How to Write a Book Alongside a Day Job

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.

Whatever You Do, Just Start.

I have a feeling you know what I'm talking about. That project, that blog, that website, that thing. Just start.

There’s a reason you can’t stop thinking about it, you know.

So send that email, buy that domain name, make that call. Whatever it takes, start.

Maybe your idea will be a huge success, maybe it’ll be a small flame, maybe it’ll be a flood. Don’t you owe it to yourself to find out?

Maybe you feel uncertain, unprepared or unqualified. But what you have right now is enough. You are enough. So, start.

If you’re waiting for the “right time”, you’ll be waiting forever. In fact, if your idea is worth it, you’ll never feel ready. Progress begins at the end of your comfort zone. That’s when it gets meaningful. That’s when things get interesting. 

You can prepare and plan and overanalyse as much as you like. The real learning begins when you start creating. The beauty is in the challenge. The growth is in the struggle.

Inspiration only comes knocking every once in a while. Are you going to open the door or deny your idea its right to become? Are you going to deny yourself the chance to get started?

Turn “I'm not sure I can” into “I’ll figure it out”. Start now, work hard and you will figure the rest out. Just start.

Stop saying you don’t have time. Everyone has 15 minutes a day. Stop using ‘perfectionism’ as an excuse. ‘Perfectionists’ are just procrastinators in disguise. If you’re worrying about what people will think, don’t. I promise they’re focusing too much on their own hopes, dreams and aspirations to scrutinise yours.

The only regret you’ll have is doing nothing at all.

Put down your phone. Now. Use an app like Focus Lock to banish you from social media for a few hours. Go old school and use an egg timer. Say no to seeing that friend. Yet another lunch date can wait, your idea cannot. Just start.

Before you know it, summer will turn into winter and 2017 will turn into 2018. The only person in control of your year is *you*. Make this the year. Just. Start.

Never forget that everyone you’ve ever met has worried about failing at something. The difference is that some people - the people whose stories you have heard and applauded - chose to start anyway. We're all scared and we’re all making it up as we go along. So start and start now.

Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever has. For the love of god, don't let it kill yours too.

Please, whatever you do, just start.

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Why You Should Write, Even If Nobody's Listening

1. You owe it to yourself to live a life that is driven by self-exploration rather than self-doubt.

2. As Joan Didion once said, “Writing is the only way I can make sense of what I think.” It’s cathartic. It’s healthy. It’s fun.

 

3. When you were a kid, did you do your favourite hobbies for validation alone? I thought as much.

4. You’ll regret it if you don’t. Writing, in whatever form, is your own personal progress report. There’s nothing I love more than curling up with tea and reading back over my past, error-riddled posts. It’s an indescribable connection that you simply can’t get from a photo or memory alone. Think of it as the only true insight your future self has into you, as you are today. Blog for yourself and the rest will follow.

5. We’ve all heard that voice. You know the one, right? “Nobody cares. Give. It. Up.” Remember that everyone feels self-doubt. A friend of mine is a full-time blogger with a large following and opportunities to boot. But she too has days when she feels like quitting it all and becoming another anonymous 9–5er. It takes courage to put yourself out there. Thrive on that, don’t run from it.

6. If I hadn’t exited my comfort zone and written, albeit pretty badly, when I was younger, there is no way in hell I’d be where I am today career-wise. And FYI, my posts never went viral, nor did I have thousands of followers. 

7. During the interview process for my current job (managing TripAdvisor’s team of copywriters), I showed my future boss pieces I’d written both in and outside of work. It’s important to have things to talk about beyond your CV. And it’s something I’ll be looking for when I bring any new copywriters into my team. The extra mile work. The ‘I did it because I wanted to, not because I had to’ kind of hustle. That’s the stuff that makes you stand out and, ultimately, get hired.

8. Seriously, though. If you want to progress in any creative-affiliated industry, you best believe your name will be Googled before your interview. Make it worth their while.

9. You know you’re good. I know you’re good. Please stop hiding.

10. The only way to get better — whether it’s for fun or your career — is practice. Whether 10 or 1000 people are listening is irrelevant. Writing is an investment in your future and your potential.

11. On that note, if we wish to grow as well-rounded, interesting people, we need fulfilment, personal projects and non-profit pursuits away from the office.

12. Elizabeth Gilbert discusses the concept of ‘creative entitlement’ in her brilliant book, Big Magic. In short, your own reasons to create are reason enough. Do whatever brings you to live. Follow your own fascinations. Create whatever causes you to feel alive. The rest will take care of itself.

13. If you’re serious about living a more creative life, you should never stop writing, no matter what the outcome, and no matter how deep your anxieties and insecurities may be.

14. The moment you stop worrying over stats is the moment your work will start improving.

15. Retweets, favourites and shares are arbitrary and the wrong reasons to create. This is your work, not an overly-filtered selfie. You should be doing it because you love it. When you look back on your writing in 5, 10, 15 years’ time, you won’t be obsessing over page views, you’ll just be glad you did it. Trust me.

There’s never been a better time to contribute to the conversation. I’m excited to hear your voice in the mix.

