This post originally featured on The Riff Raff, a monthly meet-up for debut authors.
At the risk of sounding like a millennial cliche, I’m busy. My day job, leading a team at the world’s largest travel website, sees me travelling on the regular. I work too much, sleep too little and my spare time is spent running my careers and creativity blog. So, when I decided I wanted to start writing a book, you can forgive my family for being a little concerned.
You see, I love my job and working hard and all of the perks that come with it. But I’ve always been, before anything else, a writer. It’s the thing I turn to when life gets tough. The thing I do to make sense of myself. It’s been a thing in my life for as long as I can remember. My thing.
So, what gives? How do you write a book while still paying your bills? How do you balance a demanding day job with a book that demands to be written?
Here’s a no-nonsense account of how my first 30,000 words came about. No Pinterest-perfect desks or cliche productivity advice in sight. Promise.
1. Strive for progress, not perfection.
Full disclosure: writing a book with a full-time job is messy. I type away on my iPhone while pressed up against disapproving commuters, and leap out of the shower with half-washed hair to jot down a new idea.
But I’ve learned there’s no place for perfectionism when it comes to writing. And those moments of thinking you’re the world’s worst author? Totally normal. To be expected, even. Embrace the mess. You can’t write your book without it.
2. Take it one sentence at a time.
Hemingway once said that to write is to sit at the typewriter and, I quote, bleed. But the whole tortured artist thing isn't sustainable. Like, at all. Instead, you need to get comfortable with the fact that some days you’ll only be able to write a sentence. Hell, you may even end up deleting that sentence. But the point is you wrote it anyway. You got it out your system. You moved your project forward.
See, writing your first book is all about those baby steps. One sentence at a time. Until, one day, you have something book-like staring back at you.
3. Make ‘no’ your new favourite word.
After-work drinks with those colleagues you can’t really bear before the third glass of wine? Pass. Attending your long lost uni friend’s birthday out of sheer obligation? Avoid. So much of success is about knowing how and when to say no.
Tip: Think of saying ‘no’ to lacklustre social engagements as saying ‘yes’ to your book. You can’t expect anyone else to say ‘yes’ to your book if you don’t.
4. Find the methods that work for you.
Let’s be honest, most productivity tips are pretty unrealistic. Take the egg timer approach, for example. Great, in theory, but not so great when you share a tiny flat with a boyfriend who loves (needs) his sleep.
Instead, it’s all about getting creative with your time. Lately, I’ve been meeting my friends an hour later than I usually would. With the extra hour between work and dinner, I write. That hour is headspace for me, and doesn’t make me feel like I’m giving up my entire life, either. Genius.
5. Set up a reading panel you can trust.
Daunting? Yes. Worth it? Absolutely. Set up a group of 3-5 people with different perspectives to read over your work, one chapter at a time. They don’t need to be writers, but simply people who like to read. Create a Google doc, hit send and prepare to be surprised at some of the insights and ideas that come back. (I mean, who knew my dad would serve up one of my best plot twists?).
6. Start being kinder to yourself.
10 words or 10,000? It doesn’t matter. You’re a writer. You’re a writer if you binge write for a weekend and then don’t type another syllable for months. You’re a writer if you write a little. You’re a writer if you write a lot. No matter where or when or how you write, you’re a writer.