From Sarah, With Joy

*Poet * Author * Wanderluster*

Monday, July 6, 2015

Writing by Moonlight: A Writing Career in Your Free Time

Whether you're doing all in your power to build a full-time writing career, or you prefer the balance of writing plus some other kind of work, many of us writers are in the position of having to manage our writing careers in our off-work hours. I know it can feel like trying to hold a tray of wine glasses while washing a cat, but it can be not just manageable, but fun and non-stressful. Because we want our writing careers to be sustainable, right? Regardless of what else is happening in our lives.

Here are some Sarah's-brain suggestions for managing writing in your off-work times. This is what has worked for me, but I'd love to hear other suggestions and tips from your experience!

Lists are your friend. Make lists of everything. Make a list of the kinds of things you need to do every day. Mine is Writing, Submitting, and Social media. Make a list of magazines you want to submit to. That way you don't have to spend as much time on research when you're ready to submit.

Strategize day by day. Its good to wrap your head around what you've got to do before you've got to do it. With your writing, there are a couple ways to do this. Taking some pre-bed time to plan your next day is a great idea. Or, uh, maybe brainstorm during staff meetings? I mean, I've never done that. Whenever works best, take some time to list what writing projects you want to work on, and what submitting you want to do, before you're home and at your desk.

Time and reward yourself. One of the hardest things for me is coming home from work with energy and motivation. I mean, you've used up your creative umph for the day, right? This is where Butt In Chair comes in. Just get in the chair. That's step one. Remind yourself you just have to do one submission and write for just thirty minutes. That's manageable and not scary, right? Then when you're done you can flop in bed and watch another four episodes of Bones. Or you may get to the end of your half hour and feel like you can manage another thirty minutes. Then maybe thirty more. Maybe three hours and a thousand words go by before you know it. But if not, that's okay. Remember this: writing careers can be built in an hour a day.

Take time to refresh. Refreshing means different things to different people. It may mean a trip to an art museum or three episodes of Friends or a chocolate shake or three miles on the elliptical. Or a combination of these things. Sometimes a five minute walk around the block will do the trick. Sometimes you need a trip to Disneyland. Just keep track of yourself and what your brain needs. When you sit down to write and submit, you need your brain to be refreshed and happy with you.

These strategies have helped me. What works for you?

Sarah Allen


  • RattleA prize of $10,000 and publication in Rattle is given annually for a poem. Due July 15.
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  1. I refresh when I come home and play my guitar for an hour after dinner. That recharges me enough to tackle writing if I am working on a project.

  2. Actually, reading refreshes me. I love to get lost in a good story.

  3. When it's time to do some writing or editing, the first thing I do is turn on the laptop, and while it's booting up I make an iced coffee. Then I open up my document, and while I drink my iced coffee, I think about what's coming up and ease into the writing. Rituals are helpful.

  4. Those are great suggestions. :-)

    I strategize by setting monthly goals, and then every morning, I decide what I want to get done by the time I go to sleep.

    Also, I love the "holding a tray of wine glasses while washing a cat" description. Planning or no, I felt exactly like that a few weeks ago, what with publishing and getting my businesses back off the ground.


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