6 Things To Figure Out Before You Start Writing Full Time (Part 6 – Habits)

One reason so many writing books urge writers to write every day is that it's our habits–what we do over and over–that gets results, not what we do once in a while.

Or, as Napoleon Hill said, “…you are what your habits make you. And you can choose your habits.” (I was sure this quote was from Think And Grow Rich, but I finally found it in Success Through A Positive Mental Attitude, co-authored by W. Clement Stone.)

The habits below are ones that can help your writing career whether you write full time or not.

I found, though, that when I switched to full time writing, these habits became more important.

Plan Your Projects, Not Just Your Time

When I worked my first job as a cashier at a discount store, I got paid by the hour. Many years later when I became a lawyer, I billed clients for my time in six-minute increments.

That way of earning money gave me a great appreciation for the value of my time.

Because I had to track exactly what I did and what could be billed to clients, I also knew where my time went. (For example, I knew exactly how long I spent in the office on personal phone calls, getting a cup of tea, or chatting with the receptionist before lunch because I deducted that time out of whatever law project I worked on.)

The downside is that it's been hard to get out of the habit of believing that hours worked = money earned.

Also, because I'd always needed to justify to clients the costs of any task I billed them for, in my fiction I adopted a more relaxed mindset of “it'll take as long as it takes.” When I was writing on the side, that was all right. I didn't need to earn much at fiction writing, or anything, though it made me happy when I did.

But to build a readership and eventually earn enough to live on through fiction means focusing on projects completed rather than hours spent.

So the first habit is to take time every six months to list the projects you intend to complete during that time. Then break down each project into parts.

At the end of each week and each month, check where you are on your project and see what needs yet to be done.

At first you'll probably need to adjust some of your timelines. I've discovered I'm always too optimistic about how quickly I'll finish. But you'll get better at estimating over time.

Plan Your Writing And Business Time

Focusing on on projects doesn't mean ignoring a time schedule.

Sitting down on Friday and marking which times during the coming week I'll do what tasks to keep me moving toward completing my projects helps me balance the competing parts of being an author and self-publisher.

(Read more about this topic in Meeting With Yourself Can Help Your Writing.)

If you're not already in the habit of doing this, give it a try.

You might fear blocking out your time will make you feel more overwhelmed, but I've found it sets my mind at ease and cuts down on time spent figuring out what to do next.

Track Marketing And Advertising

When I worked full time at law, if I ran an occasional ad and it spiked book sales a bit, I felt great. Likewise, if I submitted a short story to a publication and it was accepted, I was thrilled. It didn't matter if it paid much or anything or had a huge readership or a small one.

Now that I'm writing full time, it's more vital to me that I use both my time and money well when it comes to selling my work. At the same time, I still don't want to spend endless hours tracking sales or submissions.

For ads for already-published books, I make a habit of recording the following in a spreadsheet:

  • where I purchased the ad (such as Fussy Librarian)
  • name and sale price of the book advertised
  • cost of the ad
  • category (such as suspense, crime fiction, self-help)
  • sales on all books (not only the one advertised) on all platforms 1-2 days before the ad runs
  • sales on all books on all platforms 2-3 days after the ad runs

When I decide to run an ad again, even if it's a year later, I can see short term how the ad affected sales. If I want to get a sense of longer-term results, I usually go the website where I sold the most and see how the sales arc looks.

For example, the graph of Kindle sales for The Worried Man, which I released in May, 2018, looks like this for May through August.

If you already do this, you may want to dig further into moving averages for sales and return on investment. If you're not tracking yet, though, this level of detail can be a good start and shouldn't take too long.

For submitting material to agents or publishers, I track the following for a new work:

  • the name of the work
  • at least 3 possible markets
  • the date I send it to the first market
  • the date I get a response
  • what the response said
  • if it sells, the amount of payment, expected publication date, and expected payment date
  • (repeat for each submission, adding a new market so I always have three)

Using this chart, if I get a rejection, I already have another market to send to. Also, tracking the responses lets me see if there's a theme.

Finally, it keeps me from forgetting about a piece of writing or giving up on it due to long lag times in hearing back from one or more markets.

Read, Read, Read

For a lot of authors, including me, reading often goes by the wayside when trying to fit in writing while juggling other full-time paid or unpaid work.

It's easy to keep reading on the back burner when you start writing full time, too. After all, it doesn't immediately and directly help you grow your reader base or write more quickly.

