that’s why everyone wants to be a writer. :)

  • Amy Harden

    Exactly what I needed to read. My issue is to get family and friends to realize that my writing is important to me and I cannot dismiss it as if it is just a hobby. This is my work and a calling that God has been placing on my heart since I was young. I can no longer ignore Him or it! Thank you for mentioning the Freedom app…I need this! Thank you for the Guild too…I have learned so much there! Numbers 6: 24-26

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      I appreciate those kind comments, Amy. And you’re right, of course. I once had a relative say, “You’re not available because you’re writing, seriously?” As if I’d said I was busy roasting marshmallows.

  • Great tips Jerry. I’ve been thinking about going full-time in August, but this was some valuable input. I will definitely do work then plan more often.

    Great reminders.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Thanks, Kyle.

  • Kathy Kidder

    Great post! A much needed refresher – a lot like a glass of cold water in your face. Creating scheduled time and enforcing it is much harder than I like to admit. My day job is writing, but not for me, and because it involves work exchanged between Asian and USA time zones (several, I might add) and changing deadlines – I work from home with a hubby who is retired and all the distractions that come with it. Still, it is necessary and urgent for me to carve out the time I need for both my writing, writing for this project, and for my church responsibilities. Sometimes I’m working 12-14 hrs a day on a deadline and then I get sick after about 3 days like that.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Writing’s glamorous, isn’t it? Hang in there, Kathy.

      • Kathy Kidder

        You know it! But it’s like chocolate and green spearmint jelly leaves… can’t get enough!

  • Vernon Lacey

    Jerry’s tips have been a source of deep inspiration for three years now. I have followed them (not always as well as I could) and I have learned so much from them. Today I just got an offer to publish my first memoir about living in Spain. Those 5am starts, that brutally honest self-editing, those dreaded passives and redundant adverbs. All of this came from what Jerry has passed on. His mission is divine, his understanding is inspired. Thanks and keep writing everyone.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Thanks, Vernon. Keep us posted.

  • Jamie Jenkins

    I’m currently a stay-at-home wife and mother, and I plan to remain so in the future. I feel that God has called me to write, and I plan to write from home. I read somewhere, I think in your Writing for the Soul book, that your wife also stayed at home with your children when they were young, so I’m sure you already know that staying at home with the children is a full-time job in itself! (But very worth it).

    I have learned not to write when my children are awake, just as you advise. I think I do my best writing at night, after my children are in bed. That way I write without guilt, just as you did. Tomorrow (Feb. 8th) I’m having my third child, so my writing schedule will probably be off for about a month or so, but I will return to having a regular writing time at night as soon as I can. I’ve tried to write in the morning before my children wake up, but I’ve found that I’m not fully awake at that time. Plus I have my mind on my other plans for the day at that time, so I’m a lot more clear-headed at night.

    Thanks for mentioning the Freedom App. I will be using it in the future. This post is really great! I’ve found that I’ve struggled with the five “distractions” you mentioned at the beginning of the post, plus discouragement on top of it, thinking that I’ll never succeed as a writer. I plan to keep God, my husband, and my children first, and then I know my writing will fall into place. This post is exactly what I needed to keep me motivated. Thank you!

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      All the best with that new baby, Jamie! And yes, you can have a month off. In fact, take all the time you need. You know where the priorities lie. Thanks for your kind comments.

      • Jamie Jenkins

        Thanks. My new son is doing well. You’re welcome for the comments.

  • Scott Allan

    Great post, Jerry. In the past two years I’ve written 9 books by writing ‘around my day job and family time.’ I struggled with distractions for the longest time [and sometimes still do] but stick to a daily schedule that I protect. As the money starts to come in on a regular basis, quitting the day time gig is looking more like reality than a fantasy, but still a long road ahead. I like your plan of quitting once you are making 3.5x as much as your job. Will use this as a benchmark to shoot for.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Thanks, Scott. We make the time to do what we really want to, don’t we?

      • Scott Allan

        Yes, Jerry, we sure do. There are no short cuts.

