Treat your writing as a job

A woman walking with purpose through nature, next to the words: I will write every day. I will write every day. I will write.

Photo via Visualhunt, modified under CC License.

As much as I love babies, mine are growing up and I just registered my youngest for kindergarten—that means from this fall I’ll have more hours during the day to dedicate to my writing! I’m sad about the growing up part, but I’m excited to be able to write without “Mommy? Mommy? Mommy?” interrupting me every few paragraphs.

I’ve worked freelance before, so I’m using my past experience to set myself up for success. Without a plan I’d be ending each day still in my PJs wondering where the time went. So, how can I ensure I treat my writing as a job?

Show up every day

We don’t go to work only when we feel like it, or when it’s convenient. We go to work every day because that’s our job and we’ve committed to it, even when it’s hard. The same goes with writing. Sit your butt down in your chair each day, especially on the days you don’t feel like it or your writing seems terrible. Often we’ll look back and see it wasn’t so terrible after all, or find that all the practice increased our skills over time—practice we wouldn’t have had if we hadn’t written in spite of our feelings.

Set up your office

It’s harder to get focused on your writing if your set up is the same as when you’re just surfing the Web at leisure. Have a special spot that you only sit in when working, whether that’s a designated desk or just at the kitchen table. My writing is better when I sit in a chair with both feet on the floor and my computer off of my lap, than when I’m curled up on the couch with my laptop like I do in the evenings when I try to relax.

This mindset shift is really important. Other ways you can help yourself get into work mode quicker is to have a uniform and/or have a beginning ritual, in addition to a dedicated work space.

The uniform doesn’t need to be a literal one, so much as clothes that feel like work clothes. People often quote being able to work in your pajamas as a benefit to working from home, but you’ll find you’re more productive if you dress with intention.

A brief ritual before beginning your writing can help as well: Pour the tea into your mug, sharpen your pencils, take a deep breath, and then re-read notes you left yourself when quitting yesterday (or whatever ritual works for you). Now you’re focused and ready to start.

Another part of setting up your office is to have any supplies you may need close by and organized so you don’t have to waste time looking for a pen, that specific notebook with all of your plot scribbles, and so on before progressing with your work.

Make a plan

You’ll never reach your destination if you don’t know where you’re going. Decide what it is you want to accomplish. Write a novel? Sell at least one article to a magazine or online publication a month? Draft a book proposal and query X number of agents by the end of the quarter?

Figure out your goal and how long you want it to take you. Let’s say you want to have a finished and polished novel in a year. Set the final deadline, break the project down into manageable steps, and then plot backwards in time until you reach today. Now you’ve got deadlines to keep you on track throughout the year.

Also, your goals will determine your daily process. Should you be spending each day only writing, or do some days need to be dedicated to learning about the craft? Perhaps one day a week is for research and another for marketing, and the rest are for writing. Your plans will shape your schedule.

Stay accountable

It’s easy to let things slide when you don’t have a boss or coworkers depending on you. Avoid this by becoming your own boss. You’ve already set deadlines on your calendar, so make sure you keep them. For me, it helps if I have set rewards for meeting each deadline and set punishments if I don’t (I get to buy a new book if I do, I have to take one of my husband’s chores for a week if I don’t; etc.).

You could also ask someone to be your accountability partner and have them occasionally check in on your progress. But “How’s it going?” and “It’s going well,” can be ambiguous sometimes, especially if your deadlines (checkpoints that are more defined than how you feel about your productiveness today) are spread far apart.

That’s why you should track your actions, and then their results. In the book 2k to 10k by Rachel Aaron, she talks about keeping a spreadsheet tracking not only her hours and the number of words produced during those hours, but also where she was when she wrote them. This helped her to realize she produced her best work in a coffeeshop rather than at home, and if she had 4-6 hours to write uninterrupted. She didn’t have the Internet to distract her, and she could get in the zone if she wrote for more than 4 hours… but her energy petered out by the seventh.

So far I’ve learned that I do my best writing mid-morning, in quiet (no other people or music), and if I have ample time to spare. I don’t know how much yet though, because I haven’t had the liberty with children underfoot. But I hope to find out this fall!

Keep office hours

If this is your job, treat it like one. That means you begin and end at specified times, you turn your phone on “do not disturb” during those hours, and you don’t do house chores. You are not at home, doing work on the side. You are at work, which happens to be in your house. Your chores can wait until you’re done with your job for the day, just like anyone else who goes to work.

If you thrive with structure, you can even set a lunch hour and “smoke” breaks (mental breaks). I plan to give myself a 40 minute lunch break and two 15-minute breaks. I can check social media and the like during this time, but I also plan to use them for stretching or short walks to make up for all the sitting I do while writing.

I will also set a specified number of PTO days and sick days, to accommodate life being, well LIFE. This way I don’t fall into the trap of thinking, “Well, I already fell off the wagon so what’s one more day of skipping going to hurt?” In the long run, it hurts a lot. Keep your accountability partner (or your spreadsheet) updated with the days you take off from writing.

Whether you work five hours a week or thirty hours a week, you need to set them in stone. This isn’t just so that you’ll take your work seriously, but also so that others respect your work as a real job as well. Which leads me to…

Protect your writing time

No, you can’t pick up the dry cleaning. No, you can’t walk your neighbor’s dog midday. No, you can’t make that call, run that errand, or take responsibility for something that’s not yours because you’re conveniently home during the day.

You are not available for the convenience of others. You have a job, and you are working during those hours.

And on that note, you are not available for your own convenience either. If you’re going to set a dentist appointment during your work hours because it’s easier than working around your hours, then take PTO off for it.

You won’t take your writing seriously if you don’t respect it as your job. Others won’t respect your hours either unless they see you drawing clear boundaries.

Having said that, the great thing about working from home is that you can set your own hours. So, you can decide to work from 10am until 2pm, leaving you time to run errands or make appointments in the early morning or the afternoon. How convenient! But don’t let yourself or others take advantage of your writing time just because you’re home. Unless you’re on your lunch break or take PTO, you need to keep your work hours for work.

 
I know I still have the rest of this school year and the summer left before I can start my new schedule, but I’m getting really excited! I can’t wait until I can make this my full time job (well, while the kids are in school anyway, heh).

Did any of this advice resonate with you? I hope it helps you with your writing, even if you can only devote slivers of time to it right now. And if there’s anything I missed, please share your wisdom! I’m always eager to learn more about how to improve my writing and my writing process.