Few years ago, when I began to take writing seriously, I scribbled down stories only when I felt inspired to. At that time, I had plenty of time on my hands since I didn’t have a job. I also had lots of story ideas exploding in my head.
I remember that almost every morning, I posted short articles on my Facebook wall and in 2015, I asked my friends on Facebook to forward their email addresses to me so I could mail them stories I’d written. I had over a hundred of those addresses and every quarter, I sent short stories to their mailboxes.
But as the years rolled by, writing took a new turn for me. It wasn’t a hobby anymore. It became a career. I was writing between 500 to 1000 words at that time but later I found myself scribbling down words as much as 40,000 in some cases. My feelings didn’t matter anymore. I had to show up for my readers even when I didn’t feel like it.
This was coupled with my day job that had absolutely nothing to do with creative writing. You can understand how hard it is to have a legal/administrative officer, a blogger, a coach, an author and a budding screenwriter all in one person.
Yet I could not leave my day job yet because I had bills to pay and I needed resources to hone my writing skills.
The question still remains, can you combine your job with your passion for writing? Is it possible to become a prolific writer while maintaining a job that almost sucks you dry?
Here are a few helpful tips.
1. Believe strongly that you can become a successful writer. Create pictures of what you want your writing career to look like. Keep your dreams in front of you. Visit the sites of bloggers or authors that you admire. Read or watch their videos from time to time. You will be motivated to keep writing even in difficult times.
2. Create a system for your writing process. In a recent post titled, the secret to becoming more productive with your life, I explained in very clear terms how important it is to create a system. Even if it means writing 500 words a day, depending on how far you can go, then by all means stick to it. Set out a few minutes every day to write something. You can’t develop your writing skill without practice.
In my case, when my boss travelled out of town or there were less tasks to do, I’d look for a quiet place to write for a few hours. At another time, I slept early after work so I could wake up to write at night. My system was flexible depending on how busy at work I got.
Don’t wait until you feel inspired. It doesn’t have to make sense at first, but write regardless. Put your fingers to work. Even if it looks like you are moving like a snail considering the enormity of work involved in your day job, keep going. The length of time you spend writing is not as important as your consistency.
3. A word for fiction and screenwriters. I understand that it may not be possible to complete a novella or a feature length script in one sitting. It’s not even healthy for your career to burn out so much that by the following day you are unable to continue with your story.
To avoid a situation when you return to your story and find it difficult to pick up from where you stop, always end the day’s writing piece at a point of conflict such that when you get on board the following day, the momentum would still be high. Also ensure you have the next few scenes or chapters outlined before shutting down your laptop.
4. When you are too tired to pen down anything, use those times for research. Watch a video by a writer you admire, read a blog post or play a word game. I recently fell in love with the Merriam Webster vocabulary game. At the end of each level, I check out the words I missed and their usage in sentences.
As small a step as that might seem, it has influenced my vocabulary building in many ways. Another great option would be to edit a post you have written prior to that day. I love to self-edit a couple of times before sending to the editor.. I don’t know about you but it is one of the sweetest part of my writing process. What I’m saying is, do something every day that pushes you forward in your career as a writer.
5. Cut down on TV and social media time. I loved to watch movies a lot. There were times I’d been glued to my chair from morning till night with my gaze fixed to the screen of my laptop or phone. I had to cut all of that down. It was one of the hardest decisions I made but I’m glad I did. Now I watch movies intentionally to see how scenes are developed and to get insights into the story format. Don’t get me wrong. I also watch movies to relax after a hard day at work.
It’s fine to scroll down your newsfeed and connect with others virtually but always remember the goal before you. Remember that nobody becomes proficient by accident. Remember that this is seed time for you and if you will become skilled at your craft, you must work hard at it.
6. Plan more serious writing during the weekend. While you carry out little consistent work during the week, schedule to write more on Saturdays and Sundays.
7. Read voraciously. On your way to work, read a chapter or two of a book across multiple genres. Screen writers, read great scripts. See how plots are formed. Study the dialogue. Get words wrapped around your mind. Books is to a writer what a hammer is to a carpenter.
There are audiobooks you can interact with on days when your eyes are too tired to in take in words. Take note of phrases and rewrite sentences that ‘burst your brain’. You don’t have to read the whole book at once. Just a chapter or two once daily will do.
8. Have a journal and practice writing synopsis of the ideas that pop in your head. The reason you feel lazy to write sometimes is because you have not figured out what topic or story you want to work on. Outline your points, pen down synopses of stories that come to mind. Keep your journal around you-whether hard or digital. Those materials will serve you when you need to quickly get some work done.
9. Always include writing goals in your daily schedule. Plan your annual leave to spend time writing and building your skill. During my annual leave, I would leave my house every morning for a month to a co-working space. Many times, I’d be there for long hours, churning out words and editing my drafts. It cost me some good money because it was quite a distance from my house. My annual leave was always the best time of my year, because I get to write for long without interruptions!
‘But Ife, you can’t understand. It’s impossible if you stay in a place like Lagos.’
I can clearly relate. I worked in Lagos too. Many times I’d leave home before 5:30 a.m and sometimes return very late at night. Weekends were my writing days. It was slow, I must confess but one way or the other, we managed to get some writing work done. The truth is, if you want this very bad, you’ll make out time for it.
Most of the renowned authors I follow didn’t start out writing full time. Somehow, they figured out how to combine their day job with their writing career. I read a piece by Jerry Jenkins, the author of Left Behind Series. He wrote every day from 9p.m till midnight, after his family retired to bed. He was deeply committed to family time, but he had to make time for his writing assignments despite his busy day at work.
Let me end by saying this..
I understand that this might be tougher for some than others. A single lady can still carve out more time by eating out frequently to finish a writing assignment, but that may not be possible for a married woman who works a 9-5 and still carries the responsibility of tending to her family. Whatever the case, I believe if you really want to see any improvement as a writer, you can make a way to see that happen.
Are you a writer? Do you mind sharing the things you do to improve your writing career?