  • Sharlene McCorkle

    Thank you Jerry! Yes this has been a struggle since working in retail and keeping grandkids one to two days a week, and the store three to four days a week, all 6-10 hour days depending. I had to pick up the retail store job in November. Also being in retail, I work Saturdays! Fortunately I don’t have to work Sunday’s, and not many, nights. I get pretty beat down by the time I get home. I fit some in at night, but I’m just as hard to get up in the a.m.! Still I am finding time. Saturdays I get more afternoon time as well as some on Sunday. I am noticing, if I don’t surf FB so much I would have more time. Just go on to correct a post or answer one, and wham! I’m pulled in for thirty, forty five minutes, an hour. The job is a slow down, but not a stop and a learning process in setting priorities!

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Exactly, Sharlene. Well put.

  • My day job is creatively demanding. It’s a non-stop cycle of problem solving. In addition, there’s a lot of field work.
    I’ve had this book screaming in my head to get out (not the only one, but it’s been screaming loudest). Two weeks ago I decided I would find a fast food place or coffee shop near one of my field stops, then set the timer for one hour and not stop writing until that timer went off. All phones and notifications are off, and I’m wearing headphones with music to drown out the noise. It’s not always the same time of day, but I’m happy to say that the characters are starting to speak to me, revealing their story.
    It’s a thrilling experience!

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      A perfect example of what I’m talking about, Rosemarie…and if the idea that screams the loudest is also the one about which you’re most passionate, it’s the perfect recipe for success.

      • I missed last night’s Q & A, though I really wanted to attend. It made me realize that if I truly wanted to be there, I would. A few years ago I made the decision to start honoring God’s Sabbath. It wasn’t easy carving out an entire day dedicated to bible study, fellowship, and family, but once I made the decision solidly in my mind, action steps followed. It’s all about the decision.

        • Jerry B Jenkins

          Whew, I misread this at first and thought you were saying that our live session competed with the Sabbath. But I see your point is making and sticking with a decision. How true.

  • John Tucker

    Three years ago I started a novel and quit after three chapters. I got stuck on how to write about a place I’ve never visited. Now, my brain is telling me to write! Finish what I started. Study the place and write from your research. Talk to a travel agent. In the meantime, I’ve written two Bible Study manuscripts and submitted them to a literary agent, hoping they will represent me to traditional publishers. My day job keeps me busy, plus other activities. Setting a time and place to finish my novel is vital to my writing vein (jugular). Thanks, Jerry, for reminding me that seat-in-chair, fingers-on-keys, time-set-aside, are what make writers writers.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      They do indeed, John. As for when you get stuck, make it up. That’s what novel writing is. (But research adds authenticity.)

  • Holland Webb

    Thanks, Jerry. I started out doing freelance writing at night when my day-job hours had concluded. After about 18 months of that, one of my clients offered me a full-time writing job. It was a big pay cut, and I almost didn’t take it. But knowing it could be my only chance to jump at a full-time writing gig, I swallowed hard and did it. The first several months were difficult, and I delivered pizzas on the weekends to make ends meet. Recently, however, new freelance opportunities have started coming my way. I write nearly all my waking hours, but I trust that as my skills improve and my business develops, I can either cut back my hours or enjoy additional money. Writing for a living is possible, but like any career switch, it’s scary.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Good for you, Holland. Hope your work habits open even more doors.

  • I don’t struggle with time to write, I struggle because I do not have an outside job and consequently there are financial burdens. I did okay for quite a while and then my royalties I receive from poetry went down. Now the amount I get for writing articles has also gone down so I’ve been trying to write more articles. Mostly I write in the morning but I’m also part of a group that writes 500 words a day. I’ve done it now for 4 years. As always, I appreciate all you share Jerry.

  • Karen Crider

    I write all hours,sometimes even three in the morning. Both my husband and I have our own interests that we share, but I write every chance I get. If you love writing it’s not hard to do. You can watch t.v. go to the mall, eat out with friends, go shopping, etc, etc and relationships are important. But what you do the most shows where your heart is. Whether it’s at three in the morning, seven in the evening, whatever. When words come they demand to be written down. Ignore them at your peril, cause when they exit, they slam the door like a beautiful, spoiled, woman and they seldom return.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Now there’s a work ethic, Karen.

