How to Write With a Full-Time Job and Also Sleep Sometimes
Whenever someone asks how to write with a full-time job and zero extra time, I think of The Writer’s Idea Book by Jack Heffron.
The author quotes a creativity consultant who makes the point that skyscrapers only exist because someone once had to figure out how to do a lot with very little space. They turned limitations into buildings we stare at with our heads tilted all the way back and our jaws loose.
That’s what you’re about to do.
Human beings have a magical way of turning obstacles into ingenuity. The less we have to work with, the more creative we’re forced to be.
If you plan to write seriously while working full-time, you’re up for a major challenge. But it's a challenge that’s probably going to make you a faster, more resourceful writer. It’s also going to make you affirm for yourself over and over again this is your path.
I know, I know. That’s all good and lovely, but how are you supposed to make this writing thing actually work? Like, in practical terms?
Stick with me. I’ve got you covered with nine tips for how to write with a full-time job.
And because I know you don’t have time for dallying, I’m going to jump right in.
1. Find Your Why
When we talk about the challenges of writing with a full-time job, we tend to act like finding time is the hardest part.
But the real struggle is in committing what little spare time we have.
See, even when you create pockets in your day for writing, you have to choose to not spend those precious minutes on something else.
Laundry, TV, relationships, exercise, sleep. Good things, happy things, responsible things.
Sure, when you first commit yourself to becoming a writer, you might find that you’re more than happy to prioritize your creative goals. But after a while, it gets harder to keep sacrificing. And that’s why you need to know your Why.
Why is it so important to you to create a writing life for yourself? What deeper sense of purpose will keep you going when you start to feel discouraged, distracted, and burned out?
Is there a story you just have to tell? A message the world needs to hear? Is writing the best way you know to express yourself? Do you feel the most at home in yourself when you’re writing?
Determine your Why, write it on a Post-It, and keep it close by as you embark on this challenge of writing as an employed person.
2. Confront Your Why Nots
Knowing how to write with a full-time job is a matter of knowing yourself. Because if 40-plus hours of your week are spoken for by your job, you’ve got to stay out of your own way when you do have time to write.
And believe me: we writers are experts at getting in our own way. Our skill for talking ourselves out of what we want is unmatched in the known universe.
- “I could be spending that time on a side hustle that makes money now.”
- “The odds of succeeding as an author are so low, anyway.”
- “These pages are terrible. I need to take a break and come back with a better idea.”
- “I’m not feeling inspired today.”
- “This is selfish and irresponsible.”
Often, our most persistent Why Nots are the ones that sound very virtuous, which is why it helps to identify them now so you can be ready to challenge them when they arise.
This is also a good time to revisit your Why and make sure it’s bigger, stronger, and more compelling.
3. Define Your Goals (And Be Realistic)
When all you know is that you want “to be a writer,” you won’t know how to measure if you’re actually doing it. What does “being a writer” look like to you?
Are you hoping to publish a book? Make money with your writing? Just write and see where it takes you?
Define your vision now. Then break that big goal into smaller goals.
If you want to write the first draft of your novel in six months and plan to write every weekday, calculate how many words you need to write each day in order to complete a full draft in six months.
(Not into the math part of this advice? Let Dabble’s Goal Setting feature do it.)
If all you want is to improve your craft, you can set goals for how much time you’ll put in each day.
Whatever you do, set realistic goals. Go ahead and chase a beautiful, gigantic, long-term vision. But resist putting pressure on yourself to deliver big results immediately. Overblown expectations are a guaranteed recipe for burnout.
That brings me to my next tip for how to write with a full-time job.
4. Celebrate Small Wins
This isn’t feel-good fluff. This is strategy.
No matter what your writing goals are, you’ll lose enthusiasm if you feel like you’re not getting anywhere. The secret to staying amped is to celebrate the little stuff.
You wrote a little bit every day for a week? Go you!
You finished another chapter? High five!
What’s that? You say you still sat down to write today even though you’re fighting a nasty case of writer’s block and you’re certain every word on the page is an utter embarrassment?
That last one’s actually a pretty sizable win.
It doesn’t matter if you celebrate with a snack, a sticker on your calendar, or a little pat on your own back when no one is looking. The important thing is that you make yourself stop and see that you’re getting somewhere.
As for how to actually get there…
5. Find the Time
This is what most writers want to know when they ask how to write with a full-time job.
Where is your writing time supposed to come from exactly?
Wherever you can find it.
Your lunch break. In the pick-up line at school. That little window of time between the kids’ bedtime and yours.
If you’re able to stretch your day—get up an hour earlier or stay up an hour later—great! Do that.
Figure out what makes the most sense for you, then commit that time to writing.
Now, when you first embark on this writing journey, the time you’re able to claim for yourself probably won’t feel like it’s enough. It is. Keep at it and you’ll be astounded by how much you can accomplish with a few stolen hours.
And don’t hesitate to claim any spare minutes you find lying around! When the dentist is ten minutes behind schedule or your internet provider puts you on hold, see if you can add a few bonus sentences to your day.
(Pro tip: Dabble allows you to draft your novel and access your Story Notes and Plot Grid anywhere, on any device. Just something to keep in mind.)
6. Eliminate Distractions
Do what you have to do to clear your writing space of distractions.
