Writer with a Day Job — 100 Words a Day 23

MOST WRITERS have day jobs. That’s a fact. There are those who begin writing in earnest after retirement or who are fortunate enough to be supported by other means or who manage to carve out a writing career when they are young, but these are the minority.

A quick web search reveals a long list of classic and contemporary authors with day jobs. Some of these (not in any particular order):

  • William Burroughs (exterminator)
  • Virginia Woolf (publisher)
  • Agatha Christie (apothecaries’ assistant)
  • Frank McCourt (teacher)
  • Toni Morrison (editor & teacher)
  • Charles Dickens (factory worker)
  • Robert Frost (teacher)
  • James Joyce (cinema operator)
  • Franz Kafka (legal clerk & insurance executive)
  • John Steinbeck (tour guide)
  • Kurt Vonnegut (car dealer)
  • Yours truly (corporate trainer & curriculum developer, editor)
  • [Insert your name and career here …]

The list could go on and on.

If you have a day job and a young family, opportunities to write are even more precious. Yet while having to work full-time and deal with family responsibilities slows down your writing progress, it doesn’t need to stop you from achieving your writing goals, whether those goals include journaling regularly, writing essay, fiction, poetry, or memoir.

Of course, every working writer needs to deal with this challenge in his or her own way, depending upon circumstances and temperament. For example, even though I’m naturally a night owl, my day job requires a great deal of creative energy and I have a long commute, so by the time I arrive home in the evening I’m pretty much toast, creatively speaking. In addition, I write blog posts, teach online classes, and coach a limited number of writing clients. With such a full life, it has been extremely difficult to make time for my own creative writing.

My solution has been to make my writing goals modest and doable — and to learn how to be a morning person. If I net 100 solid words each day (and some days I achieve more than that), I have 36,500 words at the end of the year.  That’s half a book, eighteen 2000-word essays, or about 73 poems.

Here’s how I do it: I set two alarms — because that’s what it takes to wake me up — and rise extra early each weekday morning. I allow 15 minutes to splash some water on my face, get a cup of coffee (ready-made via a programmable coffee maker), and settle into my writing chair. Then I set a timer to write for 45 minutes — fifteen minutes for journaling and thirty minutes for creative writing. I do not check my email, surf the Internet (unless needed for research), or open Facebook or Twitter. These are strictly not allowed until my writing timer goes off.

And though I restrict my scheduled writing time to weekdays because weekends are filled with family and other responsibilities, I do sneak in some weekend writing when I can. But I don’t beat myself up if that doesn’t happen. I’m not perfect, and this is not a perfect system, but I’m sticking with it and making progress.

Do you struggle with making time to write?

Here are some questions for your consideration:

  • Where in your schedule could you carve out fifteen to thirty minutes of uninterrupted writing time each day? Early morning? Lunchtime? Immediately after work? Late at night? During your commute on the train or bus?
  • When do you typically have the most energy: morning, midday, or at night?
  • What affect does your job have over your energy level and ability to focus?
  • What other responsibilities do you have that affect your energy level and ability to focus?
  • What are your writing goals?
  • How can you break down your goals into small, achievable bites?

Now a one-week challenge:

  1. Commit to the challenge by leaving a comment below. All you have to say is that you’re going to do it. (Hey, how bad can a one-week commitment be?)
  2. Write down one doable, chewable writing goal that you could accomplish this week and share it with a friend — or be daring and share it with us along with your commitment comment. Writing down your goal and sharing it makes you more accountable.
  3. Schedule your writing time each day for the next week. It doesn’t have to be the same time every day, as long as you schedule it. I don’t suggest anything less than fifteen minutes, though five minutes here and there for journaling and/or brainstorming can augment your regularly scheduled writing time.
  4. Set an alarm or an appointment reminder keep you on track.
  5. When you sit down to write, set a timer and when your fifteen or thirty or sixty minutes is up, stop writing. Stopping can be difficult, because you’ll feel like you just got going. But stop anyway.
  6. Stick to your schedule for one week.
  7. Come back here at the end of the week and post an update by replying to your original comment.

You can do it. I know you can!

And if you’re a writer with a day job (and being a full-time caregiver counts) who has already solved your writing time conundrum, please feel free to share. Every success story contributes to others.


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23 thoughts on “Writer with a Day Job — 100 Words a Day

  • patsy ann taylor

    Thank you for the hints on carving time to write. I include research and revision a big part of my writing day.

  • Linda Sievers


    Thank you so much for this. I’m retired and have a difficult time finding time to write. Your suggestions offer a no guilt way to keep an even and essentially productive pace. Loved reading the list of classic and contemporary writers who have, (or had) day jobs, and still manage to keep to their daily task of getting their words on paper. It takes love and dedication, for sure. I guess the real motivator is exactly that. How much love do we give to our daily work?