  • D. Holcomb

    How do I balance writing with my day job? I don’t. Which is why this post is so timely.

    Oh, I try. I try getting up early, but it’s winter and I’m more motivated to hibernate. If I had more than a 30 minute lunch, I’d try writing then, but I have just enough time to eat. I try writing after work, but I need to exercise to work off the stress, then make dinner, and eat, and wash the dishes, and by then it’s almost 9:00 and time to unwind so I can sleep. Do you see the problem? I’m not making time to write, which you so brilliantly stated.

    I need to make some sacrifices here. Something’s gotta go. Either exercise, or dinner, or sleep.

    In all fairness, I’m also looking for a new job. And that takes up a chunk of time.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      You’re living the dream, eh, D.? A living example of my blog. :)

  • Rene` Diane Aube

    Thank you for these great tips, Jerry. I’ve been struggling to get back into a regular writing rhythm after multiple life changing events over the past year. My head has been spinning and my shoulders have been heaped with new, intense responsibilities.
    I am learning, though, to grab those few hours of peacefulness to percolate on my projects. Now, I would LOVE to chat some more, but I MUST go and actually put pen to paper and get something awful down on the page. God bless!

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Don’t let me keep you, Rene`. :)

      I have a feeling you’re going to get there.

  • wonderful advice as always Jerry. God bless you for sharing your knowledge.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Thanks, Charisse,

  • Deb Richmond

    Reality check – much needed – Thank you. I discovered that I can plan parts of my story, maybe one small scene, while driving to and from work. I use this time to ask myself questions and tinker with various possible outcomes. Then if I can get to paper or keyboard fast enough, I can capture those ideas to include later. I also find that I can write small snippets, a conversation or a character description, in a five-minute block of time. This, too, can be added when I sit down to write during a longer session.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      That’s REALLY taking advantage of and redeeming the time, Deb. We do what we need to do (and want to do). :)

  • Frances Wilson

    Jerry’s tips are like the main course in a meal. I’m grateful for them, need them all, and just need to assimilate them. Trying to find a good job is what devours my time. I am grateful, however. After a recent feedback from an editor, there is hope, and I am trying to apply these tips.
    It just grabbed me: my struggles and experiences, provide tools for something to write about, something to share. Each job hunt including resume posting, each disappointment, each time I have to miss a webinar because it coincides with a shift; provides opportunity to live what I am trying to encourage, and heightens my awareness of the need to evaluate and prioritize.
    Any dreams of grandeur faded into reality long ago, but because I enjoy writing; I must present something that readers want to read.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Everything is grist for the writing mill, right, Frances? All the best with your job search.

      • Frances Wilson

        Thank you Jerry.

  • Robert Murphy

    Thanks for the reminder. I can generally set aside half-an-hour during most evenings but consider this my “bonus” time. My dedicated writing time is 2 hours or so on Friday, Saturday and Sunday from about 5:30 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. I also blog and write occasional product reviews, but working on my book has taken priority.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      We do what we have to do, don’t we, Robert? Good for you.

  • Bridget Howe

    Have a full time job with a crazy schedule and taking care of my 83 year old mother. I write in snatches of time. However, it’s the rewriting that gets me. I write because I love to. I reread nd rewrite because I’m a perfectionist. I have to wait for the glow of the inspiration to wear off so I can see what it looks like from another’s pkint of view.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      That’s an interesting take, Bridget. I often talk about turning off my internal editor (the perfectionist side) so I can get the first draft down, but hadn’t thought of what I do to get into revision mode. You’re right; that’s not the time for creativity but for ruthlessness. Still, do it right and you can see your stuff snap into place and come to life.

  • Terrie Todd

    3.5 times your salary for how long? Because it’s one thing to pull that off in a single good year, but not necessarily sustainable. And if you’re the type who needs to know what’s coming in (within reason)… that can be an awful lot of pressure.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      What I’m saying, Terrie, is that you should be making about 3.5 your current income BEFORE you take the huge step of going full-time freelance. If you’re not seeing that kind of income from your writing, you’ll find it tough sledding.

      That said, if you ARE producing income like that WHILE holding down an outside job, maintaining that ought to be easy when you can devote 8 or more hours a day to it.