Consider things like:
- Website blocking apps like Freedom
- A door that closes
- An uncluttered writing surface
If your schedule is such that you have to do your writing on the go, do what you can to make your surroundings work for you.
If you write on your lunch break, don’t eat at places where coworkers will strike up a conversation with you. Or if you write in your car, toss the gym socks and last week’s Starbucks cup carrier in the back so the clutter is out of your field of vision.
And wherever you write, lovingly ask the people around you to leave you alone. This brings me to the next step of how to write with a full-time job.
7. Ask for Help
This one is easy to forget. Writing feels like such a solitary endeavor, we underestimate how essential other people are to our success.
But people are everything.
Tell your close family and friends about your writing goals. Share how important this journey is to you and let them know how they can support you. This might include:
- Giving you space to write
- Cheering you on
- Holding you accountable for sticking to a writing schedule
- Celebrating those small wins with you
- Offering practical help when an unexpected problem threatens to derail your momentum
And build a community of fellow writers. Let these people:
- Help you talk through story ideas or hiccups
- Give you feedback on early drafts
- Share writing resources
- Serve as accountability partners
- Commiserate with your struggles
- Celebrate your successes
Look around your life. You’re probably already surrounded by people who are eager to join Team You.
8. Choose Consistency Over Perfection
Writing with a full-time job won’t always go the way you want it to.
A sudden, non-negotiable work responsibility could derail your writing schedule for a week. A day spent caring for a sick child while navigating your boss’s expectations could zap your energy and leave you blinking sleepily at the blank page.
These experiences can be really discouraging, especially if you get it in your head that a real writer always brings their best.
Here’s the truth:
A real writer shows up consistently, not perfectly.
When you’re balancing writing, a full-time job, and a life, there will be times when you’re simply not able to make writing your top priority. When that happens, challenge yourself to write at least one sentence.
If you can do more than that—three paragraphs or twenty minutes—great. But at the very least, write one sentence.
It doesn’t even need to be a good one.
When you do this, you stay tapped into your goals and connected to your Why. You reaffirm for yourself that, while you may be somebody’s employee, you’re also a writer. And you’ll be back to write more tomorrow and the day after that and that day after that.
This isn’t over just because it’s hard.
9. Nurture Your Writer Brain
Here’s a fun little writing hack:
Use non-writing hours to stock up on fuel for your writing sessions.
When you can hear every word of your loud coworker’s phone conversation, think about how you’d describe their voice in a book.
Keep a notebook with you and write down anything that tickles your brain—a few lines of overheard conversation, a beautiful name, a sudden scene idea.
As you get ready in the morning, listen to music that puts you in the world of your story.
Make your character’s favorite meal for dinner.
Train your brain to light up with creative thoughts, and you’ll find that the switch has already been flipped when finally you sit down to write.
Of course, the most important thing you can do to nurture your writer brain is read.
I know. That’s obnoxious advice when you’re trying to figure out how to write with a full-time job. Where is all this reading time supposed to come from?
But trust me on this. Even if you have to cut back your writing time by ten minutes just to get a little reading in, your writing will benefit enormously. And audiobooks count! Get a little ear-reading in on your commute or while doing housework.
How to Write With a Full Time Job: Show Up
That’s the bottom line.
Show up tired and cranky. Show up inspired and giddy. Sit down and blast out five hundred words you’re 98% sure will get deleted tomorrow. Delightedly tap out the deliciously thrilling scene you daydreamed about during that conference call earlier.
You won’t be able to bring the same You to every writing session, and that’s fine. No writer does. Just come as you are and trust that it will all add up to something, because it will.
If you get lost, remember that Dabble is always here to help. You’ve got a writing community waiting to back you up in the Story Craft Café. Our free ebook, Let’s Write a Book, has stellar A-to-Z advice for drafting your first novel.
And of course, you can use Dabble to outline, draft, and edit your story… not to mention track your goals and yes, even celebrate wins.
If you’re not already a Dabble user, check it out today for free. Click this link to access a 14-day free trial of all the Premium features. No credit card required.
Dream big, start small, and get ready to do more than you even thought was possible.
The Chosen One. It’s a trope that many people love to hate despite its pervasiveness across popular culture. If you’re unfamiliar with the Chosen One, it’s a popular trope or narrative device used across books, TV shows, and movies where a character is destined to fulfill a certain role or mission, often because they have unique abilities or traits. These traits are frequently tied to magic, meaning you’ll see this trope a lot in fantasy and other types of speculative fiction, especially those with a young adult audience.
So how do you write well then? Realistically, there are a few things universally considered “good” writing. The story should follow a logical plot where one action feeds into another. The characters should behave in ways that align with their established personalities. There should be some high points and low points and stuff in between. Generally, good writing is also well edited and follows most of the conventions for grammar and punctuation. While you can write well with typos and mistakes, you run the risk of distracting the reader to a point where that good story becomes not so good because it’s unreadable. Ultimately, the success of things like your voice and your characters are going to be up to your reader and you’ll never please everyone. But we can take some steps to ensure we please more people than not.
That’s great—our fiction should reflect the world as it is and that means including people of various ethnic backgrounds and skin tones. But the history of writing about people of color is kind of… awful and it’s important to remember that you can’t just throw in a BIPOC character without giving some serious thought to how you represent and describe that character.