How To Become A Better Writer Around A Full Time Job
This is how I devote at least 4 hours each day to improving my writing. And it works.
Have you ever regretted not having done something that you really wanted in your life?
I have, and it feels horrible. So I promised myself I would never postpone the things that I love to do. That’s why I now do everything I can to improve my writing day in, day out.
Regret is like poison. If you’re in love with writing, don’t let a day pass without doing something about it.
I’m going to show you exactly how I make the time to improve my writing on a daily basis, even though I’ve got a demanding full time job. I do it a few minutes at a time, that’s all. It just takes a bit of discipline and anyone can do it.
Now, maybe I’m not the first to break the news to you, and maybe I am, but this is the naked truth. If you claim that you don’t have the time to learn how to write better, then you’re lying, first of all to yourself.
I know this may not be a particularly good thing to hear, especially if you’re struggling to make the time to write right now, but I’m never going to lie to you. A few minutes is all you need, and if you can’t make that minimum amount of time in your day, then you’re not being honest with yourself.
Writing, reading, and studying
First of all, let me briefly get one very important thing out of the way. This is the most valuable lesson I’ve learned since I decided that I want to become a better writer.
Learning how to write includes a lot of writing, a lot of reading, and a lot of studying.
When I say studying, this might take the form of a creative writing class at your local college, an online writing course, a seminar, a textbook, an audio book, anything that can teach you how to write better.
In fact, the more different channels for learning how to write you have available, the better. In my case, for example, what I do is read a lot of fiction, read books on writing, listen to audio books on writing, do a lot of actual writing, attend online courses, and read articles on writing online (both on Medium and elsewhere).
I’m usually doing only some of these things on any given day, not all of them. I always try to have a variety of choices, though, because this is what makes this system work.
One little bit at a time
The key to improving your writing is to have many channels open, and to be flexible and persistent in using as many of them as you can.
Don’t expect to find big chunks of time for reading or for teaching yourself stuff. Take advantage of the smallest opportunities that present themselves throughout your day. You might be surprised how time eventually adds up when you invest even a few minutes at a time on any writing-related activity. The secret is to do that every day, as often as you possibly can.
This is how I do it
Let me take you through my typical working day. I’ll point out all the little gaps in my daily schedule that I use for improving my writing.
I wake up at 06:30.
Yes, if you’re serious about your writing you need to sacrifice something. I made a decision to wake up early in the morning, no matter what.
I eat breakfast, usually with an online writing course or a seminar playing on the laptop. That’s about 15-20 minutes of training already, and I’m only just starting my day.
Then I spend about 1.5 hour either writing fiction, or writing for Medium. I prefer to choose one of these activities on any given day, otherwise it feels like there’s not enough time to devote to each task. This morning slot has really helped my writing take off.
I’m Now Writing Regularly, and It’s as Easy as Being In Love
It hasn’t affected my day job either
That’s nearly 2 hours of writing-related activities so far. Not bad at all, considering I haven’t even been to work yet.
I leave for work by 8:45.
Now, this is a slot that I really enjoy. I almost always listen to an audio book on writing for 15-20 minutes while walking to work.
Then I usually devote about 8-9 hours to my full-time job, and I typically leave around 18:00.
On my way back home, I listen to the audio book again, for another 15-20 minutes.
My evening duties at home include things such as feeding my two cats, taking a shower, and taking care of minor housekeeping tasks such as doing the laundry or the dishes, cooking or paying bills. All this takes about an hour or so. Then I make myself dinner and I usually put that seminar back on to watch while I eat. That would be another 15–20 minutes of training.
Now, by that time I’ve been through almost a full day, so what I do next depends a lot on how tired or sleepy I feel. On most days I can do a full hour of writing, or maybe two if I have enough energy. Then it’s bedtime, so I spend the last 15-20 minutes or so of my day reading fiction in bed.
So, that’s a total of four full hours of writing, reading and training on a typical day, not counting the extra reading or writing time that I have occasionally.
Additional productive time
Sometimes, I might find even more time for reading in a day. These are not regular occasions, but when I do manage to have some more time I rarely let the opportunity pass.
Doctor’s waiting room
If I have an appointment that includes waiting time, such as a doctor’s appointment or a business meeting for example, I’ll either listen to my audio book or write a draft on the Medium app on my phone. In 30 minutes of waiting I can usually write a full draft in the form of scattered ideas, or a few paragraphs or list of phrases.
In fact, the first draft of the story you’re reading right now was written in a hospital waiting room, before I had the stitches removed from my thumb (long story, don’t ask).
You could also have a book with you, if you can manage it logistically that is. I prefer audio books when I’m on the move, because that’s one less item to carry around with me.
A tactical move, suggested by Stephen King.
Whenever I have to go to the toilet, that’s a great opportunity for reading — you ‘re probably already doing this, too. If you’ve been spending those valuable minutes on social media, think again.
This was an actual piece of advice by Stephen King, which I read in his book “On Writing”, and I’ve been following it religiously ever since. I usually like to take with me whatever piece of fiction it is I’m reading at the time. Let’s say that may be about 10 minutes of reading give or take.
On my way to an appointment
Sometimes I don’t go straight back home after work, because I may have an appointment with a client or some other type of engagement. That’s another opportunity to dive into that audio book for however long it takes me to get there and back home, either on foot, by car or by bus.
It can be anything between 10–30 minutes each way, depending on how far I have to go.
The day job situation — taking a step further
During the 8 or 9 hours I spend at the office there’s nothing I can do in terms of writing, so I focus on the job. Once in a while I might read a Medium post during my lunch break if I feel like it, but that doesn’t happen very often.
At some point I realised that if I could somehow manage to spend some more of the productive time during my weekdays on writing activities, it would make a huge difference. So I recently made an arrangement to reduce my time at work to 4 days a week (with the corresponding reduction in pay of course). I was lucky enough to be in a position where such an arrangement was feasible — and I could also afford it. I understand that might not be the case for everyone, but I’d like to make the point that you won’t get anything if you don’t ask.
Maybe in your case there’s something else you can do to free up time, without giving up your day job entirely. Think out of the box and make some more time for writing. Maybe you can change your shift to a time that’s more convenient for you, or maybe there’s something you can do with your working hours.
I suggest you put your idea forward and discuss your options with your managers or your business partners; there’s nothing to lose.
If your suggestion is within reasonable limits, there’s no reason anyone wouldn’t want to at least talk about it.
You’re serious about writing, aren’t you?
So, be creative
Making the time for writing, reading or studying when you have a full time job is not easy, you need to be resourceful.
Of course, the typical day I’ve been describing to you does not always go like that. Sometimes I may find very little time for writing or reading, or even no time at all. But more than 90% of my weekdays follow this routine, so I can have some consistency, which is crucial in improving one’s skills.
Also, I don’t expect everyone to embrace everything I’ve suggested. But you can definitely use my own routine as an example and try to come up with ideas that suit your own timetable, so you can spare some time for writing.
Feel free to follow my suggestions if you like them, but don’t stop there. If audio books work for you, for example, then you can find countless opportunities in your day for listening, for a few minutes at least. On your way to the movies, to a date, or to your parents’ place for Sunday lunch, while you take a walk in the park, the sky’s the limit. I usually finish an audio book every 2 or 3 weeks, depending on how fast I want to go.
Be creative, guys. Regret is poison. Start now, put in the work every second you can spare, and never stop.
Have fun, and let me know how it goes :)
This article was originally published by Kyros Vogiatzoglou on medium.