      I agree about having an idea about what’s coming in, which should make the decision easy. If you don’t have book contracts lined up and know how much and when your advances are due, you may not be ready for the big break. That’s why so few do it.

      Doc Hensley (head of the professional writing program at Taylor U.) advises lining up as many regular paying gigs as you can (writing columns, judging contests, whatever you can find). Financial analysts also recommend a nest egg set aside for dry seasons.

  • jbird669

    No matter what, I get a minimum of 500 words down, five days a week. I can usually get twice that, but I don’t go to bed until I hit 500 words. As a divorced father of two, I have a lot going on, but I always get my 500 words.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      That’s great, jbird! That’s roughly two and a half double-spaced pages, and they quickly add up. 25 pages every two weeks becomes a book before you know it.

  • Warren Brooks

    Hi Jerry,

    Thank you for all of your sharing and encouragement which is greatly appreciated. It was suggested by one of your team that I ask this via a post. I live in Sydney and wondered if you possibly knew any literary agents in Australia that represent Christian authors? Thanks. Warren Brooks.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Here’s a list of Australian Literary agents, but I am not personally familiar with them, so you’d have to do a little investigating to see which might have a Christian agent or emphasis.

      Australian Literary Management

      The Authors’ Agent

      The Cameron Creswell Agency

      Curtis Brown (Aust) Pty Ltd

      Drummond Agency

      Golvan Arts Management

      HLA Management Theatrical Agency Australia

      HMMG Pty Ltd

      Jacinta di Mase Management

      Jenny Darling & Associates

      Margaret Connolly & Associates

      Margaret Kennedy Agency

      The Naher Agency

      The Other Woman and Company

      Rick Raftos Management

      • Warren Brooks

        Thanks Jerry. Much appreciated.

  • It’s particularly difficult when you work in ministry. “I’m not available” become dirty words. However, meanie me set and sent out “hours available” to the rest of the church staff without remorse. I also downloaded an App on my phone with an auto responder to further protect my time and slay the monster I had created by allowing orhers to manage my schedule.

    I completed the two year Apprentice portion of the Writers Guild course about six (?) years ago. When my church brought me on staff as Women’s Director four years ago, I had just broken in to a second large periodical market (Focus on the Family), but my ministry responsibilities soon overtook everything else and my writing has been stalled ever since. It was entirely my fault for not drawing firm lines much sooner, especially since my pastor fully supports my writing. My writing is a clear cut call from God, not a starry-eyed dream, so not working to fulfill it is an act of disobedience for me. Even with all that said, establishing my writing time isn’t a one time thing, it’s a daily fight, but I honor God by doing so. And that makes all the difference.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Ministry sure is a complicator, Bethany, and I’m sure you’ve seen the burnouts who never do protect their sanity with scheduling boundaries. Sounds like you’re getting a handle on it.

  • Linda Jewell

    I’m fortunate my husband accepts and encourages my writing habit. I began to write only after our son left home. Looking back, I believe the timing involved God extending His grace to my family and me.

    After I began writing, I still had family, home, work, church, and community responsibilities. I balanced it all by (1) shuffling it around as needed and (2) saying “No” to some requests.

    During the years I continued to work outside the home, I also wrote, took writing classes and workshops, wrote, read, wrote, participated in critique groups, wrote, attended writers conferences, wrote, pitched and submitted writing projects to editors and agents, and well . . . wrote. While I’m now officially retired from working outside the home, I continue to write. I cannot foresee and I do not desire to retire from writing.

    • Me either, Linda. Isn’t it great to have more time for it?

      • Linda Jewell

        Yes.

  • Nancy Elizabeth Patton

    Your post was so convicting, it hurts! I have been very sporadic in my writing; some days I’ll be very productive, other times I’ll go for weeks without writing anything new. As a college student, it is so hard to find time to write. I know that I need to get into a routine and keep it consistent, but it is so hard. Thanks for reminding us that it’s worth it!

    • It is, Nancy, though you’re in a season when maybe your priorities have to be on your studies. Sounds like you want this badly enough, though, so you’ll likely do what you need to do.