Tuesday, July 24, 2018

The Rhythm & Reality of Treating Your Writing Like a ‘Real’ Job

By Bonnie Randall

Part of the How They Do It Series (Monthly Contributor)

So you’re a hobbyist who is becoming more and more serious about your writing aspirations. Or you’ve already sold some fiction projects yet, like most of us, you also have a day-job.

Which, very likely, you refer to as your ‘real job’.

STEP ONE: Shift your perspective. 

If writing is where your passion is, whereas your day-job is just where your pay-cheque is, then here is the reality: writing IS your ‘real job’. And that means:

STEP TWO: Like any job, you are expected to be there regularly, predictably, and dependably. 

Your task, then, is to set aside a uniform time every day—yes: every day—during which you work on your writing (note that I did not say ‘during which you are writing’. This is important because, as we’ll explore, treating your writing like a job means you are not, necessarily, writing every day like most gurus will tell you. Say whaaat? It’s true). So: clock in and clock out faithfully, and make it more than a habit—make writing during time X and time Y an expectation. And, while you are on the job:

STEP THREE: Pretend you have a boss. 

Would your boss let you have the TV on during work hours? Allow you to play endless hours of Candy Crush? Approve of you surfing Facebook or tweeting on Twitter during company time? (There is an exception to this coming up in a next Step. Hang tough!)

Well neither should you. During work time you are expected to work. That means writing. Unless:

STEP FOUR (a): “But my project’s done!” you cry. “It’s been critiqued, beta-read, and edited within an inch of its life. Can’t I play now?”

Allow me to swat your hand because no, you cannot play now. Every job has behind-the-scenes tasks that require completion, and writing is no different. Finished your project? Super. Now sit and write a blog post—no, make that three or four blog posts—on what inspired you to write that story. Did it have a soundtrack you listened to while crafting crucial scenes? What was the most memorable scene to write? Which was the most difficult?

Make a list of book-club questions that you could include in the back of the book.

Write 10 compelling tweets that would entice a reader to buy your book.

Pull excerpts from your book and add them to pictures you find on free pic sites which match the scenes in your book you’ve lifted them from. Be prepared to post them on your Facebook page.

Oh, and remember above, when I said your boss wouldn’t like it if you were surfing social media? Well, this is the exception, because now part of your writing job is to scroll through your Twitter and Facebook feeds, make a list of book bloggers who would be good fits for you to query your book to for a review.

And now write that query letter too.

Get the picture? Still think you should play Candy Crush? YEESH.

STEP FOUR (b):”But I have writer’s block!”

A legitimate condition, and we’ve all been there. So during your prescribed writing time, brainstorm all the things that typically inspire you to write. Is it pictures of compelling locales? Beautiful lines from excellent literature? Is there a trope or tropes whose motives and stories you return to again and again? Does scrolling through your to-be-read list on Goodreads help prompt your ideas?

Here is where you don’t throw your hands in the air and abandon your job, but instead mine for ways to interact with your muse. Be creative. Write paragraph-long stories using old-fashioned writing prompts. Read and bookmark from websites like this one all the tools you find compelling to hone your craft. All of this counts as ‘writing time’.

STEP FIVE: Quittin’ time! 

Unless you are really on a roll and / or want to clock in some overtime, every workday needs to come to an end because we need nourishment, stretching, exercise, and, most of all, balance. Burn out is a real condition and can get you in that rut of writer’s block if you’re not careful. Just remember, before clocking out at the end of the day, to jot down a quick list of what needs to be done or ideas to explore when you get back to work tomorrow. Other than that, the only other step is:


Compensation for time spent working is as important as the work itself—otherwise we might forget why we are working in the first place. Now, payday may look traditional, as in you are under contract for a project, or have sold a project you’re working on editing. Sometimes, though, payday will look a little more…well, let’s say ‘creative’.

The way I ‘pay’ myself is to post random snippets of my WIPs on my personal Facebook page—not because I am trying to feed my ego, but rather because I do, sincerely, love to entertain people. Your ‘payday’ might look like a session of yoga after your writing session. Or a run. Or a bubble bath. Or….whatever feels like a reward for hard work for you. Doesn’t matter what it is, just so long as you feel like there’s some reciprocity for the time and attention you’ve devoted to your craft on that particular work day.

Thoughts? Ideas to add?

As always, it’s a pleasure, and I hope you’re enjoying your summer!


Bonnie Randall Bonnie Randall is a Canadian writer who lives between her two favorite places—the Jasper Rocky Mountains and the City of Champions: Edmonton, Alberta. A clinical counselor who scribbles fiction in notebooks whenever her day job allows, Bonnie is fascinated by the relationships people develop—or covet—with both the known and unknown, the romantic and the arcane.

Her novel Divinity & The Python, a paranormal romantic thriller, was inspired by a cold day in Edmonton when the exhaust rising in the downtown core appeared to be the buildings, releasing their souls.

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About Divinity & The Python

Bonnie Randall Divinity and the Python
Divinity - Where deception and desire both hide in the dark...

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  1. This is brilliant. I especially like the non-monetary ways to pay yourself. I'm a long way from making a living at this, and these are great do-it-now suggestions. Thanks!

  2. Lots of helpful advice here. I think the biggest thing to take away is that writing time does not necessarily mean writing. Those other tasks are so important, especially with the amount of marketing we need to do!

    1. I agree 100% - and those are the tasks we tend to avoid or, in some cases, not even be aware of!

  3. What a great post. This is how I treat writing. And I picked up some great tips from you, as well. One thing I'm making sure to do is blog faithfully now. Not when I feel like it. I tackled the "write" part. I sit at my computer and do my daily word count (I'm drafting right now and almost done). So many great tips you provided.

    P.S. Love Jasper. It's been years since I've been there, but I always enjoy that place.

    1. We share a love of Jasper! My upcoming novel is set there!

  4. I have one to add for Step 4(b).
    I don't really get what I consider writer's block. I get what I call writer's stall. The ideas are there but my muse isn't paying attention. I have found that walking helps. I'm physically disabled, which means walking outside where I don't know if the ground is level or not is considered a little too risky to do by myself. However, I walk inside my home from the end of the hall where the bedrooms are to the far side of the living room and back again. I'll do 40 laps of this during the day. While I do it, I think. It's my time to get my mind focused.

  5. Recently retired with a new rhythm to our lives, I finally am at the point to get the novel off the ground. I created a schedule that was pretty aggressive, using the morning, mid day and early afternoon for writing or planning, and early on this created some friction. But, after several morning coffees, I discovered my better half was also a master devil's advocate for my writing, could find the tiniest flaw that I would never see until too late in the writing. So, we agreed to co author everything going forward, and we share the morning part of the schedule to brainstorm what I'll write or research or plan that day.
    Still a match made in heaven!