But a reading habit is great for a writing career:

  • It adds to our quality of life, especially because most of us became writers because we love to read
  • It helps us stay aware of the current market for the type(s) of writing we do
  • It gives us examples of writing we love (or don't)
  • It exercises our imaginations
  • It allows us to explore other genres
  • It keeps us learning new things

Those are only a few of the pluses. You can probably write a dozen more of your own.

That's all for today.

Until next Friday–

L.M. Lilly


6 Things To Figure Out Before You Start Writing Full Time (Part 5 – Physical Health)

Any sedentary job has health risks, but writing the bulk of your work hours poses some particular ones. That’s why I included physical well-being in this series of things to think about before writing full time.

The physical issues I've confronted myself or hear about most often from other authors include:

  • Aches and strains, including neck strain, shoulder and back pain, eye strain, and stress on just about any part of your body from remaining too much in one position or looking too frequently at a keyboard or monitor.
  • A step up from aches and strains are repetitive stress injuries (RSI). These types of injuries occur when we make the same motions, such as typing on a keyboard, over and over again. They also can arise from sitting or standing in the same posture for too long.
  • Weight gain from a lack of exercise and or changes to the way we eat when we write. Those changes could include snacking more often because we are home more or using food as a reward when we have something to celebrate–or a way to feel better when we get discouraged.
  • Overuse of alcohol. It’s easier to drink alcohol while working when you have no boss looking over your shoulder. It’s also easy to eat and drink without really thinking about it while you are absorbed in your writing. Finally, some writers find alcohol helps them relax and be more creative, though others find it dulls their writing or makes it harder to focus.

Below are techniques and habits that helped me or other authors I know. I also recommend Joanna Penn's book The Healthy Writer: Reduce Your Pain, Improve Your Health, And Build A Writing Career For The Long Term.

Before you read on (you were going to, right?), a quick disclaimer.

I am not a medical doctor or health professional. Before making changes to your exercise, diet, or other health related habits you should check with your health or medical practitioner to be sure the changes will be good for you and will not create other problems. Also, if you try any of these suggestions, remember to tailor them to your own life or particular circumstances.

Vary Your Workplace

Last week in 6 Things To Figure Out Before You Start Writing Full Time (Part 4 – Where To Write) I talked about setting up a good place to work. You can look there for more on arranging an appropriate keyboard and screen height and other suggestions like standing or walking for part of your writing time.

No matter how good your set up, though, you can usually help your body by choosing a different place to write for an hour or two a day or a few times during each week.

For one thing, you need to get there. If you choose somewhere in walking distance or you drive and park a few blocks away, you'll add some extra exercise to your day and you'll sit less. If your home or your new writing space has steps to get in or out, you'll add more stair climbing to your routine.

Also you'll likely be sitting in a different position, holding your hands differently, and keeping your head at a different angle. All of these changes can ease your neck, wrists, eyes, and other parts of your body.

So if most of your writing time is at a particular desk at home, think about where else you might go, such as the library or a cafe. (You can find more suggestions on where to write here.)

Schedule Breaks

If you're working another job now, you're probably longing for uninterrupted time to write. Yet for your physical well-being, consider scheduling regular breaks.

You might write for 28 minutes and take a 6-7 minute break. During my breaks I try to look out the window at something far away to give my eyes a rest from close work.

Sometimes I do physical therapy exercises that I have for my neck and back, ones I can do while standing that don’t require any special equipment.

Sometimes I read a book for a few minutes. While it's still close work, I switch position by lounging on the couch or sitting in an armchair rather than at a keyboard.

Create An Exercise Routine You Enjoy

When I shifted to spending most of my work day writing I had a hard time getting in my usual amount of exercise. Before that, I worked in an office a mile away. Every day, sometimes in temperatures below zero degrees Fahrenheit, I walked to and from my office. That gave me 10-14 miles of walking a week. And when it was below zero, you can believe I walked very fast and got my heart pumping.

When I started working primarily from home I lost those built-in miles.

So I purposely set up my routine to include walking. My business mailbox is about a mile away . I also teach classes (legal writing) at a school about a mile away and walk there several times a week.

I also do yoga almost every day for about 20 minutes.

It works for me because I can do it first thing in the morning at home. In my pajamas. And the stretching helps counteract the shoulder and neck strain I experience from writing so much. It also helps me relax.

There are other types of exercise I know from experience I won't consistently do no matter how many schedules I create or promises I make. I hate running. I only ever feel pain with it. I'm not a fan of other types of bouncy aerobics. The only time I stuck with going to a health club was when I was a college student living at home and pretending I was going to mass every Sunday morning to make my mother happy.