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22 Pieces of Advice Every Career Girl Needs to Hear

Four years ago, I was an unpaid intern at Vogue and today I manage a talented copywriting team at TripAdvisor. How did I get there? Well, let's just say it's been one hell of a journey and I'm only getting started. Here are some of the no-bullshit things I've learned along the way... 

 

  1. Show up every single morning like you're meant to be there. You got the job for a reason, you know.
  2. Never tell your boss you can't do something. You can, I promise. Say you'll figure it out and then do so. A can-do attitude will have a big impact on the trajectory of your career.
  3. Having clothes you feel confident in is important. If you feel better you'll work better. Invest in some good basics. You'll easily earn the money back further down the line.
  4. One word: sleep. There's nothing successful about sleep deprivation. Feeling well-rested and ready for work is real #goals.
  5. Make work BFFs, but don't get too involved with the office drama du jour. The occasional rant with a trusted co-worker is fair game. But cliques and bitching? Not so much.
  6. Keep a record of all of your accomplishments and achievements from day one on a new job. You'll be glad you did.
  7. Becoming the Boss: New Rules for the Next Generation of Leaders
    is a book everyone, including you, should read when building their career.
  8. Everyone you work with - good or bad - is indirectly mentoring you, all the time. There is so much to be learned from observing the capable and the incompetent.
  9.  Stop apologising for everything. A delayed response to an email or not being able to work late again doesn't warrant an apology.
  10. But do take ownership when you truly mess up - people will only respect you more for it.
  11. You're doing so much better than you think.
  12. When you're starting out, switching employers every year or so is a good thing. Go get the salary you deserve, stat.
  13. Having £££ in a savings account is the difference between freedom and having to stay in a job you hate because of financial constraints. It's that simple.
  14. Never get complacent. Even if you love your job, keep your LinkedIn updated and your mind open to other opportunities, always.
  15. The single best question you can ask when being interviewed is: 'What is your biggest problem and how can I solve it?' Thank me later. And once you get the job? Keep asking it.
  16. Mistakes are healthy. If you're making mistakes, you're learning quicker. Don't be afraid of them. Just try not to make the same one twice.
  17. The most interesting, exciting careers never go exactly to plan. Embrace that.
  18. Learning more = earning more. Take advantage of your company's training budget and get involved with free skill sessions like Google's Digital Garage.
  19. We all have bad days. But no job is worth bad weeks that turn into months.
  20. Times are changing. You don't get ahead just by doing your job well, you progress by making things happen that are beyond your job description.
  21. No matter how much you achieve, never forget what it felt like to be the new intern on his or her first day.
  22. Praising someone else doesn't steal your shine. It only makes you shine brighter.

 

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Dear Internet, Stop Telling Me to Quit My Job

Like you, I love the internet and its ever-growing self-help section. But I'm so bored of seeing quotes that say 'Quit your job!' 'Follow your dreams!' 'Do what you love!'

Here's why...

Firstly, great advice! Really life-changing stuff. I'll hand in my notice tomorrow, you sage! Are you going to pay for my apartment/bills/food/life, too? 

Secondly, have you ever thought that I might actually enjoy my day job? That it might even give me purpose and focus to work harder and better at my side hustles? That I enjoy the human interaction and, heaven forbid, a routine

I was created to create, that much is true. But I’m also here to learn from people far more than experienced than I am. From office politics. From the art of being a woman in the world of work. 

I’m not ruling out the possibility of moving to Thailand to live out my nomadic fantasies, I’m simply saying: not now. Not before I’ve made my mark. Not before I’ve achieved something I can be proud of. 

Interestingly, a day job has become somewhat of a dirty little secret in the creative world. 

But day jobs have been the foundation for so many people’s wildest dreams. The base from which people can save some money, start a fuck off fund and build their lives. 

Where’s the shame in that? 

Having an interesting life and having a day job aren’t mutually exclusive things. 

It’s possible to have both. You can have both. 

Your existence isn’t any less interesting than the person on Instagram with the perfect tan, drinking from a coconut. Or the business owner working remotely from a beach in Bali. 

Don't get me wrong, the stories of those who have made it on their own are inspiring and deserve to be applauded. But for the vast majority people, they're far from reality. We need more voices, perspectives and opinions from all kinds of creative people.

Instead of sharing quotes like “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life”, why don't we start celebrating those who are doing the best they can, with what they currently have?

For millennials, it almost feels like we *have* to be exploring South East Asia or backpacking through Bolivia, otherwise we’re doing it wrong. 

But every one of our journeys is different, complicated and entirely our own. 

For me, combining the challenge of a day job with my creative endeavours keeps me happy, paid and somewhat sane. I like the balance. I like how my job allows my creative pursuits to be less about finances, and more about fun. And I value the weekend because I feel I’ve earned it. 

Sure, I sometimes imagine everything I could do if I had more time. But I also remember what it was like to have all the time in the world, and absolutely no money.

Maybe one day I’ll run away to an ashram and practice Ashtanga yoga for a year. Maybe I'll quit the 'corporate life' and volunteer at an avant-garde art gallery. Maybe I'll save some money and take a break for a while.

But until then, I’m learning about myself and earning in the process.

And I'm sorry Internet, but that's quite alright by me.

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