How to Write a Novel While You’re Holding Down A Day Job

This post first appeared on, on June 8, 2013.  It was written for other writers, a rare aberration on that site.  It was also written two years after I had gone 100% indie.  It’s still relevant. -t.

Every few weeks I browse through a report on search terms people have used to find my blog.  The most frequent terms you can probably guess for yourself.

I don’t like to do too many writing-related posts because readers aren’t writers, so while I could happily spend hours and hours talking about the technical aspects of writing, everyone would unsub and disappear in the first hour.


In amongst the search terms were a huge number of queries all grouped around the question “Can/how do you make money writing erotica/erotic romance, and how much?” The sheer quantity of hits related to this topic tells me there are more writers visiting than I thought – or readers who are curious about writing.

One day soon, in another post, I will answer that question.

But today, I wanted to tackle a search query that popped up, surprising me:  “How many writers write a novel when they have a full time job?”

If this had been ten years ago, or even five years ago, the easy answer would have been “nearly all of us.”

Writing fiction full time, ten years ago, was a luxury vocation limited to a select few best selling authors, who were sensible with their money and stashed their cash assiduously against the lean years, and were very, very, ad infinitum, lucky.  There were also a good number of category romance writers who were earning reliable revenue, enough to live on a meagre annual income.

Everyone else, including the prize winners, the one-time best sellers, the mult-published in several genres, the mid-list authors…everyone else invariably relied on other income to pay the bills – usually, a full time day job that may or may not be related to writing or publishing.

My, how times have changed.

Love it or hate it, indie publishing has changed the face of publishing today and the biggest winners are authors…if they have been smart about it.

There are more indie authors making a very nice living from publishing their own books than there ever was authors making a living publishing fiction via legacy publishers.  There are no concrete statistics to say how many – no one has centralized the huge flow of data, facts and figures that indie authors are more than happy to share.  But anecdotal evidence suggests that many more authors who would have been lucky to have been published-and-ignored in the past are happily publishing and quitting their day jobs now.

But that doesn’t completely answer the question.  How do you write a novel while you have the day job?

I once had an entire blog, Anchored Authors, devoted to this single theme.  It did very well – naturally, there were a lot of writers with day jobs back then.

There is no single, quick answer to this question.

There are as many ways to write a novel while you’re still working as there are authors who have managed the deed.

There are, however, several guiding principals, ideas or approaches you can use that will help you find your own way to balance the job with, well, the job.  These are attitudes I’ve developed from over a decade of writing novels and maintaining a day job.

Give up everything else

There is no such thing as work-life balance when you’re an author.  There’s the day job, and the novel, and what little of your personal life gets squeezed in around the edges.  Mostly, that’s essentials like sleeping, showering, eating and paying bills.  Not much else happens without giving up time for your writing – including working out (I’m still trying to find a compromise on that one, thirteen years after being published).

Anything else you insist on keeping in your life will take away from your novel, so choose carefully.

No one else will mind the clock for you

Once you’ve made the heroic and hard decisions about what goes and when you’re going to write, you must stick to your intentions.  No one else is going to make sure you do it.  You don’t have a supervisor, or a time card and the only pay cheque you get comes once you have produced the goods: a finished novel.

You must also preserve your time against family and friends who don’t understand, or don’t believe you really mean to spend time alone staring at the computer instead of with them.  It may take some delicate diplomacy, repeated at regular intervals before they start to get it.  Perservere, because no one is going to champion your cause for you.

Don’t let the job and day job


Unless you happen to work in publishing, or with writers, your co workers won’t understand–not even after you’re published.  They may even find publication a threat — there’s been more than one author to lose their day job over what they write…or that they write at all.  Keep this highly creative side of your life contained and away from the day job.  You don’t have to lie about it, but you don’t have to volunteer information, either.

You may be bursting to tell your mates at the office about your book, but I promise you; the reaction you will get from co-workers will frustrate you and disappoint you.  Then you have to deal with the fact that you’ve “outed” yourself as an author and the fallout that may result.

From long experience with this one, I have learned simply not to volunteer information.  If I’m asked directly, I’m truthful, but I don’t expand on my answers.

In this way I am sometimes surprised and delighted when coworkers appear at book signings, or turn up at my desk with a copy of my book to be signed, or subscribe to my blog or newsletter.  I know, then, that these are real readers and real fans and I appreciate them as much as all my other readers.

Don’t get into debt/pay off your debt.

If ever the big day comes, when your book income leaps to stellar heights, or you land a NY contract that will set you up for a few years of full time writing, the absolute last thing you want hanging around your neck is a huge debt load that you need to service each month.

Even before you get to quitting the day job…writing + day job + huge creditor bills flooding your mailbox each month is not a happy place to be.  Your writing has to suffer when you’re freaking out about how to pay the Visa bill this month.

Make paying down your debt a #1 priority now, while you have a predictable income.  It’s the best financial favour you can do for your future self.

If you’re debt free (good for you!) do everything you can to salt away a stash fund toward that magical day.

#1.  Don’t Sweat Success

Don’t spend any time worrying about when you’re going to “make it” and get to give up the day job.

Once you start obsessing over “when,” you’ll channel all your thoughts and dreams and energy toward success at any cost.  The cost is usually the quality of your writing, your family and friends, and sometimes your day job, too.  You will make decisions based solely on what will get you closer to quitting rather than what serves your readers, or lifts the quality of your writing (these are the same thing, ultimately).  Your (mental) health will detoriate as stress, frustration, anxiety and endemic anger all rise.

It’s not a good way to live.

Quitting the day job has much higher odds these days thanks to indie publishing, but it’s still not a given.  There remains

a luck factor that you cannot control, and at any minute the industry could go through another evolution that completely changes the rules and destroys your revenue stream.  Publishing is unpredictable, in-fighting, backstabbing and sales/career destroying pettiness is constant.  As well, “new” authors are flooding the market every day, increasing your competition for each reader dollar out there.

You have a day job that is paying all your bills (I hope!).  That is a huge stressor you don’t have.  Appreciate it and use it.  You get to write when you want and nothing depends upon your writing income.  It’s bonus money, so you can take as long as you want to build up your business, enjoy the writing process and learn the industry.

Once you switch to full time writing (if you choose to – and that’s another decision only you can make), that idyllic condition pops and the pressure rushes in.  The arrival of monthly bills takes on new and deeper significance.

Enjoy this stage now, while you’re in it.  (Re)learn to love writing for writing’s sake.  This will be the last time you’ll be able to.


 For more help, inspiration and ideas, check my collection of articles.

Scroll to Top