You might hate what I love.

Maybe yoga makes you yawn. Maybe, though I will never understand it, you love running marathons. The point is to figure out what sort of exercise makes you feel good enough when you do it that you'll stick with it, and figure out what time of day you'll be most apt to include it.

The beauty is once you start writing full-time your workday schedule is almost entirely up to you.

Some questions to ask yourself as you try to figure this out:

  • Over the course of life which exercise types have I done on the most regular basis?
  • Am I more apt to continue going to a health club or class or to exercise at home?
  • What makes my body feel the best?
  • Do I prefer to exercise with other people or alone?
  • What ways can I work exercise into other parts of my life?
  • Do I have friends who also want to exercise more who might agree to a weekly date to exercise and visit at the same time?
  • Are there other things I can do while I exercise like listen to an educational podcast or plot my novel in my head?

If you can afford it, you might want to consider seeing a healthcare practitioner or exercise specialist (like a physical therapist or yoga teacher) to get exercises specifically designed to help you with whatever physical issues you have from spending a lot of time writing.

While it does cost some money, in the long run it can be less expensive if it helps you avoid more serious problems.

Finally, think about what activities you do that provide exercise that you simply find fun. Do you like playing tennis? Are you a skier or runner? Do you, like me, enjoy taking walks?

Plan Healthy Ways To Change Your Mood

It’s human nature that if we wait until we are celebrating or until we feel sad and discouraged to decide what to eat or drink we probably won’t make terrific choices. It's easy to reach for things like cookies, chocolate, or wine.

Personally, I don’t think any of those things are terrible. But if we are reaching for anything constantly, it probably won’t be very good for us.

To help counteract that, you can choose a time when you’re feeling good and make a list of easy and quick things you really enjoy that will allow you a momentary celebration or that will lift your mood during a rough patch.

My list includes:

  • See a movie
  • Read a novel
  • Take a hot bath
  • Light scented candles
  • Watch an episode of a TV show I already know that I love
  • Call a friend I haven't seen in a while
  • Play a song on my guitar

Whatever is on your list, pick out the things that you both really enjoy and that are, if not good for you, at least won’t impact your health negatively.

I’m not suggesting you immediately make radical changes in your eating and drinking. (Or that you never eat dark chocolate–I would never suggest that.) If you substitute a handful of raisins for a piece of chocolate cake on Day One you’re probably not going to stick with that.

I wouldn't.

But if you find yourself having chocolate cake with fudge frosting every day, maybe you can shift to unfrosted brownies. Then a couple weeks later look for chocolate cookies that are smaller, and have fewer calories and less sugar and fat.

Or try the handful of raisins every other day, promising yourself the cake the next.

Likewise, if you tend to drink a lot of alcohol while writing or, in my case, black tea (which I know doesn’t sound problematic but it causes me a lot of problems with acid reflux and with insomnia) you can try drinking water every other glass or cup instead. You might not love the water, but you know when you finish it you can have another glass of the beverage that you really want. And you might surprise yourself by how much better you feel.

Note: I’ve never had to struggle with alcohol addiction or other substance abuse issues, which I'm sure is due to the luck of heredity and body chemistry. If you're concerned about your drinking or use of other substances, you may want to seek professional or medical support to help address it.

Step Away From The Laptop

If you don't already, just as you vary your writing place think about varying your writing methods to get more time away from the keyboard.

In recent years I have much more often written outlines or character sketches by hand and dictated first drafts. I also handwrite bullet points for articles I’m writing or advertising copy. Then I dictate a draft into my iPhone, email it to myself, and copy it into a Word file to clean up.

While that may sound like a lot of extra steps, I always do at least 3 or 4 drafts of everything I write. The only difference is now I'm doing one by hand, speaking one, and revising one at the laptop. Same number of drafts, but three different places that I sit and movements that I make.

Okay, that was really long.

At last, that’s all for this week.

Until next Friday when I’ll write about other habits that can help you reach your writing goals

L. M. Lilly

6 Things To Figure Out Before You Start Writing Full Time (Part 4 – Where To Write)

At first, switching to writing full time rather than on the side doesn't seem like it should require changing where you write (a topic already covered in Three By Three: Creating A Writing Space).

But what works well when fitting writing in around the edges of other jobs might not be ideal when writing full time.

Physical Comfort And Well-Being

Whether you sit, stand, or walk as you write, there's a vast difference between writing for short periods a few times a week and writing many hours each day. If your keyboard set up, for example, causes pain in your neck, hands, arms, or other parts of your body, it'll likely be that much worse  the more time you are in that position.