    • Amber Lea Starfire

      Linda, your situation is a good reminder that it isn’t only writers with day jobs who struggle to find time to write. Yes: love and dedication and something more. For me, it’s like an itch that must be scratched. If I go too long without writing, I feel unbalanced and irritable. I think of this time I have each day as not only a creative outlet but as an essential part of caring for myself.

  • Barbara Toboni

    Okay. I commit to writing a hundred words a day. I’ll let you know how it goes. I’m going to do 20 min. with a timer.

  • Francis DiClemente

    Great post Amber. Thanks for sharing the list of writers who toiled for a living while writing in their off hours. It’s inspiring to see those names. I also agree with you about writing in the morning before work, when you still have energy. The other thing that’s helped me is focusing on small, achievable goals, whether completing a short essay or story in a given week or chipping away at narrow sections of a larger project (e.g. a memoir).

  • Chuck Stone

    I just graduated from college. In college, I spent way to much time researching and found myself struggling to get my essays written in one or two sittings. It’s hard for me to stop researching and start writing. I take my writing too seriously, and it can take the fun out of it. But, I digress, you wanted a commitment.

    This week, I will write an essay on how to write a 1000 word essay. I will focus on how to get the thoughts on paper with freewriting first, then research to prove and disprove what I composed. Even if I have to redo the whole thing, the mind is set to write and not read.

    I’ll commit 45 minutes each morning before I go to work. If I get the 100 words a day that will be 500 and then I can do two 45 minute sessions each weekend day to finish up.

      • Chuck Stone

        Hi Amber and gang,
        My 100 word commitment went very well, The wheels came off of my commitment yesterday (Sunday.) It was the last day. The 750 word draft was done Saturday, and Sunday I just had to add a few sentences here and there. Family obligations took priority so I was unable to get to it.

        I think there are two reasons it was somewhat successful. The night before I set in my head the topic that the next morning’s 100 words would be about. It was easier to get started if I had a plan. The small chunks made me more likely to involve it in my morning routine. Yes, I’m sticking to the habit this week with another piece that I’m working on.

  • Jenny Pessereau

    Hi Amber,
    Your new site looks great – very user friendly and great images.

    I work full-time and have 2 kids home from college this summer, but I’m determined to finish a major revision of my YA novel by the end of August. My goal this week is to finish reading my Act II, and start Act III this weekend. I know what needs to happen in Act III and I think it can be done in 20,000 words or less. My best schedule is write from 5 – 8 am – I read the daily quote in 365 Days of Wonder, write in my writing journal, check in with my writing partner on the East Coast, and then write for 2 hours. Then I go to work from 8:30 – 5. I sustained this for 6 – 8 months this year, but slacked off this summer when the kids came home. I know I can do it but it’s been so nice to sleep in! You’re inspiring me to get back to my original schedule – thanks for that! Good luck with your writing projects and thanks for the inspiration.

    • Amber Lea Starfire Post author

      Jenny, thank you for your kind words. Kudos for sticking with your schedule for so long! I know how hard that can be. And I also know how difficult it can be to get back on track after taking some time off (which is okay and even necessary sometimes). Good luck with your YA novel. I look forward to hearing more about it … please feel free to share your progress with us.

  • Brian

    Thanks for this very encouraging post! I need reminders that I can accomplish a lot as a writer with small amounts of time. This coming week I will write for 15 solid minutes each morning and 15 solid minutes during my lunch break.

  • JM

    I write while walking for two hours every day around the neighborhood with my handy cellphone. As for how many words I did each day? I’m not sure but it’s less than a thousand words no doubt. I was able to write at least 25% of my 100k novel using this method — a ballpark figure because I haven’t transferred anything from my cellphone to my word document since I started doing this routine two-three months ago. I’m bookmarking this site so I could give a status update after I’m done and hopefully, I get to see my book in a shelf.

    I have a day job but no family. Kudos to those who have a family, I guess.

    • JM

      BTW, I found your article by searching if I’m the only one who writes with less than a thousand words each day on google. The results were always a let down because a typical writer writes a thousand words a day — on the first page that is. I’m glad I found this article and now I know I’m not the only one. Thank you guys.

    • Amber Lea Starfire Post author

      JM, thank you for your comments. I’ve had other writers tell me they like to dictate their stories, then they go back to edit them. That wouldn’t work for me, because I’d stammer too much ! But I can see how that might for people who like to talk out their ideas before writing. Perhaps a “typical” writer gets down a thousand words a day — I don’t know. But I know that by shifting my focus from number of words to time spent writing, and by lowering my expectations (in terms of # of words), I have actually gotten more done. I’m now closing in on completing the first draft of my second memoir and shifting to the first revision phase.

      I think each of us just have to find what works for us and to persist.

  • Yahlay Bluwolf

    I am going to do it. Dissertation in 3 years, so if I start to jot down my thoughts now, I am going to be one step ahead. 🙂 Suggestions on starting?