Back in September 2011, I quit my consulting day job to become a full-time author-entrepreneur and I've never gone back.
But I started writing my first non-fiction book in 2006 and my first novel in 2009, so it took me 5 years to transition out of that day job into full-time writing. So I know what it takes to work full-time AND try to build an author career.
Take the First Step
Back in 2008, I made a decision that changed my life. I decided to write a novel.
Yes, I worked full-time at a day job and had two small children, but realized that if I wanted my life to change, I needed to either make a move, or let go of my dream. Having my big “four-oh” birthday on the horizon proved to be the kick in the pants that pushed me to act. I thought long and hard, but decided to take a leap of faith and try. I now have 7 novels on sale on various platforms and am working on my next.
How? I did the following:
- Made a public commitment to my family and friends, holding myself accountable.
- Created a schedule that worked for my busy career.
- Chunked the work into bite-sized pieces.
Believe in Yourself
All my life I had waited for someone to validate me as an author. To change that unhealthy behavior, I started doing. I wrote in the morning before work, read “how to” articles and started listening to podcasts on writing and publishing. I reframed my goals by choosing to invest in myself and my dream.
No longer would I wait for someone to discover me, I would discover myself. I knew I would fail, need to pick myself back up and continue to try. But through it all, I realized that my greatest asset was my belief in myself. If I believed I couldn’t do the work, then I would never succeed.
Butt in Chair
Once I had decided to write a book, I need to plan the logistics. My days consisted of the following:
- Day job (including commute): 11-12 hours with weekends off
- Dinner, cleaning up and chores: 1-2 hour
- Playing with kids, putting them to bed: 1 hour
- Free time (spend time with my wife, read, watch TV, hobbies): 1-2 hours
- Sleep: 6-7 hours
Initially, I looked at my schedule and did not see where I could make time. Sure, I could cut out my free time each day, but I kept that on my schedule in order to actually have time to talk with my wife. I became frustrated, thinking of how little time I actually had to write, learn indie publishing and teach myself marketing strategies and started to give up hope.
To solve my problem, I chose to get up early several days a week to write while using my commute to and from work to focus on research (listening to podcasts, reading marketing books or industry blog posts).
I found the first few weeks of writing hard. I’d stare at the blank screen, start to write, but had trouble piecing together narrative threads over the course of the week. On Thursday, I’d forget my idea from Tuesday.
I kept trying, stopped writing when I became too frustrated or overwhelmed, but soon the habit grew on me after three weeks. To cement my new early morning writing habit, I found ways to trick myself into being motivated:
- I set a word count goal of 1,500 words per writing session.
- I created a Google Sheet and kept track of my daily writing counts.
- Before I finished my writing session, I’d allow threads to be left open by stopping in the middle of an action scene or in the middle of a conversation between two characters.
By using simple motivational means, I started shaping my own success because I could see my word counts adding up over time. After the first few days, 1,500 words became 4,500 until eventually I wrote 83,000 words. No longer did I feel lost, but had a tangible means of tracking my success—success that I could share with family and friends.
All Work and No Play…
I wrote my first two novels and they each took me more than a year to indie publish. What I discovered is that I had made time to write, but had not planned for brainstorming, research or just plain downtime. By luck, I stumbled into the sport of running. Friends of my wife and I had given us their old treadmill on hearing that we had wanted to start exercising.
After I started running, I realized that I could use the time to daydream, brainstorm and let my mind wander. And I needed that time. With working full-time at my day job, I often had deadlines that blurred through after work hours and usually through lunch. Keeping my day job work separate from writing was a challenge at times.
To solve the problem, instead of forcing myself to write every day, I took a different approach. I split the early mornings throughout my week between writing and running:
Sunday: Long run
Tuesday: Short run
Thursday: Short run
My new schedule freed up not only my creativity but also gave me a chance to pump endorphins through my veins. The exercise helped me mentally as well as physically. The last time I had run any distance I was in high school and that was more than two decades before. I wasn’t in the worst shape, but I didn’t exercise regularly.
Making time to schedule both writing and fitness into my life opened up new opportunities for me. I realized that I had to start somewhere. When I started, running two times around the block took some effort. I didn’t know how to breathe right, what sneakers to wear (or clothes), but I asked my friends for help, and slowly over time, I increased my speed and distance.
I took what I learned from running and applied it to my writing. As my runs became longer, I found my willpower also became stronger. I could focus longer and discovered that long runs often turned into time for me to solve a plot problem I had with my book or be open to an entirely new idea that would just pop into my head while running.
By creating the space for my mind to wander, I not only had more creative ideas, but I increased my weekly word count. How? I came to my laptop for my early morning writing sessions with ideas rather than needing time to imagine something to write about on the spot.
Exercising fed my writing and helped me solve plot problems. I had unintentionally discovered the perfect synergy between exercise and my writing.
You Can’t Do It All
After working hard for several years, I realized that I needed to bake downtime into my daily schedule. All work and no relaxation is not sustainable. Sometimes I need to just play a game, watch a movie, go to my kid’s concert and calm down. I can’t always be writing or running my author business.
I can’t do it all.
Instead, I needed to put healthy activities on my schedule and learn to tune out my desire to compare myself to other writers. Rather than be jealous or frustrated that I wasn’t having the same financial success as another indie author, I congratulated that person and learned what they did to succeed. But over time, I started to carve out more time for sleep when needed or to enjoy the finer things in life. There will be only so many times that my kids will want me to play a boardgame with them or to have a water balloon fight. Time marches on quickly and I did have struggles with balancing work and my personal life.
To be successful, I chose to take a more long term approach. I want to be a writer for the rest of my life. I did not wish to burn myself out in a few short years. My craft, building an audience, learning marketing and all the ins and outs of indie publishing takes time, patience and a whole lot of gumption. The desire to quit can be strong, but I learned to use my perceived lack of time as a motivator.
When I sit down in the morning to write, there’s a big difference between thinking that “I need to write a novel but don’t have enough time,” and the healthier thought of “I only have to write 1,500 words today. In time, I can complete my book.”
My mindset and how I think about a situation is key to my success. Overcoming a negative outlook takes time, energy and willpower. Change doesn’t happen overnight, but I found that if I gave myself room to grow and kept up at the work that, little by little, I not only completed the book, but had discovered a repeatable process that I could follow throughout the rest of my life. If I could learn how to balance working a full-time job, raise children and create my own author business, you can, too.
All it takes is a tiny first step—making the commitment to do the work.
How do you make time for writing? Please leave your thoughts below and join the conversation.
Ron Vitale is a fantasy, science fiction and nonfiction author. He's written the Cinderella's Secret Witch Diaries series, the Witch's Coven series and just released book one in the Jovian Gate Chronicles.
His first nonfiction book, How to Become a Successful Author While Working Full-Time: The Secret to Work-Life Balance is now available. When not writing, he keeps himself busy by training for half-marathons and on learning how to be a good father to his kids.