Two things helped me:

  • Writing areas that allow varying positions and writing methods.

If you usually sit, consider creating a space where you can stand at least part of the time when you write.

Adjustable desks are one option, but I've found the mechanisms for raising or lowering tend to break, so it's more cost effective in the long run to have one sitting desk and one standing area. (I use stacked storage cubes for my standing “desk.”)

If you always type, try working somewhere quiet and private so you can dictate. A couple options are at home if you live alone or have a room where you can shut the door or in a reserved conference room at a library or school.

As far as how to dictate, many laptops and computers now have a dictation function, as do most smartphones.

There also is specialty software like Dragon Naturally Speaking. Or you can pay someone to type your dictation if you can afford that. (For tips on dictating, check out this The Creative Penn podcast.)

  • Experimenting with keyboard set up.

Having your keyboard and monitor at the correct height can ease the strain on your body. You can find advice on general rules (such as, according to WebMD, placing your keyboard slightly below your elbows and the top of the monitor 2-3 inches above eye level) on the Internet.

In my opinion you also need to experiment.

I love my desk, shown along the wall in this photo, but it's far too high to place my keyboard on.

The table (which cost about $25) from World Market works better for my keyboard height, but when I placed my laptop directly on it I had to look down too much. I solved that by buying a laptop stand and buying a separate keyboard to place on the table.

Over the years I've also experimented with moving my mouse to the left, using a Microsoft Natural keyboard (which I found very helpful when my tendinitis in my hands and arms was bothering me), and connecting my laptop to a separate monitor.

If your budget is limited, you can use books or boxes as laptop or monitor stands. I've also used folded yoga mats to raise my standing height.

The main concern is not whether it looks good but whether you feel good when you write for hours at a time.

Avoiding Work Spread

When I worked many hours as a lawyer I rarely worked at home. I lived only a mile from my office, and I preferred to keep work at work. That way I didn't associate being at home with working, adding stress to what little free time I had.

I don't find writing stressful, at least not in the same way. So I figured I would enjoy the convenience of writing at home.

And I do. To a point.

The danger is that loving your work can make it easy to spread it through your entire life. For a long time I used my dining room table to write, watch videos for relaxation, eat, and visit with friends. I liked the view out the windows. (The view shown here is on a rainy day.)

But after a while I found using the dining table most of the day to work meant I always felt I ought to be writing. Or doing social media. Or watching classes on marketing.

So now I work for half an hour first thing in the morning at the dining table and then I switch to my home office. While I still occasionally work in my main living space, when I leave my office it's a signal that I'm on a break or done for the day.

Writing somewhere other than home can also help this process, as well as help you separate writing time from writing-adjacent work like interacting with other authors on social media, taking courses online, or scheduling advertising.

You might choose to work at a library or cafe when you are actually writing and do the other tasks from home or vice versa.

Other People

As I mentioned last week when writing on emotional health, when I worked many hours as a lawyer I craved quiet time alone to write.

Now that I mainly write, I really value the hours when I teach because I get to interact with people. In the summer when I'm not teaching, I'm more apt to write in cafes simply to be around more people.

There's no right answer for every writer as to where you will write best and how much contact you need with others. What's best for you will likely vary over time depending on things like whether you live alone and whether your other activities bring you in contact with people.

But it's worth giving a little thought to whether the need for contact with others will require adjusting your writing space if you switch to full-time writing.

Always The Same or Always Different?

A lot of writers ask if they should always write in the same place.

When I wrote on the side, I preferred to mainly write in one spot. It was a good way to divide writing from my other work and the rest of my life, so it helped me switch gears and focus.

There are advantages either way:

Same, Same, Same
  • The feel, look, sounds, and smell of a particular spot, whether it's a desk in your living room or a corner in your favorite Starbucks, signals your brain that it's time to write
  • As talked about above, it can help avoid work spread
  • It's easier to design or create one space with your ideal noise level (or quiet), keyboard set up, lack of distraction, etc., than to create multiple ideal spaces
Different Spaces
  • Varying your writing space might help ease physical strain from being often in the same position, as noted above
  • Changing spaces can help break up your day, making it easier to write more hours
  • It might be easier to achieve whatever balance you need of being alone v. being with people, noise v. quiet, open space v. coziness, etc., if you move from place to place.

That's all for today. Next week I'll write more about caring for your physical well being when you write full time.

Until next Friday–

L.M. Lilly