How To Write A Book When You Have A Full-Time Job
It took me five minutes to write this sentence.
Five minutes of staring into space until the idea of writing an opening line about how long it took me to think of an opening line popped into my head.
In the grand scheme of things, five minutes isn't all that long. But for a writer, five minutes for nine words can add up.
Point being: Writing takes time. A whole lot of time.
And let's face it, just when we think we've found some time for ourselves, new obligations pop up on our calendars.
Time is especially elusive when it comes to those of us with aspirations of writing a book. Carving out space in your day to collect your thoughts and write is challenging when you're encumbered by one of life's usual suspects: work, school, family, much-needed sleep, or the hobbies that keep you sane.
I spent a full year, from February 2015 to February 2016, writing my first book, a collection of humorous personal essays totaling over 60,000 words.
I was faced with the task of writing my manuscript while maintaining my full-time job as Managing Editor of Elite Daily, which is a far cry from a 9-to-5 gig. Not to mention, I was managing a relationship with a girlfriend who had recently moved in, which is more or less a full-time job in itself.
I always imagined I'd write my first book in a secluded cabin somewhere, pecking away at a laptop in a dimly lit room, the days growing shorter, my beard growing longer. Unfortunately, most first-time authors won't get to live out this literary fantasy.
In fact, circumstances will most likely be the opposite: writing during off-hours, scribbling notes in public, enjoying less sleep than you'd like and slowly losing your mind while trying to maintain personal relationships.
Say you've finally found a quiet hour to yourself. You know you should write, but you're tired from work and are only on season four of "Game of Thrones." What were once simple choices become tormenting tests of will power and resolution.
Yet, perhaps one of the most alluring aspects of writing a book is the fact it's public knowledge that it's difficult, like completing a marathon or obtaining a PhD.
As George Orwell famously stated, "Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness."
In his book "On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft," Stephen King shared a similar though more concise sentiment: "The road to hell is paved with adverbs."
Of course, what's implied but never spelled out in these dramatic quotes about writing books is the fact that it's possible. It may be excruciating and it may devour a good portion of your free time, but nobody is saying it can't be done.
There's no correct way to approach writing a book as a busy person in a busy world. My year-long journey to complete a manuscript on top of a full-time job was one of perpetual readjustment.
Though now that I've climbed out from the other side of the long, dark tunnel, I realize there were three constants that helped me stay on track to reach my deadline.
Get used to saying no.
One of the first times I said no to a friend when I started writing my book was via text message. It went something like this:
Friend: I'll be in the city tonight, let's meet up for a drink around 11.
Me: I want to, but I can't. I have to write tonight.
Friend: Write until 11, then let's go out.
Me: I would, but I have to be up early tomorrow to write, too.
Friend: It's the weekend though. Don't work on the weekend.
My friend wasn't wrong for pushing me to go out, especially since I'd never said no to similar propositions in the past. But based on my work schedule, I had no choice but to write on weekend nights and during the early hours of weekend mornings. It was when I felt I had the most clarity and could separate myself from any work-related thoughts.
The key to saying no is not to get angry at people for not understanding the desire you have to complete a book, or the obedience it takes to do so. The key is consistency.
Hiding the fact you're writing a book will only cause more stress. Be open about your writing. The more you say no, the more the people around you will understand just how serious you are about the task at hand.
This doesn't mean you have to say no to everything, but designing your time around writing is always going to require compromise.
Learn to function as your worst self.
I don't mean your worst self as in you're racking up credit card debt and spending nights in jail cells. I mean your worst writer self.
A large part of writing for me is preparing my environment. I like to have a cup of coffee by my side. A candle lit. Occasionally some music playing. I don't like it to be too hot or too cold. I prefer to write in the mornings after a good night's sleep, or in the afternoons following a workout or a run.
Once I had a book deal in place and a deadline to hit, I quickly learned that my ideal setting was nothing more than a fairytale land I'd rarely get to visit.
Writing a book, alongside the pressures of juggling work, friends and family, meant writing under circumstances I wasn't accustomed to. I had to learn to write while tired, angry, sad, hungry, on the move, while missing out on events (FOMO is real), in loud spaces, while my girlfriend struggled to understand why I was in sweatpants for half the day, and most of all, when I felt I didn't have a single creative thought left in my body.
None of these instances were ideal, but waiting for that perfect moment of tranquility and stillness would have left me with a half-finished manuscript and a very angry publisher.
Most of my story concepts were conceived in my phone's notepad while I sat scrunched between two people on the train, or hours after the time I would have liked to have gone to sleep.
Keep your eyes open.
Even if, as a writer, I dream of secluded cabins and writing in isolation, I imagine there'd eventually be a moment in which I'd run dry on inspiration. Having the motivation of a bustling life around you can be a tremendous perk while writing.
While the tedious bulk of a writer's work is done when pen meets paper or fingers meet keyboard, the foundation of a writer's work is done during all those other moments, when the writer is not writing, but living an everyday life.
Be the detective; the observer; the listener. You never know what will present itself and what form it may end up taking on in your book. Constantly remind yourself that you're on the lookout for something, anything that could spark an emotion or thought, and you'd be surprised what you notice throughout your day.
One of the essays in my book is about how I enjoy eavesdropping on people. Not in a malicious or totally creepy way, but I do tend to pay extra attention to the fragments of conversations that happen around me. I've been writing down things I've overheard people say for years, and the results are both hilarious and gut-wrenchingly honest.
I recently walked by a woman on the phone who said something I couldn't help but feel perfectly summed up the process of trying to write a book while managing all of life's other obligations.
As she walked right next to me on the street, she said into her phone: "You keep waiting for this perfect moment and that's why you don't get shit done."
Greg's collection of essays, The Art of Living Other People's Lives, is available for pre-order here.